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.