Safety Devices for Fly Fishers

Fly fishing is not an extreme sport. But it can be a dangerous one. Every year, fly fishers drown, break bones, and hook themselves. They get lost. Caught in storms. And stung by insects and bitten by snakes.

So the next time you head for the river, consider taking along some of all of these safety devices:

1. A first-aid kit

This is critical if you plan to fish very far up the river. I prefer a first-aid kit the size of a small fly box. You only need the basics—band-aids, antiseptic cream, pain reliever, and a couple larger bandages or gauze dressings.

You might include moleskin for blisters. In fact, this may be the most important element in your first aid kid.

2. Your smartphone

No, you don’t need your smartphone to check email or Twitter.

But you might be surprised at the places you have cell service — like on certain spots on the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park. Well, I should say I do, but Dave (my podcast partner) doesn’t. We use different carriers.

I have a flashlight app on my phone that I’ve used when hiking in or out of my fishing spot in the dark. The GPS might allow someone to track you if you break a leg and simply can’t move.

3. Bear spray

This is an absolute must in grizzly country.

Last fall, a couple was scouting fishing spots on the Lamar River in Yellowstone National Park when they spotted a grizzly feeding on carcass. The bear was in no mood for competition, so it charged. It came within nine feet before their bear spray turned it away. It charged again, but retreated and ran away when it encountered the cloud of bear spray a second time.

Dave and I were fly fishing just a few miles away one week earlier, and we saw grizzly tracks along the river. Yes, we were carrying bear spray.

4. A wading staff

I’m a big believer in wading staffs. Their most obvious use is staying on your feet in the current. A wading can also help you walk if you sprain an ankle. And also serves as a means to ward off a rattlesnake.

5. Two-way radios

These are great for those spots where you don’t have cell phone service.

Dave, my podcast partner, and I regularly carry two-way radios when we’re fishing in the backcountry. Yes, we admit sharing fishing info (“Hey, they’re starting to take Caddis flies over here!”). But we take them along in case one of spots a bear or falls and twists an ankle. Even some of the places we fish in the Driftless (southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin) have limited cell coverage.

Must Have vs Nice to Have

The five items above fall into the “must have” category. But there are some “nice to have” items you might want to consider:

    A change of socks can help prevent blisters;

    A rain jacket can provide warmth as well as protection if you get caught in a fierce rainstorm;

    A fire-starter is an extra measure of caution if I’m hiking a few miles up river in the mountains of Wyoming or Montana. I’ll also thrown in a small lighter and some folded newspaper (in a plastic bag); and

    Water purification tablets might even be must-have if your destination is a lake or stream a few miles from the trailhead.

The next time you hit the river, don’t forget the devices that can help you avoid or deal with dangers. And of course, you always need to carry a good amount of water.

7 Replies to “Safety Devices for Fly Fishers”

  1. My sling pack resembles my flyboxes in that what each contains varies from year to year. I seem to never reach contentment with any type of a status quo with what each will contain and where I’m going to keep it. I hastenly adapted a rule of thumb from my backpacking which simply states that “if I haven’t used it for a season, then I don’t need it. This has cause me lots of pain and reluctance. One time over the course of a bad winter storm I found and ordered the perfect knive, scissors and forceps. It was the size of a bolt cutter. I loved it dearly, but never used it. Sadly I followed my rule and laid it aside. The one exception I do have to this rule has been toilet paper- we all have our exceptions to any rule.

  2. Carry them with you… I landed my plane on an Alaskan sandbar off Alexander Creek to fish a nearby and likely virgin tributary during an early salmon run. Decided to hike the 1+ mile with minimum gear to get there. I quickly hooked a nice Silver (Coho) and was confronted by a Brown Bear that came from the brush about 75+ feet upstream. It stood and faced me a couple seconds then charged. When it was within bear spraying distance I was about to drop into a fetal position. It stopped and stood there facing each other. Neither of us moved or made a sound (except my heart was pounding so hard I shook) for what seemed like forever (maybe 5 seconds). I wished I’d had my bear spray but it was in the plane. The bear then lowered and moved into the brush. I dropped to my knees when they went limp and managed to chew the leader (no knife) and left the Silver there, hoping the bear would get it. I then slowly walked back to the plane while facing the nearby brush. I could hear the bear follow in the brush for about half way to the plane. I only hoped it didn’t go ahead and tear into the fabric on my Taylorcraft wing. Nobody would likely find me for days or possibly weeks. I never left the plane without the spray and 44 mag after that experience. It could have ended very badly.

    1. Unbelievable story. That is one for “Great Stuff from Our Listeners” …

      Just Wow.

  3. Just recently bought a life straw. I got it because carrying extra liquid is heavy!
    Ok, I admit the taste wasn’t that good, but it was drinkable water immediately.
    You might want to consider it as an alternative to purification tablets, as you still need the flask to put them in.

  4. I would have to say your sunglasses. If fishing at night then some kind of eye protection. I’ve seen a few flies land in people’s faces. Word of advice, use barbless hooks or mash the barbs on the hooks you have.

  5. Sunglasses are always good to have not only to protect your eyes from the sun but a stray fly from a bad cast. Another thing to mention big spray . To help not only with the pesky mosquitoes but also ticks . Especially with the lime disease problems these days . Not a bad idea to purchase a nice long sleeve sun shirt not only for sunburn protection but also to cut back on ticks . I also wear a buff and hat for all of the above reasons.

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