If you’re like me, when you were young and bulletproof, you never gave backcountry fishing or backpacking safety any thought. As I’ve gotten older and continue to enjoy backcountry (blue line) fly fishing combined with backpacking, personal safety has become more of a concern (and I realize now that personal safety should always have been on my radar–a misstep can happen at any age). What is your protocol if you can’t get back to your vehicle or base camp due to being lost or for some medical reason?
Recently, a friend told a story of how he broke his leg on a solo afternoon fly fishing trip 20 miles from his mountain home. He told his wife he was going to a particular creek and would be home shortly after dark. On the way to his destination, he changed his mind and went to a different creek but didn’t update the change with his wife or anyone else. It was an overcast afternoon with highs in the 40’s and possible rain in the forecast. After a couple hours of successful fishing, he was climbing a 10’ steep bank to get back on the trail. Halfway up the embankment, he slipped on a rock and broke his leg. A few miles from his truck with no cell coverage to call for help. In addition to no one knowing where he was, he found himself in trouble as rain began to fall and the temperature started dropping. In great pain, he climbed the remaining 5’ to the trail then started dragging himself to his truck while calling out for help. Luckily, someone heard his calls and came to his assistance. A few hours later, the Rescue Squad had him on the way to the hospital after splinting his leg and treating him for hypothermia.
- This story, in addition to my wife’s continuous concerns about me being alone in the wilderness, convinced me to look into tools to help me if the unexpected happened. Below, I’ve listed 10 safety items I keep in my fanny pack or fishing backpack that I’m never without, whether it’s a multi day backcountry trip or just a couple hours from home.Let someone know where you’re going and your expected return time. Be specific about your vehicle location, stream name and how far you expect to go. Be proactive in the details you provide–your rescue depends on those details. Write it down and leave it with someone and/or send a text.
- Carry a small first aid kit and know how to use what’s in it. Consider a Basic First Aid Class, sometimes offered through employers or the Red Cross.
- Wading Staff, an overlooked safety item that in my mind has proven to prevent ankle and leg injuries. The magnetic ones with a holster and lanyard are priceless.
- A loud whistle works better than yelling. It’s an unnatural sound, so it’s better at attracting attention. I keep mine attached to the neck strap that holds my line nippers.
- LifeStraw water filter and Nalgene bottle. It doesn’t take up any space and dehydration can be serious.
- Bic Lighter and fire starter. I use cotton balls doused in Vaseline, stored in a small watertight container. A fire can be very calming when hurt and cold in the dark.
- A charged cell phone provides more than just communication, pictures and GPS. Did you know apps like All Trails and Gaia will work on your phone when you have no cell service? Now you know, but also always carry an up to date waterproof Topo map of the area you’re fishing.
- A flashlight or rechargeable headlamp. No one wants to be stuck alone in the dark.
- Zoleo or In Reach satellite communicator. These devices offer SOS (911 notification) and texting functions through your smartphone when you have no cell or Wi-Fi coverage.
- A 10K mAh portable charger and cord, which is about the same size as a smartphone. Mine will charge all the electronic items listed above.
You should always have up to date information related to the weather in the backcountry and dress accordingly when you are fishing.
This list is not all-inclusive. Adjust to your needs and enjoy your great outdoors adventures safely, always.
Brian Laney is an avid “Blue Line” fly fishing enthusiast that combines canoe camping and backpacking to reach the remotest backcountry areas.