Dry Bags & Wading Belts
Andrew wrote this piece this previous spring. Although we are moving into the front side of winter, the knowledge he gained and wished to share with you may hold true even moreso than it does in the springtime. Winter presents safety hazards that are often overlooked in our outdoor pursuits - however, taking a few simple steps - packing a dry bag & wearing your wading belt - may prove the difference between going home after a day on the water, and sending out a rescue party. Please stay safe this holiday season, and throughout the 2017 winter fishing season. ~Ethan
Dry Bags and Wading Belts
Early spring in Northern Michigan is an exciting time of year. Air temperatures are rising, snow is melting, birds are returning, and the woods are coming back to life. For us anglers it is what we've been patiently waiting for all winter. For the better part of three months most of us have been cooped up inside tying flies and filling boxes. Occasionally venturing out to the river battling sub-freezing temperatures, frozen toes, frozen fingers, and frozen guides, just to MAYBE feel a tug on our line and get our fix.
It is usually in the month of March that we can realistically begin to focus our thoughts on spring steelhead and spring streamer fishing. After a few days of sun and relatively warm temperatures (highs around 40deg) I was ready to hit the water on my days off from the shop. While talking with Tim about where and how I planned to fish, he suggested we take his kayak for a float down the Jordan to strip streamers and keep an eye out for some steelhead. It was definitely a little early in the season for optimal spring streamer fishing, but the last few days had been warm and the water on the Jordan was stained and on the drop. Justifications for our actions aside...It was just going to be nice to float for the first time of the year, and if we picked up a fish or two it would be a bonus.
The next morning, I met Tim and we were off to spot a car. Our plan was to float from Old State Rd down just passed Rodgers Rd, which if fished at a moderate pace is every bit of a full day float. It was shaping up to be a pretty good day. The high was only 37deg, but the sun was out heavy and with only a few passing clouds it felt much warmer. We launched in Tim's kayak at about 10am. Now I have floated rivers in a kayak before, but always in a single person recreational kayak. Tim's kayak is a bit different. It is a single deep hull tandem kayak. The guy fishing out of the front is either on his knees or sitting up on the bow with his feet dangling off (real safe I know). The guy in back paddling sits up on a cushion on the stern, out of the hull. Now I can assure you this is not the way this kayak was designed to be used and if it seems sketchy...well that's because it is. But after a long, cold winter we were just excited to be floating.
We started the day with Tim in the back paddling and myself up front fishing. For the first hour or so I fished a mini D&D. Casting to cover, inside bends, outside bends, seams and all the rest of your typical holding lies. After throwing Indy rigs on a floating line all winter it took me a little bit to get back in the groove throwing a 250gr 24' sink tip and streamers. After about an hour and a half or so Tim was eager to fish. We stopped for a break and switched spots in the boat. For the first little bit I was more concerned with getting a feel for how the kayak handled and maneuvered, rather than being in proper position for Tim to fish good water. After about 30-40min I was starting to feel confident and putting Tim in better positions to fish. The temperature was only in the mid-30s at this point and I had on quite a few layers. With the sun beating down it felt much warmer and I was getting hot. I stopped and took off my SIMMS Kinetic Jacket and stowed it inside of our iceless cooler. This would prove to be incredibly important about 30min later.
After shedding a layer, we continued our float. I was feeling confident and putting Tim in position to hit his spots. That is until a few bends downstream, when things took a turn for the worse. I was positioning the kayak to float past a log jam on an inside bend ahead of us. Before I knew what was happening we started to get sucked into a back eddy that was pulling us towards the jam. A wave of adrenaline and panic swept through me and I began to back paddle vigorously. This in turn caused Tim to fall backwards into the hull of the kayak which starting tipping to the starboard side. Instinctively I tried to compensate by shifting my weight to the port side. However, I over compensated and we began to tip to the port side. Knowing we were about to flip over I bailed, fully submerging over my head. With instincts taking over I resurfaced and swam like hell for the bank. I was soaked and could feel water filling my waders as I swam for shore. However, with my wading belt on and tightened properly the water could not pass my waist and fill my waders entirely.
