8 Tips When You Fall into the River

On more than one occasion, I’ve enjoyed watching my podcast partner, Dave, flail as he has started to head downstream at the speed of the river. Okay, I’ve done it too. Fortunately, neither of us has fallen into a deep, rushing section of river.

Several years ago, Duane Dunham, an outstanding fly fisher in Portland, Oregon, shared with me some tips for getting out when you fall into a river:

1. Don’t panic. Easy for me to say while I’m warm and dry. But even if you cannot swim, you can emerge safely from water over your head.

2. Don’t attempt to stand up too quickly. Wait until you are in knee deep water.

3. Never fight the current. Let it take you, but angle toward shore. Otherwise, you’ll get exhausted.

4. If the water is deep, you can take a breath and push off the bottom toward shore. Do this enough times, and you’ll get there.

5. Keep your feet down stream. If you are out of control and headed downstream, this will help you avoid hitting your head on a rock. Stay in a semi-sitting position. This may be the most important tip!

6. Don’t fish dangerous water alone. Okay, that’s not going to help you if you’ve already fallen into a rushing run. But it’s worth the reminder for strong-headed, stubborn fly fishers (which Dave and I can be at times!).

7. Let go of your fly rod. This allows you to use both hands to stroke towards shore. Obviously, this is not the first step you take. It’s for emergency situations. Better to lose your Sage rod than your life.

8. Learn to swim. Remember, though, cold water is extremely shocking to your body. An excellent swimmer will quickly tire, so don’t get cocky and take unnecessary risks. It doesn’t matter than you are an expert in a warm pool or lake.

Here’s one more that I didn’t learn from Duane Dunham:

Don’t laugh at your fly fishing partner when he’s floating down the river. I’m sure Dave would appreciate it if I worked on that one. Seriously, falling into a river is no laughing matter.

Stay safe, my friends!

8 Replies to “8 Tips When You Fall into the River”

  1. Great words, Steve. I have fallen and the first thing I noticed was the fact that my hip waiters loaded with water very quickly and they acted like parachutes. Took off like a shot. Once I got to the shore I sat, caught my breath, and emptied the water out of the waiters. Kinda crazy.

    1. Craig…I learned that VERY SCARY thing early in my fishing life. Sure does make one sit up and take notice of what they should have done vs. what they did. Thank the Old Gods you made it out alive and unharmed. 🙂

  2. My first trip out was with a guide. Sure enough in I went. Waders had no belt didn’n know I needed one. Waders filled up, me and equiptment started down stream. Had to get lodged in a rock so I could get to my feet. Wallet, phone and all were soaked. I now have a belt and a walking stick.

    1. Man, the guide should have flagged that you had no belt … that was on the guide.

      1. I’m with you, Dave. That was unforgivable for the guide…When Guiding, Customer Safety is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing.

  3. Ok folks, Please listen to this article, it could very well save your life. This is not coming from some newbie but one who has spent over 60 years on trout streams in New England and Southern Vermont.

    Much of my fishing has been done on a very dangerous river…The Deerfield River in Western Mass. Why is it dangerous? it is so because it’s flow is controlled…meaning there are dams along it …and can turn from a meandering to a tidal flood quicker than you can say it. I have fished this river for over 60 years. Everything from drowning garden hackle as a kid to fishing to emergers. Now, is the Deerfield unique…Hell no. And that is what you need to keep in mind when fishing a major river, or a decent sized creek…they can kill you if you don’t pay attention. They can rise quickly, and if you should be in the middle of this it can ruin your day.

    So, take away? Watch your water….ALWAYS WATCH YOUR WATER…and get your sorry ass out of it if you feel the least bit uncomfortable…There is no society for dead fools, only dead heroes; and I’m sure you don’t want to be either one. And, out of all of these recommendations the most important is, DON’T FISH DANGEROUS WATERS ALONE>>>>NEVER EVER DO IT! I COULD VERY WELL COST YOU YOUR LIFE!!!

  4. When I fell out of the drift boat, the one thing I didn’t do is let go of my fly rod. Not sure why, but I had the grip of death on it. I was okay. I even got myself back into the boat! I didn’t loose my hat, glasses (prescription) or anything else. I think I shortened the guide (who owned the boat) life by a few years. Once I was back in the boat and the water was running down into my waders I turned to my darling husband who was sitting in the back of the boat and started laughing. I mean what else could I do? It was my own stupid fault I fell out. My darling husband looked at me and said, “Did you see any fish down there?” I sent the rest of the day fishing (this happened before lunch). Yes, it was miserable: I was wet, cold and uncomfortable but I mustered through it and continued to fish. And now, I know from first hand experience how very important those legs locks are in the front of the drift boat!!

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