Ron’s Fishing Tips and Stories: Safety
Our tip on fishing for this week has to do with boating safety. I would hope that this message would help save one person and their family from a terrible tragedy. When I was a young man, a friend of mine who was about 60 years old named Butch Upchurch lived alone in the woods on the Trinity River. Butch hunted and fished every day for over 30 years. No man spent as much time on the river as Butch and his favorite activity was to hunt squirrels from his boat. Every April, two things happen in this part of Texas: 1. we get an enormous amount of rain and the Trinity River floods and gets out of banks. 2. The willow trees along the river bank bud out and squirrels love to eat willow tree buds. Butch would spend the whole month of April hunting squirrels from his flat bottom boat in the river.
One Sunday morning Ben Hillhouse and his young son went to meet Butch on the river to go hunt squirrels. The river was high and very swift and it was a rather cold morning for April in Texas. They all had on big coats but no lifejackets. Butch never wore a lifejacket as he felt he could swim well enough to get out of the water. None of the party had on life jackets. Well things started out good that morning as they killed 10 fox squirrels in the first hour. Ben was running the outboard and they pulled up against some hanging grape vines to shoot another squirrel and Ben killed the motor. Bad mistake as he had no power to maneuver the boat. The boat got sideways and then tipped over, dumping all three into the river. They all grabbed the vines and held on. Butch not only had a big coat on that got water logged but he had a pair of rubber boots on that filled up with water. After about 20 minutes Ben got his son and they swam to a nearby tree. Ben pushed his son up on a branch out of the water. He then went back to help Butch but Butch told him no that he was too heavy and he would drown and drown Ben in the process. He told Ben to save himself and his son. Ben went back to his son and just waited for someone to come along. After about 15 more minutes Butch told Ben that his arms were tired and he couldn’t hang on any longer and he would see them later. Butch turned loose of the vines and disappeared under the swift and muddy water of the Trinity.
Later, Ben left his son and swam and waded water for a mile and found help and he and his son were saved. But the bad news about Butch didn’t end that day. Now came the job of recovering Butch’s body. Butch was a very popular guy and as many as 30 boats showed up the next day looking and dragging for the body. This search went on for 31 days before Butch’s body floated to the surface because of the bloat.
Drowning is so much different from a car fatality in that the car fatality is all over in maybe 2 hours and everyone goes home. When a person drowns and the body cannot be found and the water is cool or cold it may take a month or more for the body to rise. That’s absolutly terrible on the family and friends.
I am sorry about the terrible tale of Butch Upchurch but I would like to help save someone from ever going through that terrible thing.
Of course one of the things I am going to recommend is wearing a life jacket at all times when the outboard motor is running. If you are in a river that has swift water, wear the LJ at all times and never take it off. Never go in someone else’s boat without asking if they have lifejackets for everyone on board. If they have no jackets THEN DON’T GO!!!!!!!! DON’T GO!!!! This thing about lifejackets has to be an ABSOLUTE RULE IN YOUR LIFE AND YOU MUST NEVER BREAK IT NO MATTER WHAT. ALWAYS WEAR THE JACKET WHEN THE OUTBOARD MOTOR IS RUNNING. NO EXCEPTIONS.
Now lets talk about a few other safety measures.
1. Always check and put your boat plug in before you leave your house. Then check it again before you launch your boat.
2. Always pump your gas hose bulb and then crank your engine before getting on the boat ramp. You just need it to crank for maybe 1 second.
3. When you have someone unloading you and your boat at the ramp have the driver stop before he gets the trailer too deep and allow you to lower your engine into the water and crank your motor and let it run for 1 minute before backing the boat all the way into the water.
4. Make sure your gas tanks are totally full before going into the water. It is very dangerous to get into high waves and lose power due to running out of gas. If you have 2 tanks of gas and you have been running a lot and are planning to cross some big rough water and are low on gas then stop and change tanks before getting into the rough water.
5. Be sure and know what your boat can handle safely in terms of big waves. Can it handle 4 footers, 5 footers etc.? Don’t go into a situation where your boat might get swamped. Turn around and go home so you can fish another day. Remember, there will always be another day if you don’t make a mistake.
6. If you get caught in rough water that your boat cannot safely handle, then put your nose into the wind and go to the nearest land. Please don’t lose the power of your engine as that is your life string. Regulate you boat speed so the nose of your boat is up high enough that the big waves won’t crash over the bow.
7. If there is any lightning anywhere that you can see, please get off the water and out of your boat and seek shelter. If you hear thunder, I recommend you leave the water and wait till the danger passes.
8. If you enjoy drinking alcohol, wait until you are 10 minutes from the boat ramp and then enjoy 1 beer or 1 ounce of spirits at the end of the day. NO EXCEPTIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
About 12 years ago Coach Ferrel’s son drowned here on Cedar Creek Lake where I live. He was a great swimmer and strong as an ox. He and his friend were in high waves going with the waves. They hit hard on one big wave and it threw both of the young men out of the boat. They had life jackets in the boat but were not wearing them. Young Ferrell tried to swim to an island but the cold water drained him of arm strength very quickly and he drowned. The other young man barely made it to another island. We looked for the body for about a week before it was recovered.
I then contacted my state representative to get a bill passed by the state to make it mandatory for all boaters to wear lifejackets when the outboard is running. Clyde agreed but he told me that it would never pass because no big money was behind it. The bill was very poorly written and never got out of committee.
I tried but just couldn’t get it done. There have been scores of drownings here in Texas since my failed effort. Maybe some of you can one day get this needed law passed. Sorry about the sadness of this tips sheet this week but maybe it will help someone.
Good luck with your bass fishing. Have fun, and wear that lifejacket.