Safety First… or Second

March 28, 2023 By: Richard Donnelly


fly fisherman

As I age, a disturbing fact is emerging: I take more chances. Why? I want to catch bigger trout. Bigger trout live in nasty, unpredictable places. They hide under ledges, in deep holes, behind boulders in fast moving water, or at the base of old dams choked with submerged branches and swirling with undertows. Big trouble. And big trouble means big fish.

I find myself doing things Mother warned me about. She’s right, of course, so in deference to her (and in case she’s reading), let’s review the basics.

That First Step: Early in my troutin’ career an old man told me there were two ways of entering the creek. Slow. And fast. “Slow is best,” he said. He stood behind me, knotting a fly. When I turned he was laughing.

Take good advice when you can get it. Especially as you hike through foxtail grass growing thick and chest-high, obscuring the river bank. That last step, the old man might say, is a doozy.

Wading Basics: If you can’t see the bottom, stop walking. There’s an old movie gag from 1930’s. A man steps from the curb into a puddle and vanishes. The same can happen in a spring creek. The angler wades ahead, the water muddied by recent rains, and walks right into an eight-foot hole. It’s hilarious. As long as it’s not you.

Bulls: Some pastureland advice—avoid bulls. They seem tame. Until they come after you. And don’t assume fences offer protection. Heading for the stream I asked one farm wife which side of the fence the bull was on. “Any side he wants,” she said.


Dogs: Carry a pocketful of Milk Bones. I have yet to face the farmer’s dog I couldn’t make friends with. And I’m talking some tough country dogs, friend.

Ticks and ‘Skeets: Between Lyme Disease and the West Nile virus you almost want to stay home. Almost. Hike with your waders on, don’t carry them in. Use DEET-based sprays, and dose your clothes with permethrin, a potent tick killer. Bug-born diseases can cause apathy, laziness, and confusion. I better get myself checked.

Bees: If you kick open a log and hear a generator fired up in the next valley, run. Don’t walk. That’s not a generator in the next valley. That’s bees swarming, which is what they do right before… Well, you’ll find out how fast you can run the quarter mile.

Gettin’ Lost: Cell phones don’t work in remote areas. This is temporary. Satellites and digital technology will eventually create a safe world. But while we are waiting to be chipped like Labrador retrievers, buy a tracking device and download the app onto your wife’s phone. Trouble will be obvious—you stop moving.

By the way, remember to turn it off. Otherwise she will know you took that little detour through Rochester. What were you doing in Rochester, anyway?

Saloons:  You knew this was coming. Not all village taverns are friendly. And just remember how you look to the out-of-work welder nursing his second beer. New truck. Dressed like an Orvis mannequin. Money in your jeans and a grin on your face.

Enter any unfamiliar watering hole quietly. Don’t ask them to change the TV channel. And leave the waitress alone. That’s LeRoy’s girl, the dude over there with the really big hands.

In Conclusion: I don’t want to talk anyone out of having fun. Especially me. But we can summarize our Safety First advice as follow: Walk carefully. Keep your eyes open. Get home early.

 Of course, these aren’t really rules. More like goals. Happy fishing.