Always Wear A Life Jacket, Especially Early and Late In The Season
I'll be honest with you. I haven't always worn a life jacket. I've had one in the boat, but rarely did I actually wear one until I had a very close call one fishing opener.
I believe it was a couple of years back. A friend of mine took my 14 foot aluminum boat with a 25 hp motor on the back of it out to a spot on Lake Vermilion. This isn't a big boat, but it was pretty sturdy. I've had it out in the St. Louis River Bay and got caught in some bad weather and made it out just fine. I had no reason to worry about this boat. It wasn't tippy at all and it was old school aluminum. I inherited it from my Grandpa who had passed and they just don't make boats like this anymore.
The weather that day was horrible, but we had it planned out for weeks and we were going to go. It was 32 degrees and snowing. There was actually a dusting of snow at the boat launch. Rocks on the shoreline looked like it had just been powdered with sugar. We were dressed like we were going snowmobiling. Long johns, winter boots, bibs, heavy jacket, the works. Here was the problem. We couldn't fit life jackets on over all of this gear. But not to worry, right? I'd be sitting in my boat and this thing is solid.
After about 20 pulls on the old Johnson, we were finally on our way. We found a spot and started jigging. We had a few bites, things were going ok. The wind was picking up giving us an ok walleye chop. I still wasn't worried.
My fishing partner was sitting in the nose of the boat. He stood up and somehow lost his footing. Now he's a big guy, and when he fell down he landed right on the side of the boat and almost went in. In fact, he hit so hard and pushed the boat so far to the side that we nearly capsized. I remember still in my mind the water just barely cresting over the side of the boat before he got back up and righted us.
That probably would have killed us. We were in 30 feet of water that was less than 40 degrees, dressed in several heavy layers with no life jacket. I cannot imagine us being able to pull ourselves into the boat, much less stay afloat long enough to get out of there.
Luckily, that wasn't the case. We were lucky. Next thing I did was go to the store and buy a self inflating life jacket. They are comfortable, they will fit around just about anything you are wearing, and they will save your life. So many of these drownings happen in situations just like I described. Don't risk it like I did! Be safe on the water.