JACK WOLLITZ Safety is key in avoiding mishaps

Even the most careful anglers can expect to experience a few mishaps during their fishing days.
We can only hope the worst that may happen is a broken rod tip or a spilled soft drink. Unfortunately, the reality is more serious accidents can and do occur.
While fishing, I have suffered my share of cuts and bruises, skinned shins, stubbed toes and hurt thumbs. I've also sunk a treble hook deep into my calf muscle and, I confess, fallen off my boat into the water.
All those mishaps were a result of clumsiness or failure to pay attention to what was happening around me, and they turned out to be minor inconveniences.
But I also know a man who had to visit the emergency room to get a hook cut out of his skull -- yes, the bone, not just the scalp -- and another who lost his right eye while fishing. I thank my lucky stars nobody I know has drowned.
Ways to be safe: Accidents will happen. The only question is this: How will you deal with the consequences?
Here are a few tips to help one avoid ruining his or her fishing day:
U One should examine his or her equipment before each fishing trip. Is it all shipshape? Is the outboard reliable? Are there enough life vests for everybody aboard the vessel? Is the fuel system safe and the fire extinguisher fully charged? Don't leave home until the answer is "yes" to each.
U Every boat needs a first-aid kit with fresh supplies. Old bandages and outdated antiseptics will not be sufficient should an accident occur.
U Having a reliable compass on hand should be a top priority. A compass can get a boat gone astray back to the safe harbor. Investing in a GPS unit also is a good idea. Cell phones can be an aid too, but they may not work properly on waters far from signal stations.
U Knowing the water where one is fishing can help him or her avoid shallows that can rip up the hull and lower unit of a boat.
U Hook extraction techniques are important to learn. When all else fails, one can remove a hook by pushing the point forward through the skin. Then cut off the barb with sidecutters and pull the steel back through the entry point.
U Sunglasses should be standard equipment, even on overcast days. They not only protect eyes from ultraviolet rays, but also from flying objects. Had my friend been wearing his sunglasses when he was pulling on his snagged leadhead, it would not have penetrated his eye when it suddenly dislodged and flew back at his face.
U Boat passengers should always be aware of each other and what each person is doing. Make sure everyone has enough casting room and stay clear of whipping rod tips.
U Everyone should have a plan on how to get back in the boat after falling overboard. Even a low-slung bass boat can be difficult to reboard if one can't stand on the lake bottom and push oneself up. It might be impossible to clamber back into a high-gunwale walleye boat, unless one learns how to use the outboard's cavitation plate as a step ladder. Just don't try it with the engine running.
U Keeping the deck or spot on shore where one is fishing clear of clutter will prevent potentially dangerous trips and falls.
U Before leaving home, those going fishing should always tell a friend or family member about their plans, including at which lake they are fishing and when they plan to return. It's better friends and family know where to search in case of an accident.
U And finally, it's a good idea from time to time to imagine what kind of trouble might develop and possible solutions.
Taking this thoughtful approach will allow fishing enthusiasts to continue to enjoy great days on the water -- safely.

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