Saturday, 9 January 2010

Better safe than sorry.

We all have to admit that in today's crazy world of health and safety it has all gone a bit too far! Kids can't play conkers unless they wear a crash helmet, if its dirty you can't go in it, if it's slippy you can't go on it. The same applies to fly fishing. When I started down the road of becoming a fly fishing instructor and guide, the first series of exams that I undertook (Level II) seemed more interested in knowing what I knew about health and safety, than it did of fly fishing skills, teaching and communication skills. We all know that if we fall into water or slip on a muddy bank that there could be consequences. But I am a firm believer in common sense and practice over paperwork. If I remember correctly, one of the questions was something to do with walking across a fishery car park and the nearest fire escape! Not, how would you teach an angler how to safely get out of a river if they had slipped, or how would you manoeuvre a boat to a jetty facing an on shore wind. Or how about tides and times, and when it is safe to take people.

At Adventure fly fishing UK, we understand the importance of the safety of our anglers and guests who visit us us for fly fishing tuition and guiding. Whether fly fishing from the shore or afloat nothing is taken to chance. As AAPGAI instructors, you won't usually see the preparation that goes into a day with us, because all that we want is for you to be focusing on day. Not worrying about safety or finding the fish. That is our job. One side of fly fishing that is really booming at the moment is fly fishing for pike. With many fly fishers targeting them on some of the large trout waters and big lakes, most anglers will be looking for them from a boat. On the whole, fly fishing is a safe sport. As long as you wear a hat and glasses, pay attention to the conditions, surrounds and don't fall in then you should be back for more fun. The same applies when fly fishing from a boat. The only other factor is your afloat.

As a life long angler I have spent my fare share of time in a boats. Most of it has been spent on the large lochs and loughs of Scotland and Ireland. Many of my local fly fishing venues also had boats and I often preferred to fish from them, than fishing from the bank. This was due to fish location, restricted casting or shear laziness. So over time your own awareness of what is safe and what isn't soon sharpens. It is fare to say that there are a lot of people out there who go out for the first time, and you wonder if they will return! This was brought home to me when I used to managing a large still water trout fishery in Somerset. We would often have to go and tow boats back in that had run into trouble, repair damaged props and keels, ensure life jackets were worn, remove rod tips and line from around the props and even had to drag an angler into a rescue boat that had fallen in. Its easy to hire a boat for the day and set off on your fly fishing trip, but by paying attention to a few important points will make it a lot smoother and safer.

Fly fishing from boats is very popular, but a bit of
knowledge and know how will be a big help.

As I mentioned earlier, fly fishing on large trout venues and lakes is getting very popular. Most of these waters have their own safety policies and will maintain and check boats are in good working order and decide whether it is safe to go out or not. When fishing on large unrestricted waters, then it is down to the angler to make these checks and asses the danger. It doesn't hurt to have some kind of powerboat training, which will teach you about weather forecasts, navigation, boat preparation, boat handling and manoeuvring, self rescue, and engine maintenance. This may all sound a bit OTT, but once you have learnt all about it you will be surprised how many scrapes it will get you out of. These are regularly carried out at RYA centers throughout the country.

The last thing we want as a tuition and guiding service is to floating around like idiots waiting to get rescued or waiting until we drift into the bank. When people are paying good money to spend the day bent into fish, they don't really want to get towed back in behind a safety boat, looking like the Chuckle brothers!! It may be worth asking the guys who are taking you out if they have any kind of boat training. I am not saying that it is paramount, but i would be more confident if I knew the guide in charge of the boat knew what they were doing. I have even been out to rescue so called 'celebrity anglers' when they have got into trouble, and I know Derrick had to send a chopper out to rescue another celeb from the coast. I'm not going to mention names, but maybe they ought just stick to writing about it. Saying that I never read about the trouble that they got into. Only how good they were and how many fish they caught. Funny that!

When thinking about taking a boat out, the first thing to consider is the weather. On the flip side of rough, windy weather there are those blistering hot days. You often see pale anglers setting off in the morning, only to return in the evening looking like a boiled lobster. So it pays to carry everything that you think you will need throughout the day. There is usually no nipping back to the car. As well as all of the fly fishing tackle, we always carry a 'boat bag'. This is easily stowed away under the seat of a boat and will help us in any situation. First things first is you own protection. Just like bank fishing we always advise on wearing a hat and glasses, but when afloat a floatation device is also a must. I'm not going to get into the debate of whether it should be a 'self inflating' life jacket, a manual or a buoyancy aid. My personal choice when in a boat is a buoyancy aid. This is only because I'm lazy and once its on its on. I don't have to worry about checking it for leaks, changing cartridges, have them going off in the bag, or putting a hole in it. The only advantage of a self inflating life jacket is it will go off when submersed in water, then right you up so you are not floating face down in the water. But when fishing in pairs this doesn't tend to be much of a problem.

