Not Your Pappy's PFD - Fly-fishing Safety Wear Has Come a Long Way
Friday, January 8, 2016
Gone are the days when you had to choose between wearing a life jacket and dislocating your shoulder every time you cast more than twenty feet. Today's life preservers are form-fitting, fly-fishing friendly, and, dare I say it - even somewhat fashionable.
For some reason I've never been able to pin down, we fly-fishers are somewhat snobbish (and often downright foolish) when it comes to wearing life jackets. Either it's just not cool, it's too hot on sunny days afloat, it's awkward and cumbersome ... the excuses are many. Well, I have news for you: fly-fishers drown, too. Every year they topple out of boats. Slip on bankside cobble. Get their lines wrapped around their ankles and slip beneath the surface without so much as a leg-kick to save them.
And all for naught, in most instances. I have a Stohlquist life jacket, pictured above, that includes many of the same features and do-dads found on top-end fly-fishing vests: accordian pockets with foam fly patches; zingers; full adjustability; tippet holders and tool sleeves. And all with the added advantage that if I fall overboard with my waders around my knees while taking a leak, I'll probably live to piss another day.
If you still deem the Stohlquist a bit bulky for your tastes, then maybe you should consider one of the vest-style preservers with a CO2 cartridge inflation device. Cabela's makes a good one (pictured below), as do many of the popular outdoor outfitters. Again, a small price to pay - monetarily and otherwise - for a possible life saved.
I won't take clients on the 'Mighty' Columbia River if they don't agree to wear a life vest. With high-water flows equaling the Niagara, the Columbia can devour drift boats, let alone an angler struggling in the current. Of all the people I've guided there, maybe a handful have balked at having to wear an inflating vest. Of that handful, not one has complained once we're out on the big river in the Power Drifter; huge, turbulent water has a way of changing people's minds in a hurry.
Of course big fish help, too.
Some guides now routinely place life jackets on their drift boat seat-backs, asking clients to put them on if they wish. It's part liability concern, for sure, in the event something goes wrong, but it's also part common sense, in the hope everything goes right.
Next time you're on the water - with a guide or otherwise - please don't snigger at fellow fly-fishers who've decided to don a life preserver. It's as simple as straping up a vehicle seatbelt, and the life saved could be your own, or that of a close friend or relative.