Lighter Side

What is life if there is not laughter? Welcome to the lighter side of flyfishing! We welcome your stories here!
October 8th, 2001

Brush with Death
By Ian Colin James

My brush with death happened when I was fishing in the Niagara Gorge for winter steelhead and salmon. I was with a woman who was doing exceptionally well, taking three fish in three casts - very unusual in that watershed - and I'd helped her land them. I still hadn't had the chance to set up my rod. And, due to the activity of running around and helping her land the fish, I'd become quite warm and removed my thick, heavy jacket plus the two sweaters I was wearing. Inside the gorge, it is usually quite warm, and it is often possible to fish there in February wearing a sweater. On her next drift, she hooked into something big and, not wanting to lose it, handed me the rod to ply it out. I stepped back onto what I thought was an ice-covered rock, but busted through a thin sheet of ice and fell into the Niagara River. On the way in, I took a deep breath, figuring once I hit the water I'd be too cold to inhale.

I popped to the surface, traveling at a hell of a rate, all the while struggling to keep afloat. As I was being pushed further out into the swells and massive mud-colored waves, all I could think of was, "Shit, this is loud" and "Shit, the last thing I'm gonna see is a bunch of sea gulls. Oh well!" Then the current pulled me back toward the shore. As soon as my feet hit the gravel and beach boulders, I scrambled for dear life until I was on the shore. As I excaped from the water - shaking like a grizzly bear - several other anglers who had seen what was going on grabbed my jacket and sweater and were running along the shore to meet me. I stripped off, dried myself with one sweater, then slipped into the other one and my jacket. Walking barefoot through the snow, 300 or 400 yards up the side of the gorge to the car, was nothing more than a slight inconvenience compared with what I'd just gone through. Back at the car, I hugged the dashboard heater until all the fishing gear and wet clothing had been loaded into the trunk. We drove back to Guelph - a two-hour trip - and wearing only a sweater, I vowed with each passing mile that it was the last time I would fish in the gorge. It was - although, since then, I have fished many times several miles above the Falls for both smallmouth bass and steelhead. . .

Funnily enough, a couple of years later, and at almost the same spot in the Niagara River where I'd gone for a dip, Wee Dougie, a float fisherman I tie flies for, was drifting for bass on a warm summer day. Out of nowhere, there were people running around, and a large silver barrel floated up to the shore. The hatch was popped open and a very confused-looking chap, bleeding around the head, was extracted from the barrel and dragged away. Dougie just went on fishing. Minutes later, as a chopper hovered overhead, the police arrived, screaming and yelling into walkie-talkies and at Dougie, asking him if he had seen what happened.

Thinking an answer of "yes" might screw up his day of fishing, he went with, "Can't tell ya anything; that thing was laying there before I got here. Thought I'd fish around it just in case any smallmouth were using it as a current break. You'd think someone would clean up that crap, or at least float it over to the U.S. side. It's gotta be bad for Canadian tourism." Then he asked the cops of they knew of any hot patterns for catching bass. As he put it, "Well, they were standing right there!" Given the circumstances, most fishermen would do the same. Later he found out the police were going to charge the daredevil, under the Niagara Parks Act, with "stunting," which carries a fine of $10,000. ~ Ian

Credits: From Fumbling with a Flyrod, by Ian Colin James, Published by HarperCollinsPublishersLtd. We thank Ian for use permission.

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