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by Jim Porter

Momma was a pretty smart old Gal.

She told us things like "Look both ways before crossing that street, James"; "Don't go out into the cold air with wet hair, James"; "You be careful and don't fall out of that tree, James"; "Razor blades are sharp - be careful, James"; "You gotta learn to swim before you can go out in that boat, James". And, we gradually found out she was usually right. I fell out of more than one tree and cut my fingers a number of times. Then, at some point, Momma's words finally started to echo those warnings in my head BEFORE I did something dumb. I have now made it to my 58th summer, mostly thanks to Momma.

Momma never had a big old boat. Ours was an old 14-foot DuraCraft aluminum Jon boat with mostly paddle power. An awful lot of big old crappie and bluegills came over the side of that rig during my youth. Paddle power doesn't generate much speed so we never had to worry about going too fast. And, there were very few boats on the waters back then. About the only boating hazards we had were summer lightening and maybe losing one's balance and falling overboard. We always had those flotation cushions and some of the old orange life jackets with us, though. Momma was pretty strict on that rule. Plus, none of the kids got to fish out of the boat until they proved they could swim.

I wanted to fish. So, I learned to swim.

Today, there are a lot more boats out there on any given day. Many are big and most, even the small ones, are usually FAST. Magic carpets of fiberglass, composites and aluminum, adorned with metal flake, fancy paint jobs and a marvelous array of electronics, now skim effortlessly across the once-quiet waters. Jet Skies have replaced the bicycle as the toy of choice for many kids and grown-ups, alike. Top speeds easily approach 60 MPH on most modern watercraft. A few of them even flirt with the 100 milestone (for what reason I am not really sure).

Momma would have a cat if she were to visit some of her fishing lakes today.

Which reminds us of Momma's 'Prime Directive' for us children - "Be Safe".

When you are out on the waters as much as I am and for as many years as I have been, you see a lot of things -- from people doing totally dumb things, to real gut-wrenching accidents. Some were downright scary. Some were absolutely sickening. Most were sobering.

Here are a few:
  1. A guy in a Jon boat with tiller steering motor; motor is 40 HP and boat is rated for 15; also has a 3 year old and a 5 year old in the boat. Gonna go real fast and then cut back hard and jump his own wake; great fun; SPEED!!! Result was two little kids thrown out; no life jackets, of course. The Jon boat engine died and there was Joe Speedy 100 feet, from the children. I was close by, saw what happened and made it to the kids in time to get both by the hair of the head and into my rig. Joe's boat wouldn't start (oh, no paddle either) and I wasn't about to let the fool in mine. I made him swim to shore. I asked him what he was going to tell the kids Mother. I didn't get an answer.
  2. Here came Joe Boater and his friends out for a friendly Saturday afternoon of fun and beer on the water. Got this 16-foot runabout with a 70 HP on it. Seemed OK; not much speed there. But, then we see Joe's good buddy, Chuck. Chuck is up there sitting on the nose of the boat, facing forward with his legs dangling off the front. Hey, it was great fun blasting around the pond with Chuck as the hood ornament. But, then, the motor hit something. The boat jolted and slowed for a moment. But, old Chuck keeps on going ahead and into the water, and the boat then ran right over him. Must have been like getting caught under a riding lawn mower. It was as close as I ever saw a head being cut completely off.
  3. Winter fishing can be great, especially if you are prepared for it. Lots of clothes, a good heavy snowsuit, some snowmobile boots - yep, you're gonna be warm. You aren't gonna float too well. But, then, you aren't going swimming, are you? Well, we both hope not. But, it happens. Even a GREAT swimmer is in trouble in the water with all that gear on. Hope you have a life jacket on; that may buy some time. Boy, this is the time you wish your boat had a fold-down boarding ladder, or even a rope to hang onto. And, if the water is cold, hypothermia is gonna make your available reaction time even shorter. Once the water temperature is below 50 degree (F), you only have few minutes until you start to lose feeling and control of your limbs. Then, the body starts to shut down it functions. Then, things really start to get tough.
  4. I had a friend who apparently fell out of his bass boat while fishing and somehow got entangled in 10 pound monofilament line. When his body floated to the top a few days later, they found two loops around his feet/lower legs and one loop around his waist and one arm. It appeared the loop around his body and arm was caught behind his watch and he could not get that arm free to tread water. As best we could reconstruct, he must have been picking a backlash and somehow got tangled in the loose coils of line at his feet. Whatever the case, he was still dead. We tried to duplicate his situation in a swimming pool and do you know what??!! You put two coils of 10-pound test around your ankles and get into the water and you CANNOT break that line. You can't break it scissoring your feet and you can't break it with one free hand. Doesn't sound bad, but it killed Charles Hinsley, Father of two.
Your Momma probably told you a lot of things, just like mine told me. Just don't EVER forget that one about "BE SAFE".


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