A different side of the coin from the earlier PFD necessity post. Nik Brown, HOOK 1 Fishing Team Manager, shares two events that lead him to always have a PFD on. Thanks to Nik for sharing his stories with us.
Contributed by Nik Brown
In light of a recent Blog regarding the use of a Life Jacket (PFD, Personal Floatation Device) and the arguments that followed, I want to take the time to share my experiences and give the reasons why I wear mine.
I like many people started kayaking in the summer and never put on my life jacket. It was always with me because it is the law here in TN, but the life jacket I bought was a very uncomfortable whitewater style lifejacket. At the time the kayak fishing market was not what it is today and there were no high back life jackets available. I grew up as a swimmer and had competed from the age of four to eighteen. I am not in the shape I was in then, but I am still very confident in the water. In my mind there was no reason to be hot and uncomfortable in that whitewater life jacket.
One day while browsing through the Kayak Bass Fishing forums someone posted an article about someone who lost their life fishing from a kayak. This person had suffered a medical issue while fishing alone and had fallen in the water. The autopsy reveled that he had suffered a stroke and had drowned after he fell out of his kayak unconscious. This person was fishing in a small, shallow fresh water lake and probably could have stood up where he fell out. The lakes maximum depth was just nine feet with most of the lake being shallower than six feet. This story really hit home with me as I had never met another kayak fisherman in my area and I spent the majority of my time fishing alone. It made me think of my family and how their lives would be affected if I were not around. I made up my mind from that point forward to find a comfortable Life Jacket and to always wear it on the water. This not only protects my life but also my loved ones.
In my time kayak fishing I have been fortunate enough to have only had two situations where I was glad I had on my Life Jacket. The first situation is one in which I could have been knock unconscious. The second situation was more recent and involved moving water and a tree strainer across the river. I don’t want to bore you with all of the details, but I do want to share the situations and how they could have caused me to loose my life had I not been wearing my life jacket.
In the fist situation I was standing in my kayak while fishing the early spring spawn in shallow water. I sight casted to a buck bass that was guarding a nest. When I hooked up I gave it the old Bass Pro hook set and stepped back a little. Unfortunately When I stepped back I stepped on a package of soft plastics I had failed to put back in the crate and slipped like it was a banana peel. I knew I was going down so I tried to sit down as quickly and only managed to get a quarter of my butt on the seat before slamming into the water. In many cases this wouldn’t have been too terrible as the water was warming up and the depth was only about two feet. The problem came when I hit my shoulder on a tree stump hard enough to knock the breath out of me. I came up spitting water in extreme pain from the blow to my shoulder. When I got back in the kayak I realized that that could have easily been my head that hit that stump and my life jacket would have saved my life.
The second situation really scared me. While fishing a river in late fall with some friends I turtled my kayak and wedged it and myself under a strainer. (A tree obstructing the path across the water) This happened as a result of my stupidity. Having been a whitewater kayaker when I was younger, I consider myself knowledgeable in moving water and I am pretty good at determining what the current and my kayak are going to do in most situations. In this case my love for fishing and the desire to get it one last cast above the strainer made me ignore the situation I was putting myself in. When I realized I was in trouble it was too late. I had already slammed into the strainer and was quickly dumped into a washing machine of current and tree limbs. While tumbling and trying to find a footing my life jacket was what ended up getting my head above water right as I was running low on air. This was a very humbling experience that made me realize again the value of wearing a life jacket. It also made me realize the value of having other people with you in moving water.
Those were just two examples of how my life jacket has kept me safe. As kayak anglers we are also contending with power boats and a million other ways things could go wrong. If an experienced swimmer and kayaker like myself can get into this kind of trouble so can anyone on the water. I hope that this reaches some of the people who feel it is not necessary to wear their life Jacket 100% of the time. I found the NRS Chinook Life Jackets a couple years ago and have figured out that they can not only be worn comfortably year round, but they can be an invaluable tool on the water. If you are not comfortable in your life jacket or it is too hot on the water, you probably do not have the right life jacket or do not have it adjusted properly. Please wear your life jackets 100% of the time. If you decide to wear an inflatable lifejacket please make sure it is an auto-inflate and that you have a spare recharge kit with you. I don’t want you to be the next news article I read about a kayak angler who lost their life.