When afloat always make sure you wear protection.
(Hat, glasses, and a buoyancy aid). The fish is optional!

Apart from making sure you are safe from stray flies or falling in, it is also vital to make sure that your boat is going to get out and back OK. Checking that it isn't leaking is always a winner. The last thing you want to do is spend the day bailing it out, instead of fishing. If you are using a boat with an outboard motor, check that there is enough fuel for the day and there is an alternative method of propulsion i.e. oars or electric motor. All motors vary in controls, so if you are unfamiliar with the type of engine play around with it for a while before setting off. Run the engine for a while, checking that the tick over is right and the fuel is running through it OK. Look over the back of the engine and check that the exhaust is working and spitting water out. Check that the engine can be pulled up and dropped back in and out of the water, and most important check that the kill switch works and you have the kill cord. If in doubt, don't go out. A lot of anglers are happy letting the cord dangle from the engine whilst they set off. But for the sake of clipping it around your leg it will make all the difference if you fall over. Used correctly, it will kill the engine and you can clamber back into the boat. Leave it dangling from the engine and the boat will blast off into the distance leaving you to swim for it.

Carry spares, repairs and other bit and pieces in a
waterproof boat bag, that is easily stored under the seat.

In our 'boat bag' we carry a range of items that will help us to have a good day even if there is any small glitch.

My own PFD, with room to carry plenty of bits and bobs.

Navigation equipment, maps and charts.

There is no better substitute than knowing your water first hand. But it is always helpful to have a map of the water, to plot shallow areas which may ground the boat, to check for likely looking holding and feeding areas, or simply to get a better understanding of the area you are floating on. A GPS and compass also comes aboard to help with plotting holding areas. These may change as the season progresses, but if in spring you are picking fish up in a certain area, then they move somewhere else in the summertime, then again throughout autumn, it helps to plot these areas for future reference. One piece of kit that I also like to use is a sounder. Usually called a fish finder, and often frowned upon by a lot of trout anglers. Our main use for it is for working and finding contours. Again it will show us the depth and shape of the lake bed, and has saved us from grounding the boat on several occasions over the years. This is a lifesaver when fishing on some of the remote lakes, where it is possible to be cruising over 100ft of water one minute then 2ft the next as you pass over a sunken island. This gives us time to make adjustments of the cruise and steer around it in time.

Rescue and first aid kit should also be carried.

If someone was to accidentally fall over the side of the boat, then it pays to have something at hand to pull them back. If the boat is anchored then a hand, landing net handle or an oar should suffice. If the boat is drifting or the person is moving away, then a throw line a throw line will do the job. No kit would be complete without a reflective blanket! If it is cold, then wrapping the person up should keep them warm until you can get back to shore. First aid kits can be cumbersome. But when your on a boat it doesn't really make that much difference. It isn't very often that I have had to use one, but when fly fishing for fish with sharp teeth, you get the odd knick every now and again.

Pike like to get their own back every now and again!

A few spare items that are sometimes missing or broke.

It can be a pain if you turn up and there are a few things missing. Spare rowlocks and a bailer have come in handy a few times over the years. If they aren't missing then they are sometimes damaged and may need replacing to get back. There is nothing more frustrating than finding the kill cord missing. Without it, you will have a job to keep the engine running. At least if you have a spare (for the right engine), you can still get out and crack on with some fishing.

The last few bits that we take are a knife, leatherman, screwdriver, head torch, cord, cable ties, shear pins, spark plug and a spanner. I know it may sound like we are rebuilding the boat, but most of this stuff doesn't get used from one season to the next. It is with experience over a long time that dictates what I now carry. After snapping a rowlock whilst rowing across loch Lomond, I decided to carry spares. After loosing the kill cord and having to row back along rutland, I got my own spare just in case, and loosing the bailer whilst having a pee, meant we had to stand in a foot of water during a torrential storm on LLandegfedd as the boat filled up. There was stuff and gear floating all over the place. So as the old saying goes 'once bitten, twice shy'. Now we are more prepared for all our trips. With most of the boat fishing done on freshwater in search of trout and pike, then these kind of commercial fisheries will have fishery workers who maintain the boats and jetties. So 99% of the time every will be good. If there are any problems with a boat it is just a case of swapping it or getting it put right before you go adrift. When hiring boats on small fisheries or wild waters where they only usually have the odd boat or two that can get neglected, may get a bit of 'boat bag' treatment. I'm no kind of formula one pit crew guy, but I can just about keep a boat limping along when it should be been towed in.

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