The new salmon season starts here on the Dee on February 1st, and Other Half has been chewing the carpet to get out there and get his line wet. He's been keeping an almost obsessive eye on the water levels, which are high, fast and clear at the moment, and that set me thinking about a subject that should be at the forefront of everyone's minds. I know you're all keen to get out there and try out the new shiny, sexy rod for which you took out a second mortgage, or the stonking new reel, engineered to Mercedes quality which thrust you into penury. And you can't fool me that you haven't managed to accrue a rather splendid plethora of flies, lines, and the latest multi layer bulletproof waders over the close season. But have you given even a passing thought to a some basic equipment which, in the excitement of the moment, often gets overlooked. Have you got a good strong wading staff, or checked your flotation devices, or got adequate eye protection, a hat even?
If you are an experienced angler, especially a game angler who frequents the faster flowing waters, you probably think you can do without because you know how to use your tackle, know the water, are a competent swimmer, etc., and it's never happened before, why should it happen now? Think again. Getting a soaking is a Martini hazard - anytime, anyplace, anyhow - it doesn't discriminate between the cack-handed amateur and the most experienced professional. Complacency kills. There is no point in saying 'don't let it happen', because there is no knowing when the bank will give way, or a stone will move under your foot, or, in the case of a river like the Findhorn, rising water will come racing down the gorge like a train and sweep you clean off your feet.
Common sense should, when it comes to river safety, prevail. Tell someone where you are going, and what time you expect to be back. Take a mobile phone, if you have one, although should you happen to find yourself in the water, they are not a lot of use, but you will be able to call for a taxi to take you home afterwards.
Suppose you did happen to fall in, particularly in a fast flowing river of some depth, would you know how to get out again? Riverbanks look quite different from IN the water. But fear not, even if you are a non swimmer, there is a simple procedure to follow that could save your life. It does, however, require some discipline and a clear head, so first and foremost the most obvious, which is easier said than done - DON'T PANIC.
If water closes over your head, your first instinct is going to be to throw up your hands for help, and open your mouth to yell - BIG mistake; you will sink like a stone and water will rush in. You won't get a chance to yell. So here's where the cool head comes in - hands by your sides, eyes OPEN to see the surface, and keep your mouth CLOSED. You will bob back to the surface like a cork.
When you do, don't try to swim to the bank, you will only exhaust yourself. Instead, use the water to help you. Lie on your back and let your legs float in front of you. If you are still holding onto your rod, you can use it to punt yourself around until your feet are facing downstream. If you haven't got it, use your hands as paddles. Don't worry about your waders filling with water and dragging you to your doom, they won't. They, and your clothing, can hold enough trapped air to keep you neutrally buoyant - you won't upend. Keep your arms moving IN the water and remember also to breathe. Slow, deep breaths will not only alleviate any panic, they will aid buoyancy. Now is the time you can safely shout for help.
Go with the flow. Allow the current to carry you along. Eventually it will bring you to where the water is shallower and where you can feel the bottom near the shore. Now you can safely paddle with your hands and kick your feet to steer yourself towards a gently shelving beach. NEVER try to climb up a steep bank, you won't make it.
When you feel yourself bouncing along the bottom, turn over and crawl on your hands and knees to safety. You won't be able to stand up. Not only with the shock and exertions have weakened you, but your waders will be too heavy. Instead, lie on your back and allow the water to flow out, then lift your legs to empty the rest.
Now you are safely ashore, wet and bedraggled, and thankful to be alive, you are not out of the woods yet. You need to get out of your wet things as soon as possible or invite hypothermia - even on a warm summer's day. If you can, get a hot drink inside you - NO ALCOHOL (even if it was responsible for the fall in the first place)!
Remember, it is easier to fall over in shallow water than it is in deep water although you are less likely to come to any serious harm, but being aware of the danger is the first step to avoiding it in the first place so please, carefully check out where you are intending to fish, even if you have been a hundred times before. Nature is fickle and sneaky and she likes to have a larf at your expense. Conditions can change literally overnight. Don't get caught out.
So there you are. A degging isn't always drastic, just a tad inconvenient. Once you're feeling better, albeit a bit sheepish, grab your rod and get back out into the water, 'cos those fish won't catch themselves.
Stay safe and dry, and the tightest of lines my fishy friends.