The sun is shining, the fish are biting and life is good—until the unexpected happens. Bad weather, breakdowns, injuries and emergencies can turn a fishing trip into a survival story. These three tales show how quickly things can change from placid to perilous on the water. Don’t leave your safety up to chance! Plan ahead to protect yourself and avoid starring in another tale of tragedy and terror.

3 Tales of Terror from Fishing Trips

Photo by stein egil liland from Pexels
Photo by stein egil liland from Pexels

Sudden Storm A-Brewin’

About six years ago, I took my girlfriend Mary (now my wife) on a midsummer river trip. Halfway through the day, we noticed storm clouds gathering to the south. Before we could return to the launch, the wind ahead of the front gusted so strongly it picked up Mary’s kayak and flipped it into the air. I rushed towards her, but another gust of wind pushed me into the water. Unable to re-enter, we swam 75 yards to shore while dragging the boats behind us.

We waited for the storm to pass and ended up limping home minus some gear, but the sudden storm was a valuable learning experience. Now, as soon as storm clouds approach I paddle to shore and wait out the worst. I rig my boat to flip and dress to swim on every trip. Most important, I always wear my PFD.

Ending Up in Icy Water

Photo by Aleksandra Platonova from Pexels
Photo by Aleksandra Platonova from Pexels

In January 2012, Patrick Lail, from North Carolina, was fishing Lake Norman with other experienced kayakers. The temperature at launch was 30 degrees with snow and sleet forecast for the day. While trolling across open water, a wave flipped his kayak and dumped Lail in 40-degree water. Since Lail wasn’t wearing a PFD, he had to fight to the surface, then began screaming for help. Unable to get back in his sit-inside kayak, Lail held on while his buddy towed him a quarter-mile to shore.

“I had to be helped from the water because after ten minutes my muscles were locked tight,” Lail explains.

Once on dry land, Lail stripped his wet clothes and began doing naked jumping-jacks in a neighborhood yard. Eventually, the homeowner gave him dry clothes and Lail recovered from hypothermia. “Don’t head out into cold water without a survival bag,” Lail says. He now includes dry clothes, a fire starter and first aid kit.

Tournament Flags at Half-Mast

Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels
Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

In September 2015, Derek Aikin, a Wilderness Systems pro staffer, was fishing the Great Lakes Kayak Fishing Series at Lake Michigan. High winds produced three-foot swells. Later that day, at the weigh-in, tournament participants realized one angler, 24-year-old Max Boheme, had not returned. Aikin recalls, “We called for him on our VHF and immediately alerted emergency services.” Hours later, Boheme was found drowned 14 miles from the launch.

Screenshot of Chicago Tribune article about Max Boheme drowning during kayak fishing tournament
Max Boheme drowned during a 2015 kayak fishing tournament on Lake Michigan. | Image: Courtesy of Chicago Tribune

“He was wearing a PFD, his personal locator device was activated and his VHF was working,” Aikin says. “No one knows what happened.”

Even with the best emergency equipment, anglers are not immune from disaster. “Don’t fish alone, check in with other anglers, leave a float plan and respect the weather conditions,” Aikin stresses. He also follows the 120 rule. “If the air temperature combined with water temperature is less than 120 degrees, wear a drysuit.”

This article was first published in the Fall 2016 issue of Kayak Angler Magazine. Subscribe to Kayak Angler Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

Plan ahead to protect yourself and avoid starring in another fishing survival story.


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