At the first stop on the FLW Costa Series a few weeks ago at Lake Okeechobee in Florida, we lost a father, husband, brother and friend when Nik Kayler of Apopka, Fla., and his partner were thrown from the boat by a rogue wave.
The boat owner and driver was able to crawl back to the boat and although he had injuries and hypothermia, he was found alive. He attempted to rescue Kayler, but due to engine troubles and high winds was not able to get to him. Kayler's body was found later by authorities.
A week later, another angler, Scott Northrup, adviser for the Tennessee Tech bass fishing team, drowned while on a solo fishing trip at Center Hill Lake. Cold water temperatures played a role in both mishaps, but even in warm water accidents occur and many can be prevented.
I did not know either angler, but the story is not unique. Each of us who fish a lot have been in situations that could have gone bad. However, the national attention to these instances should shed light on safe boating practices and tournament safety moving forward. I hope it does.
The blame game or who is at fault really doesn’t matter in accidents like these. The point is most are preventable.
These accidents and others like them are a reason for concern and I see it as an eye opener for the entire fishing and boating community on the importance of safety, life jackets and taking the “cowboy” out of boat driving.
Accidents will occur, but whether a pleasure boater or an angler, each person can take some of the risk out by having a new life jacket and wearing it, driving more safely and staying in tune to weather and lake conditions.
Using good judgment while getting ready to launch on the water, plus watching the weather, should be part of every angler’s preparation for a day on the water.
This is a wake-up call.
Today’s bass boats are high-powered machines capable of high speeds. Although they are built exceptionally well to withstand rough conditions, common sense has to be part of the equation too.
Big pleasure boats and jet skis are equally fast and a wrong turn or not paying attention can spell catastrophe. Taking undue risks adds to the problem.
Tournament organizations such as B.A.S.S. and FLW have strict rules regarding wearing life jackets and having the proper safety gear, but it’s up to the angler to make sure they are in good repair and are operating appropriately.
I do believe, particularly at the local level, we will have to begin to take a more serious look at not only conditions at takeoff, but weather forecasts and wind speeds as the day progresses. A judgment call to cancel an event could save a life.
Many trails have a boater and a co-angler and many anglers prefer single console boats over dual console models. The co-angler takes a lot of the wind, water and even flying objects without anything to protect them.
A pro angler friend of mine mentioned he wears a helmet all the time. He has seen depth finders and trolling motors come loose in very rough conditions and having some protection is better than none.
Boat drivers have responsibility for both anglers in the boat. Taking unsafe risks and traveling too fast can contribute to accidents. Not only watching where you are going, but watching other boaters and making eye contact with them can help. This is true for both tournament and recreational boaters.
Moving forward, even when pre-fishing, it is now standard practice to wear a life jacket for me. After 40 years of fishing, I have had my share of close calls and there is not enough money or ego for me to put my life or others in danger.
Most believe they are safe boaters, but we have more and younger boat buyers all the time. Experience tells me it only takes seconds for something bad to happen. Be careful when loading and unloading. Docks can be a dangerous location when wet or icy. They are called accidents for a reason.
Make sure you make safety on the water a priority for 2018!
Boaters safety class
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the McLean County Sportsmen and the Friends of Everbloom will be hosting a Boating Safety Education Training Class on March 10 at the Davis Lodge at Lake Bloomington from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Lunch will be provided by Avanti’s and the McLean County Sportsmen. Friends of Everbloom President and certified instructor Jerry Martoglio will be teaching. Contact Jerry at 309-826-0930 to sign up.