Cold water means fall anglers, hunters must think of safety

Matt Markey
Matt Markey

PORT CLINTON — The Lake Erie water temperature off nearby Catawba Island on Saturday was 53 degrees, and falling. In the Maumee River back in Toledo, the water was running at about 59 degrees, and falling.

With a lot of fishermen still out on the lake as large groups of walleye are migrating back to the western basin, and waterfowl hunters working the rivers and the marshes as waves of ducks and geese dot the sky, fall can be a very productive time in the outdoors.

But it is also a time when the stakes get much higher for the angler or the hunter who finds themselves in the water unexpectedly.

While a clumsy August plunge into Lake Erie can be embarrassing and cost you a good cell phone, a November plunge can cost you your life. The Coast Guard recently issued a stern reminder that safety has to be an even higher priority once the weather turns and the water chills, since each year hunters and anglers will find themselves in life-threatening emergency situations that involve the water.

The advice offered by the Guard remains simple, direct, and of the common sense variety.

■ Don’t carry your life jacket — wear it. Once you are in the drink, it can be darned near impossible to put it on.

■ An overloaded boat is an invitation to disaster. Lake Erie’s ability to churn up a froth can be tough on a good boat with a well-balanced load, and it can be treacherous when you disregard the boat’s capacity.

■ Movement on board, whether in a floating blind, layout boat, or a fishing vessel, should be kept to a minimum. Movement is not only counter-productive to your outdoors endeavors, but it can quickly lead to a crisis, especially in the smaller craft. The Coast Guard says that about 70 percent of the fatalities in boating are the result of incidents of capsizing, sinking, or falling overboard from small boats.

■ Be weather-wise. Lake Erie is a fickle temptress under the best of conditions, and she can change her mood in a hurry. If there is any indication of an upcoming storm or high winds, retreat, seek shelter, and live to play another day.

■ Always file a travel plan with someone you trust. Give them as much specific information as possible on where you plan to hunt or fish, and approximately what time you plan to return. Use a cell phone to text or call in updates if your plans change. If you encounter engine trouble or are injured in some way, you want the search party to know where to look.

■ As with chainsaw operation, surgery, and diamond cutting, never boat or hunt under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

■ Technology gives us an additional safety net, so always have a means to call for help. A marine radio is best, while a cell phone is a decent backup.

■ If you get into an emergency situation, don’t leave your boat. Rescuers can see an overturned boat a lot easier than they can pick out a lone figure bobbing.

“Regardless of the activity, no boater ever intends to end up in the water,” said Mike Baron, the Coast Guard’s recreational boating safety specialist based in Cleveland. “Accidents happen fast and unexpectedly.”

Baron said an emphasis is placed on urging waterfowl hunters to prepare and gear up for the outdoors the same as a boater does, since water of varying depths is always a part of their sport.

“Waterfowl hunters rarely see themselves as boaters, and as a result, more hunters are killed each year by drowning than by gunshot wounds,” Baron said.

Duck and goose hunters rely a lot on flat-bottom boats, canoes and kayaks, and semi-V hulled vessels. These boats are less stable and more prone to capsizing.

“Waterfowl hunters should exercise an extra degree of care and risk management as they find themselves in an environment where the air and water temperature are colder,” Baron said. “They are potentially operating a boat that is overloaded with extra gear, and with sudden movement, they could find themselves immersed in cold water awaiting rescue.”

MICHIGAN WARNING: Michigan hunters are warned to be aware of pipeline construction projects that are on-going in 11 counties in the state. The work is expected to continue through the small and big-game hunting seasons. Flaggers and workers will be in Berrien, Calhoun, Cass, Ingham, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Livingston, Macomb, Oakland, St. Clair, and St. Joseph counties, so hunters are urged to avoid construction sites. The pipeline right-of-way is private property and should not be entered.

TYC PROGRAM INFO: The contact number for tickets or information on the Toledo Yacht Club’s Nov. 10 program entitled “The Final Voyage”, marking the 38th anniversary of the loss of the Edmund Fitzgerald, is 419-726-3485. Advance tickets and reservations are required.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.