Author: Trouts Staff
Recently I had a humbling experience on a to Cheesman Canyon, one that will forever change the way I prepare for a long winter day of fishing. It was mid week in January, and I was in need of a good day on the water. Feeling that a long walk, and some great scenery would do me well, I headed out to the upper stretches of Cheesman Canyon. Normally I would always walk in from the bottom lot, seeing as the hike in is much more manageable (especially since they rebuilt the upper trail). But that day seemed like a good day to get out and hike and clear my head. The weather that day was supposed to be mild and sunny, with a high around 45 degrees; all in all a perfect day to spend fishing my favorite stretch of river.
The morning started out slow, with only a couple fish to hand. My game plan was to start at the very top of the canyon and fish my way down stream. By about noon, I had reached Schoonover Gulch, about 1/4 mile from the top. I was eying a nice looking pool, but I knew there was no way to fish it productively from the side of the river I was on. Determined to find some feeding fish, I searched for a good spot to cross. After spotting a shallow looking section, I made my way down the steep canyon slope and proceeded to cross. The flows in the canyon that day were around 200 cfs, so I wasn’t concerned that wading across the river would prove to be daunting or treacherous.
After fishing the pool for a half hour or so, and landing a few nice fish, I decided to keep heading on down stream. Knowing that the hiking was pretty treacherous on the side of the river I was on, I went back down to my crossing spot. Having made it across earlier with no problems, I didn’t think twice about crossing the river again. Everything was going fine until I was about 8 ft. from the far bank. What I didn’t take into account when I entered the river was that when I had previously crossed, I started farther upstream and waded across at a diagonal. As a result, I all of the sudden found myself in a much deeper, and faster moving section of water than before. I was finding it increasingly difficult to keep my footing against the strong curent, and before I knew it I went face first into the water. Nearly half of my body was immediately submerged in the river, with my waders rapidly filling with water. The cold water was literally taking my breath away, and I struggled to regain my footing to get out of the water. By the time I stumbled to shore, my waders were filled half way up with icy cold river water, and my entire upper body was drenched. (Now it is important to point out that although the high that day was a comfortable 45 degrees, that warmth was only found in the sun. Currently, I was in a deep, shaded section of the canyon, and the air temperature was probably about 25 – 30 degrees).
Having spent a good portion of my life in the outdoors, I quickly realized that I was in a really bad situation. It was about 1pm, the current temperature was below freezing, I was soaked in cold river water, I was 3-4 miles from my truck, and I could feel hypothermia setting in. Knowing I had to get my wet clothes off fast, I quickly scanned my surroundings trying to find a sunny spot. To my disappointment, the only sun I could find was 200 ft. up a steep and rocky slope. With a sense of urgency I haven’t felt before, I scrambled my way the canyon slope with my wader filled with water. By the time I reached the sun, my legs and feet had gone completely numb, and I was quickly loosing coordination of my entire body. Stage one hypothermia was setting in, fast! I stripped off my waders and clothes as fast I could, all while trying not to fall down the steep slope I was perched on.
Despite being completely naked, the sun was doing a good job of helping regain my body temperature. I soon realized that when I had left my truck that morning, I had packed a couple extra layers in my back pack just in case; and luckily my back pack was the only thing that didn’t get wet. (The irony of this is that I often over pack when ever I head into Cheesman Canyon, whether it be in the summer or winter, and I always remark to myself at the end of the day how I never need half of what I pack in). I quickly threw the layers on, and started trying to dry out my remaining clothes and waders.
It’s fair to say when looking back on the situation, that those extra layers in my pack very well may have saved my life. Had I not had something warm and dry to put on, I’m not sure if I would have been able to make it back to my truck. Although everything I was wearing that day was made of synthetic materials (i.e. not cotton), and would have retained my body heat even when wet, I’m not sure that without those extra layers I would not have been able to get my self warm again. So what’s the lesson here, ALWAYS BE PREPARED, period! Although fly fishing may seem like a simple and safe sport, you never know when bad things might happen, like taking a face plant into an icy cold river in the middle of no where in January.
When I got back to my truck that afternoon, I couldn’t help but feel as though I dodged a bullet that day. I’ve never had an experience like that while fishing, and I hope I never do again. But one thing is for sure, I’m always going to be prepared just in case it does.