Potential Risks While Fishing

As temperatures rise, so does the excitement of another fishing season.

Fishing is usually associated with the mental image of relaxation and stress relief. However, when hitting the streams, rivers and lakes this spring, there are a few things to keep in mind. Fishing can be an activity laden with injuries and danger.

Mother Nature is full of beauty; however, she can also be unforgiving, punishing and downright deadly. From mosquito bites to lightning strikes, we must always respect her. While some of the inherent dangers associated with fishing are preventable, others are not; so we must always be prepared.

The number one thing that comes to mind is drowning, and water does not discriminate. Risk is present whether we cast lines from shore, a boat dock, as we wade in a river or from a boat/kayak/canoe. The bottom line is wear a life jacket or some other flotation device especially when in a kayak or other types of water crafts. This is why the PA Fish and Game Commission have enacted laws which require mandatory life jacket use when on a flotation device or boat in the months of spring. Summer months only require that floatation device is immediately accessible, however, it is good practice to wear irregardless of the laws.

One of the biggest dangers in fishing is the use of hip and chest waders. Multiple people have died in Presque Isle Bay of Lake Erie when they waded too deep and had their waders fill will water causing them to drown. Lake Erie is felt to be the most dangerous of all of the Great Lakes due to weather conditions changing so rapidly. Fishing in a river though is probably the most dangerous of all as the potential for submersion and drowning is a constant threat. When you are wading, make sure that is all you pay attention to until you are in your spot and don’t cast while walking.

Should your waders start to fill with water, leave the water immediately. If they fill quickly, stay calm. You can stay afloat by sculling – similar to treading water but moving only your hands, palms down, in a circular or figure-eight motion, on or just under the surface of the water, exerting pressure downward. You keep your arms in front of you with your elbows bent and position your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. The motion keeps you afloat when your body is in a vertical position in the water.

Waders or any shoe may not have the grip you need while walking on wet rocks in the water. Choose a safe place where there are fewer large rocks and more even land. Use a stick as a cane if you want. Falls can happen easily leading to cuts, concussions or even broken bones.

Also pay attention to the amount of rain that we have had. There will be times the water will be deeper and moving faster than usual.

In addition to drowning, hypothermia is another common and lethal occurrence. Hypothermia means your body is losing heat faster than it can produce it. Watch the weather reports closely for temperature. Wear layers to accommodate temperature changes.

Exposure to the cold along with wind, wetness and exhaustion causes hypothermia. It can occur in air temperatures between 30-50 degrees. Cold water takes away body heat 25 times faster than air of the same temperature. Any water colder than 70 degrees can cause hypothermia. If you start shivering, have balance issues, have slow speech or appear tired, the easiest thing to do is get to your vehicle for shelter and warmth, remove any wet clothing and cover with a blanket. If you’re not improving, call for an ambulance to take you to the hospital.

Other environmental dangers lurking out there include the following:
• Being struck by lightning. Don’t fish in a storm.
• Dehydration. Bring plenty of water or sports drinks. Alcohol and drinks with caffeine do not keep you hydrated.
• Sunburn. Wear sunscreen. Ultraviolet rays will reflect off water even if you are in the shade.
• Encounters with snakes and bats and other potentially dangerous animals such as bears, wild boar and moose, to name a few, can occur. Pay attention to what’s happening around you and signs of those animals. Learn about your fishing area before you go. Carry a first-aid kit for small bites.
• Insect bites and ticks. Use the appropriate bug spray on your clothes and skin. Bug bites are not just annoying. They carry disease that can cause flu-like symptoms and have long-term effects on your health.

The aforementioned are injuries that are considered environmental. Other accidents could be considered self-inflicted and include the following:

Orbital rupture, or eye injury, can occur during casting or when someone else is casting. A good practice is to wear sunglasses or eye protection. If a hook does get in the eye, do not attempt to remove it and get to the nearest Emergency Department where they will call an eye surgeon. Always look behind you before you cast so you do not hurt anyone.

Occasionally an angler will get a fish hook in the skin. First and foremost, removing a fishhook is best left to a doctor or a hospital emergency room. Once a fish hook enters the skin beyond the barb, it is hard to remove.

Also, never attempt to remove a hook from around a person's eyes, face, the back of the hands, or any area where ligaments, tendons or blood vessels are visible.

Other people such as myself enjoy spear fishing with a mask, snorkel, fins and spear. It goes without saying that it can also be dangerous, but we won’t “dive into” the particulars here. Just be sure to learn what you can before attempting.

In closing, whether you fish with a fly rod, bait caster, spinning reel, spear and/or a bow fishing set up, you need always respect your environment and the forces of nature to divert catastrophe. Furthermore, injuries can inflicted by the environment, wildlife and oneself. While accidents can never be 100 percent prevented, we can certainly take measures to make it less likely statically that they occur. When they do occur, we should be prepared to deal with the situation and stack the cards in our favor. Have fun out there and happy spring!