Catch and hope for a release
Recently, I was asked to describe the most dangerous situation I had faced in my long career as a guide. Fortunately, it is a fairly short list. I’ve always been proactive in my efforts to avoid such matters.
I’ve run into a number of wild animals, including a few bears, but fortunately they were never in the mood to bother with me. I’ve probably lost more blood to black flies and mosquitoes, than any other single source.
In regard to animal encounters, I’ve been in close proximity to a moose and within nostril range of several skunks, but again I always walked away unharmed.
Once while scrambling over a field of boulders, I got stuck while attempting to jump from one rock to another and ended up straddled between a pair of them. It took awhile to gain my balance at first, but as soon as I realized there was a porcupine guarding her young in the crevasse directly below my crotch, I moved very quickly. While I’ve been advised that porcupines can’t throw their quills, I was in no mood to find out if it was really the truth.
I experienced another animal encounter while hunting during the early muzzleloader season a few years back. It occurred as I was in the middle of a drive, attempting to push deer to the watchers ahead. It was getting late in the day and I decided to work my way through a thick patch of beech whips that had retained their leaves.
The beech stand, which was only about 40 yards long and about half as wide, often provided safe haven for deer as they could easily disappear in the cover.
I was standing still, listening for them walking on the crunchy forest floor when I noticed two bear cubs clawing up a big beech tree that was less than 10 yards from where I stood.
I also knew they were going there for protection, and were probably sent by their mother who was very likely to be nearby and still on the ground.
Stuck in the middle of thick cover with only a single shot in my muzzleloader, I decided to whistle as I walked my way out of the fix. Fortunately, the bear did the same, and in the opposite direction.
Many of the activities I enjoy offer a reasonable risk of life and limb, ranging from climbing to backcountry skiing, cliff diving to mountain biking, whitewater paddling and more.
The key is to be prepared and to have the ability to gauge the risk. If the weather looks bad or the ice is questionable, there will always be another day.
I learned “to look before you leap,” as my mother always admonished me. The lesson proved useful one day as I prepared to dive into the first pool at Split Rock Falls, a popular swimming hole.
Instead of diving in as I usually had, I decided to check the pool first. I don’t know why, it was just a feeling. So, I strapped on a mask and slipped into the water. I immediately realized there was a metal street sign standing upright, stuck in the bottom of the river.
I hauled it out and realized it could have easily been a sharp sapling or some other obstacle as well. I discovered that caution doesn’t come naturally with old age, but old age rarely comes without caution.
Eventually, I discovered that a flyrod is one of the most dangerous implements to be found in the hands of a beginning angler. I often provide lessons as well as angling tours, and I’m often required to offer advice on technique, tackle and talent.
It is far safer and easier to comment on tackle and technique than it is on talent. There are some people who simply can’t manage to hold onto a fishing pole, even when it is duct-taped to their hands.
Often a rod is lost on the cast when the angler releases the button on a spinning reel and tosses the whole outfit overboard.
With youngsters, I often clip the rod handle to their belt with a short length of cord. Even though they may not toss it on the cast, I’ve often had them drop it in the drink when a bass leaps out of the water near the boat.
I’ve also lost a hat or two when I was standing behind a young angler as they wound up over their shoulder to make a cast without looking.
Whenever I fish, I always wear glasses and a hat for protection, but sometimes it is of no use. I’ve only had three instances of being hooked by accident in more than 50 years of angling, and two of them were self inflicted.
One day, it was a kid who hooked me in a very tender area when I had my back to him. Fortunately, he had a barbless hook attached to the business end of his fly line, and I was able to safely remove it from my leisurely end with just a pair of hemostats.
I was not so lucky the next time, which occurred as I was hauling hard on a flyrod while I was casting for salmon. As the line, with fly attached, came zinging by my head, a stiff wind blew it toward me. The fly lodged in my ear, and I quickly discovered a bloody ear is an awful thing.
I tried repeatedly to remove the hook with a pair of needle-nose pliers, while eyeing it in mirror of my truck. However, it was set in deep, beyond the barb, and there was blood spurting all over.
Soon, I looked as if an ax murderer had just paid me a visit.
I couldn’t manage to push the hook through the flesh far enough to snip off the barb, and I knew the nearest hospital was at least an hour’s drive away. So, I was forced to yank and holler, which was the easy part.
The toughest component of the situation was shedding the boots, waders, vest and collecting all of the assorted gear into the back of my vehicle while blood sprouted out my ear like a wildcatter’s oil well.
I used all of the gauze and athletic tape available to try and stem the surge, but it was of no use. By the time I got home, I looked like a zombie. However, my wife soon had me all patched and I slept like a baby.
“Never again,” I swore to myself. “I’ll never again cast in a side-wind.”
Twenty two years later, I grabbed a lure off the seat of the boat while I was cleaning up after a long day on the water. It was still attached to the leader, which was connected to the rod, and the hook sunk into the knuckle of my finger. Grudgingly, I was forced to go to the hospital.
Although I had been there with a few guests over the years, I was always the one to joke about the Adirondack Medical Center’s emergency room “Wall of Shame,” where all the wayward anglers donate their tackle after having it removed.
I knew I too would be asked to donate the appliance from my hand. However, I declined while explaining, “That’s a $12 lure, with a additional $150 handling fee. If it was attached to me so well, just think what it will do when it connects with a fish!”
However, the lure has never been back in the water. It still sits where I can see it, right in the top of my tackle box. I left it there as my gentle reminder to just slow down and enjoy the fishing, since there’s no reason to rush when you’re enjoying some time on the water.