Ramblings of a Catskill Fly Fisher

One wrong move

Posted 8/23/23

Those of us who fly fish, and indeed most folks who fish, do not consider angling a dangerous sport.

That’s especially true when comparing fishing to football, soccer or even auto racing. …

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Ramblings of a Catskill Fly Fisher

One wrong move


Those of us who fly fish, and indeed most folks who fish, do not consider angling a dangerous sport.

That’s especially true when comparing fishing to football, soccer or even auto racing. And, I’ve always considered fly fishing a non-competitive, contemplative, safe sport. Yet there are dangers inherent with fishing and fly fishing, too.

While accidents are rare, on occasion we’ll hear a report of a drowning or bass boats colliding.

Wading, while generally safe, can lead to to some hairy situations if one is not careful. I know that when I was younger, it was common for me to wade into areas that were dangerous—even treacherous.

For example, when I was a student at the University of Montana, one of the resident assistants invited me to go fishing with him “down the Bitterroot.” It was some time in late June, with snow melt/runoff in full swing. He told me he had been fishing the river and found trout rising, which immediately got my attention. So on a cloudy, warm day we headed to the Bitterroot. When we arrived, Andy said we needed to cross. He was six-foot-four, and weighed probably 250 pounds, so he waded across fairly easily. At that time I weighed about 150 pounds and was at least a foot shorter.

When I attempted to cross, about 50 feet from shore and in a water level near the top of my waders, I began to lift off the bottom. At that point, I knew knew that there was no way I was going to make it to the other side, because of the depth and the velocity of the flow.

Fortunately, I was able to back out, return to shore, and watch Andy catch several nice trout.

About a week later, intending to fish this area, my friends and I rented a raft from Bob Wards in Missoula, MT. With that little craft, we were able to safely paddle across and catch some good size rainbows.

That was a situation on the Bitterroot where one more step could have easily found me floundering down river, with my chest waders full of water, struggling to to gain shore. Truly a dangerous encounter where reason prevailed, causing me to back out before getting into a serious—perhaps life threatening—problem.

Another time, while fishing the mainstem Delaware River, I was wet wading, casting bank to bank. I walked off the end of a bar into water over my head. If I had been wearing waders, I don’t know what the outcome of that careless maneuver would have been.

Then one October day, my friend Tony called and asked if we could use the John boat I kept near Cat Hollow on Pepacton Reservoir, to try his new fish locator. I agreed and off we went. The date was October 22, probably sometime in the mid 1970s. I remember the date, because it was the opening day of pheasant season.

Anyway, when we arrived, we rowed across the reservoir to a quiet cove, because the wind had picked up. When we stopped, I dropped the anchor, and we begin to fish with live bait. While I fished, Tony operated his new fish locator.

We stayed in that location for about a half an hour before deciding to move because we had no action. Tony was a very large man, and while I don’t know how much he actually weighed, it was well over 250 pounds. He was sitting in the stern and I was in the middle seat, from which I was rowing.

Since the anchor was down, I got up and moved forward, toward the bow. When I did that, Tony shifted his weight, and I went flying over the side. Fortunately, the water wasn’t cold and we both had life preservers. That’s when Tony told me he couldn’t swim.

Somehow, I was able to get the boat upside down with air underneath, and get Tony on top. I’l never forget that scene. Tony had on a black cowboy hat that somehow ended up sideways on his head. And I can still see this very large man lying atop my boat with that crazy black hat. Comical now but not so much then.

When I swam around to the bow to pull the anchor line, it was stuck. After some tugging, I was able to get the anchor up, put the line over my shoulder and tow the boat to shore, which fortunately was only about 75 feet away.

Once on shore, we righted and drained the boat, gathered what was left of our tackle, rowed back across the reservoir and headed home. That day we lost four spinning rods, two tackle boxes, a live-bait pail and Tony’s new locator, but we survived.

On the way home, we stopped at the Boiceville Inn for a couple of cognacs and to rehash the day.

Eventually, I went back to the place where I kept that boat, and I learned the vessel was rated for 300 pounds. Between our collective weight, we had exceeded the boat’s recommended capacity—which in itself was a major problem.

So while fishing is a safe sport, anglers can find themselves in  scary, life-threatening situations because of one wrong move or misplaced step. Most of those instances happen in a blink of an eye, without a lot of warning. So keep all that in mind while you wade along and cast your flies.


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