With the cold weather rolling in, I present for you my Top Ten Tips to a Safe [Surf] Fishing Trip. I hope you already know them all.
1. File a surf plan. Simply put, this can be as easy as yelling from the driveway, “Honey, I’ll be at the Canal and will be home by midnight.” The important message is to make sure someone knows where you are and what time to expect you. If you are caught up in an unsafe situation and have trouble, then you will be missed and someone besides yourself may be your only hope.
2. Jackets & surf tops should be worn outside waders. This is a personal pet peeve but really should be a rule in all fishermen’s minds. Think about it. If you tuck a jacket into waders, then any water will follow the jacket right into your waders and weigh you down, get you cold and put you in danger. Not to mention what happens when you have fallen into the river and fill up like a water balloon.
3. Wader belt goes outside the jacket. No matter what amount of clothing you are wearing under the jacket and waders, the whole package must be tightened up so that a fall in the water does not result in a fight for your life against a hard current. Tighten a wader belt above your waist and you should prevent filling up if you take a wave. Also, the snugness of the belt leads to a feeling of security and makes me feel pretty comfortable.
4. Keep your head, hands and feet warm. Start with the hat of your choice and just make sure it fits under your hood on a rainy day. Wear a pair of gloves. There are many on the market from completely waterproof to designs that function akin to a wet suit where the neoprene holds a layer of water heated by your body. Finally…the socks. I use long, thick hunting socks.
5. When fishing from rocks, wear metal studs on your feet. At famous surfcasting destinations like Hazard Ave in Narragansett, Rhode Island and Squibnocket on Martha’s Vineyard, one small misstep can turn into the worst accident. Studded shoes or soles such as those made by Hodgeman and Korkers are common safety equipment for the hardcore surfcasting set, but just because you are fishing on one of the last bluebird days this month does not mean accidents can’t happen.
6. Always carry hook cutters. For less than ten dollars at a discount store or a few bucks more at a hardware store, you can own a decent pair of Manley-style cutters. Sometimes hooks catch us instead of the fish, and I have saved many a trip by just cutting the hook and backing the rest out. No cutter, off to Emergency and end of trip. Not good.
7. Choose a safe place for your car keys. I am constantly getting back to my truck and looking for my keys. A normal enough behavior, but I also remember the time I cut myself pretty badly and it took 15 minutes in a full-blown panic to get into the car. If that was an artery, I would have been in deep trouble. I suggest setting a routine location and you can avoid repeating my mistake.
8. The buddy system isn’t just for children. Seriously, I suggest you fish with a friend whenever possible. Two minds are always better than one when it comes to making fishing decisions. You are less likely to endanger yourself or put yourself in a risky situation when two people are fishing together.
9. Drive low, slow and responsibly on and off the beach. Whether driving on the beach itself or just travelling on a public or private road, letting the appropriate amount of air from the tires, following posted speed limits and driving in a manner that will not challenge our future access may seem like a no-brainer, but one mistake can be fatal and nothing is worth that type of risk.
10. Don’t fish angry. I make my worst mistakes when upset. Although an impromptu run to the beach to take a few casts after a bad day of work is a great therapeutic tool, I have learned to calm down before I go. One small mistake can trigger a domino effect and a single moment of anger can quickly become a series of unintended accidents very quickly.
I hope you already practice these behaviors and if not, please start. As far as the fishing is concerned, it is now the heart of the fall run. Find the bait and the fish will show up…or at least they should show up.