Winter bass fishing dangers. Bass fishing in the winter months can be very rewarding. There are fewer boats on the lakes and the bass can be predictable. While you many not load the boat, you definitely can catch bass worthy of bragging about. Along with these enjoyable days, the winter months bring cold weather, cold water, and all the dangers that go along with them. With today’s high tech clothing array, we can easily find clothes to keep us warm; preventing frostbite, hypothermia and the general pains associated with extreme cold. However, these same clothes can be a death trap should we have the misfortune of falling in the water.
When you fall in a lake or river during winter months, the cold water will cause a dangerous reaction in your body. The most important thing to survival is to remain calm and keep a clear head, so you can quickly decide what needs to be done. Whether it is swimming to the boat, swimming to shore, or simply standing up because you are shallow enough; if you’re not thinking clearly, these simple decisions seem overwhelming. Here are a few steps to help you keep a clear head in a very dangerous situation.
Falling in a cold body of water will take your breath away, know it and trust it. When your body is completely submerged in cold water, your lungs will inhale and then start gasping for a fresh breath. Breathing is going to take effort for a couple reasons. First, your clothes are now wet, heavy and clinging. Second, your muscles are tightening and possibly cramping. Your body will want to pant with a series of short breaths, trying to get extra oxygen to your muscles that are in distress. It’s vital that you don’t let this happen; you want to maintain a controlled breathing pattern. When that moment comes that you know it’s inevitable you’re going swimming, take a deep breath and try and hold it. Again, when your body hits very cold water it’s a natural response to inhale; however, if your lungs are already full of air, they can’t expand any more. This helps you keep your breathing under control and prevents the risk of breathing in water. With lungs full of air, you have plenty of oxygen to get you through the next few seconds. This is the first step to keeping calm.
Once you’ve held your breath, you can evaluate the next concern, floating. Most of us naturally float. If we don’t fight the situation, our bodies will rise to the surface. Falling from a boat doesn’t send a person to the depths of the lake anyway. More than likely you will only submerge less than a foot or two. Let your breathing help here, if you are concentrating on holding that deep breath you took, you can let your body relax and rise to the surface. If you’re an avid swimmer, the rise to the surface is not going to be as quick as you normally experience. All the clothes can slow this process, be aware it could take a few seconds and let it happen. Studies have been done that if a submerged person looks for light and simply kicks their feet, the body naturally glides to the surface.
You’re breathing, and you’re floating, what next? Now it’s time to figure out the fastest way to get out of the water. This may be attempting to get back in the boat, or it may be swimming to shore. Both will be very challenging tasks, and you will have to analyze your situation to decide which will be faster. With winter clothing on, swimming is nearly impossible. The best way to accomplish any type of forward motion will be on your back and kicking your feet. Trying to lift your arms forward, like in a standard breast stroke, is nearly impossible. Distance is your key factor here; you will only be able to swim a few yards before exhaustion sets in. Keep in mind that if you decided to swim to the boat, you may be too exhausted to lift yourself out of the water once there. You will have to balance the distance between the shore and your boat with your ability to get in the boat once there. Many times, the shore will be a better option.
If swimming to the boat is the best option, you now have the difficult task of getting in the boat. A boat ladder is a great idea and has become a standard feature on many bass boats. However if you don’t have one, you can use your motors (outboard and trolling) to assist the climb into the boat. All outboards now have a trim switch on the cowling. This switch is easily accessed from the water. Trim the motor down until you can put both feet on the cavitation plate, then trim yourself up until you can crawl onto the back deck of your boat. Another option is using the trolling motor, by placing a foot on either side of the shaft and gripping the head of the motor, or sides of your boat, you can pull yourself out of the water. If you have to use the trolling motor, try to do it in small steps. Stand on the trolling motor and use your legs to lift as much of your body out of the water as you can. Pause for a moment and let the water drain off your body and clothing, then, pull yourself the rest of the way on board. Both of these methods are still very difficult and take a lot of effort when you are fully clothed in winter attire.
Removing some of the restrictive clothing while in the water can be advantageous. Once shallow enough to stand with your head above water, or at the side of your boat, it’s time to analyze your situation. If you are not too exhausted, it’s wise to start removing clothing. Removing the added weight aids in your ability to get clear of the water. That being said, many things we wear (I.E. snowmobile suits, bibs, boots) can make this impossible. Clothing with zippered paint legs will make this task easier; however, if it’s a suit of any sort it’s still difficult. Dressing in layers can help save your life should you fall in because they are easier and quicker to remove, both in and out of water.
Getting dry is a huge step to preventing hypothermia. Hypothermia begins as the bodies core temperature starts to drop, and a wet environment increases the heat loss. In water that is 32 degrees you have about 15-30 minutes before hypothermia sets in. Keeping spare clothing in your boat is a must during the winter months. A pair of sweat pants and a sweat shirt can be put into a Ziploc bag and stored easily in a boat compartment. Once you are clear of the water, you’ll have dry clothes to put on.
If you’re accident prone, or know you can’t get back in your boat by yourself, it would be wise to always fish with a partner. A partner can help you get back in the boat, or take you to shore should that not be an option. I highly recommend wearing your life jacket at all times when fishing in the winter, especially when fishing alone. The new inflatable jackets are so light that you don’t even realize you’re wearing them with all the winter clothes on.
The last thing I want is for anyone reading this to fall in the lake. I realize that there are a lot of things here to remember. Follow these five steps as you’re about to fall in and once in the water: 1. Take a deep breath and control your breathing; 2. Let your body float you to the surface; 3. Stay calm and analyze the shortest distance to travel, boat or shore; 4. Start moving calmly towards your target; 5. Get dry. These few steps will save your life.
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