Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sometimes you can touch bottom, sometimes you can't

After more than fifty years fishing in a canoe I finally swamped my Old Town last month.  I had always worried about getting dumped in 50-degree water, and now I know it isn't all that bad if you are prepared.

Everything in the canoe, except my paddle, was lashed down or on a leash.  I might have lost the paddle too, but this time I had a partner who retrieved if for me.  I did have a spare paddle lashed to the thwarts, so I wouldn't have been up the proverbial creek without a paddle, but nobody wants to lose a $50 paddle because they didn't have it on a leash.

Sometimes you can touch bottom, sometimes you can't.  This time I was lucky and could feel the river bottom as soon as I surfaced.  The water was only a little more than waist deep, but I was next to a two-foot cut bank, and the nearest beach was the put-in about one hundred fifty yards upstream.

I'd always heard that getting dumped in cold water causes a gasp-factor, and it takes about 30 seconds to control your breathing.  That isn't true if you are dressed properly.  My lifejacket, wool whipcord pants, and layered poly shirt and jacket trapped my body heat next to my skin, and kept me from feeling like an ice cube bobbing in the river.  I always wear water shoes rather than boots, so I was able to move my feet fairly freely. 

The main current of the Snake River was running at 2800 CFS, but luckily I was in a channel leading into an Oxbow, so the current wasn't nearly as strong.  Even so, with less current, the stern of my swamped 14' canoe was pushed beneath the surface, and I had all I could handle to pull the canoe upstream toward the put-in.  One shoulder-deep hole caused an anxious moment or two, but within a few short minutes I was back on dry land.

I pulled my canoe onto the beach, went to the truck, and made a quick change into the spare clothes I always carry.  Within minutes I paddled into the Oxbow for a great day of fishing.

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