I reached the bank and pulled myself onto dry land. Soaking wet from head to toe but not yet feeling how cold I was thanks to the adrenaline surging through my veins. Somehow the kayak did not completely flip over and miraculously Tim was able to stay dry and in the boat. With the adrenaline fading and the cold starting to set in my mind was racing on what to do next. Tim managed to beach the boat, get on the bank and began thinking for me. "Strip down, take off everything that's soaked and keep moving. Gather kindling and I'll work on a fire" were his instructions. So there I was, 35deg outside after just taking a swim in water that was about the same temperature, soaking wet, wearing only my synthetic long underwear that managed to not become completely soaked and would dry out quickly.
With it being early spring and some snow still on the ground finding dry wood and kindling for a fire was not the easiest task. Thankfully the Jordan river valley is full of birch trees, and birch bark makes for an incredible fire starter. Luckily at the beginning of the float I handed Tim an extra lighter saying "here take this, in case one of us gets wet." And sure enough I was wet, but we had a working lighter and got a fire going pretty quickly. Standing by the fire barefoot and shirtless starting to dry out my waders and clothes I remembered Kinetic jacket I had taken off and stowed just a short while earlier. To my overwhelming delight there it was, packed in the cooler and dry! Having a dry warm jacket was a game changer and greatly lessened the severity of the situation.
With a warm jacket, a fire burning, and my clothes drying the situation was under control. The stress of the situation was subsiding, all we had to do now was keep the fire going, wait for my clothes to dry and we could be on our way. The conversation became light hearted with Tim giving me all kinds of grief for the situation I had put us in, which I rightfully deserved. We discussed how lucky we really were and how the situation could have been much worse. After a couple hours my clothes were as dry as they were going to get. I suited back up and we continued our float, fishing our way to the take out.
Later that night, after taking a very long, very hot shower, I was able to reflect on the events that unfolded earlier that day. I took away one very important thing and had another reinforced from the situation that had occurred. When going on a float trip, or any trip on or near the water, do not underestimate the importance of packing a dry bag! Whether it was the excitement for the first float of the season, or just plain forgetfulness, I never even thought about packing a dry bag for this trip. Had I done this the situation would not have been nearly as dire. If I had packed a dry bag I would have been able to shed the wet clothing, change into my dry clothes in the bag, and we could have been on our way. Saving us hours of time waiting for my clothes to dry. We were also lucky that there was a warm sun that day, the temperature was above freezing and there was no precipitation. Had there been no sun, there was cloud cover, and it was snowing/raining, not having a dry bag with extra clothing would have been a lot more dangerous. So if you spend a lot of time on the water invest in a dry bag, it can end up being way more important than you might think. SIMMS offers two roll top dry bags at different price points. The Bounty Hunter Dry Bag is a smaller roll top dry bag that weighs about 8oz and has a 28L capacity and is priced at $29.95. It is a smaller bag, and will hold an extra change of clothes but not much more. The Dry Creek Roll Top bag is a full sized dry bag. Weighing about 17.6oz, has a capacity of 36L and is priced at $79.95. This is a significantly larger bag and better suited for holding a change of clothes, extra bulky layers and jackets, and even an extra pair of boots or shoes. Fishpond also offers the Westwater Roll Top Dry Bag at $45.95. Any of these bags are worth every penny!
Another thing that was reinforced to me from this experience is the importance of wearing a wading belt. I see too many people that don't wear a wading belt, and probably don't even think twice about it because they don't realize its true purpose. A wading belt is not designed to help hold up your waders and/or help them fit better. A wading belt is designed to prohibit water from getting down past your waist and filling your waders with water completely. If this happens it can become exponentially harder to swim and stay above water with the weight of your water filled waders trying to pull you down. All SIMMS waders, and most others, come with a basic nylon wading belt. WEAR IT! It could save your life. If you don't have one, in addition to the nylon belts, SIMMS also sells a neoprene wading belt for $24.95 that is significantly more comfortable than the standard nylon belts. They also sell the Backsaver Wading Belt for $54.95 which greatly reduces stress on the lower back and can make a long day on the water significantly less taxing on your lower back. Again, a wading belt could save your life.
In hindsight I was lucky and things could have been a lot worse that day. But they also could have been significantly easier had I simply packed and brought a dry bag. I hope you can learn from my experience, as I know I won't be forgetting to pack a dry bag anytime soon. Be smart, pack a dry bag, and WEAR YOUR WADING BELT. You'll never know when you'll be thankful that you did! --Andrew