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Tis the season, the time of year everyone starts getting antsy to get back on the water. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel here in the Midwest. Even though it may not feel it with snow still on the ground here in Ohio. Rods, reels, and tackle have been prepped new gear bought just waiting for those first beautiful rays of spring sunshine. But in our haste as anglers to get back on the water we can sometimes forget the risks that come with cold water fishing. That first 70 degree day can lull you into a false sense of security. I’d like to share my story of a close call last year and how it has changed the way I prepared for fishing any time of year.

 I’ve always considered myself relatively safe and responsible on the water. Spending most of my time on Lake Erie a PFD is a must. I’ve watched and to some extent practiced deep-water reentry. I feel confident in my equipment and myself as a paddler, after all I’ve gone 8 years now without incident. But one beautiful 70 degree day in October changed all that. It was a Friday in early October I had just gotten off working the grave yard shift and was ready to meet up and fish a small inland lake here in Northeast Ohio. After a couple pretty good cold snaps it felt like the window was closing on us. The forecast looked amazing cooler temps in the morning with a moderate wind out of the east in the morning settling down to a partly cloudy 75 degree day in the afternoon. Wind always seemed to be an issue on this lake but I planned on staying tucked into coves all day flipping pads and hydrilla mats. When I arrived at the lake I noticed temps seemed much cooler than I was expecting wearing a light hoodie and shorts. Also the wind seemed much stronger but knowing I’d only be in it for a short while I began my trek across the lake to my spot. I made it to my spot without issue and began flipping my jig around my the mats. After an hour or so I’d only managed one dink and began rummaging through my center hatch for different baits. I switched to a 412 bait co beaver style bait and at last contact! A big girl slack lined me then came ripping outta the mats. Finally what I had come for, I snapped a few pics then sent her on her marry way. I then sat down and looked at the huge mess deck of my yak was, baits, bags, rods everywhere. So I decided if I was gonna be standing all day I better tidy up a bit. Then it happened!

In my hurry to get some pics of the fish I had not realized that I had not set my chair in the correct position. One of the legs was sitting on top of and not In the groove. I felt a slow slide to the left then a jerk, I tried my hardest to grab on the other side of the kayak but that only brought it over with me. I went under and popped up with a huge gasp and found that I couldn’t catch my breath with every gasp I was swallowing water and coughing. I managed to float up on my back keeping me from sucking in more water. I then began looking for my yak but noticed my feet were tangled in fishing line. I quickly untangled and held on to the line dragging with it my rod back to the kayak. I gave 3 or 4 huge heaves then tried climbing on top

trying to pull the kayak back over to right itself. I was unable my muscles began to cramp and the gasping was getting worse. I was unable to flip the kayak back over because I had left the center hatch half open and it had filled with water. Now I had a decision to make I could leave the yak and swim for shore. The bank only 50 yards away. The problem there was I was on the opposite side of the lake with nothing but a swampy shoreline. I decided to try and swim my overturned yak to shore which took some doing as my legs were starting to feel like cement at this point. Half way to shore I realized I had no paddle, I had to leave the yak drop the line and rod I was carrying and swim back out to my paddle which seemed to be constantly running away from me. By the time I got the kayak and paddle to shore I was violently shaking. I was able to tip the kayak up draining enough water out of it to flip it back over. I climbed back on board but with every paddle stroke the boat leaned over heavy with water still being in the hull. When pulled up to the ramp the feeling of relief was indescribable.

Looking back I realize I had a couple of key things going for me.

1  Most important I was wearing my PFD. I have no doubt that this on piece of equipment saved my life.

2 While I wasn’t wearing all the proper clothes a sweatshirt made from synthetic wool and fast drying athletic shorts saved me from freezing out of the water.

3 The sun, had it stayed overcast and blowing any warm the wool provided would have been quickly cancelled out.

4 A change of clothes in the car.

Now some of the things that hindered my attempts at self preservation.

1 I dressed for the weather not the water

2 My deck was a mess I had stuff everywhere and hatches open

3 I was in a hurry I didn’t properly secure my seat before sitting down

4 I didn’t have my paddle leashed to my kayak. This caused me to spend more time in the water.

  Now I don’t know what the water temp was as in a hurry to get to my fishing spot I  didn’t take my fish finder. I would estimate low 50’s but the shock of hitting and being in that water is something I will never forget. We can put all the plans we want in place but once it happens that all goes out the window. Its not enough to be a good swimmer or having extensive experience paddling, its not if it happens its when. I consider myself extremely lucky and truly believe that my PFD saved my life. This incident has changed the way I plan for trips. Clothing wise I’ve cut out as much cotton as I can when on the water. Going instead with wool or polyester materials. I’ve bought a dry suit for cooler temps. I carry dry bags and keep dry clothing at the ready. Lastly I always try to take a buddy along especially in the colder months. I challenge everyone whether you spend 1 day on the water or 365 to find a PFD that is comfortable and wear it at all times. Some amazing fishing can be had in these times of the year and I look forward to reading fishing reports not news reports. So please take up this challenge and urge others to do the same.

Thanks for reading and I hope to see you on the water!
Jake Horne