This is not only a lake or saltwater question either. Rivers are dangerous places, perhaps even more so, because they have currents and rocks. Not being able to swim makes a panic situation extremely likely if your client falls into a swift river, and as we all know, panic under such circumstances often leads to death. In fact the statistics in Malaysia for example are that 32.9% of drownings are on rivers and canals, 19.8% in open sea and 19% on lakes/ponds. (The rest is made up of homes - 6.8% and swimming pools - 6.1%. I don’t know where the missing 15.4% occurs). Source - Life Saving Society Malaysia.
Here in Asia a surprising number of people are non-swimmers. I’ve been told recently that in the UK learning to swim is now not part of the school curriculum. So you must always ask the question without fail.
My personal history of swimming is an interesting one. I always hated swimming as a child. So much so that I would often “forget” my swimming trunks on school swimming days. I could “swim” - I learned at school - but I was never competent. Around the age of ten I was actually rescued when caught unsupervised in a tidal rip off the coasts of Jersey, Channel Islands. This didn’t give me much confidence but I didnt panic, which is why I’m still here.
I actually learned to swim “properly” so to speak, at the age of 27 because I wanted to compete in triathlons. Indeed one of the reasons I wanted to compete in triathlons was because I wanted to learn to swim properly... that’s the way my mind works! So I joined a swimming club in Tewantin near Noosa Heads in Australia. Without doubt this was one of the best things I have done. Confidence and good technique in the water, really is important, especially if you are an adventurous fly fisherman!
So for a few years now I’ve been considering getting a life-saving certificate and learning from professionals. As a fishing guide and instructor, being able to save clients who fall in, really is potentially an essential skill. In fact so much so that I would argue that casting instructors and fishing guides should all have certified skills in this department. Indeed all swimmers, all anglers, should really be taught life-saving skills. Lars tells me in Denmark they are taught this in school.
So allow me to summarise what I learned this weekend...
The first rule is that you should never enter the water if you don’t have to. Use sticks, props or throw a rope to rescue the distressed person. If you really must enter the water then the second rule is to not to make physical contact. First try to offer a floating device if you have one, and encourage them to swim ashore. With no floating device offer a pole (a fishing rod butt section!) or a makeshift rope, such as a pair of jeans or a shirt, that the struggling swimmer can grip, get him to swim on his back and then tow him ashore.
If you absolutely must make contact (with a conscious person) then beware! Always put your own life first. A panicking drowning person can drown you quite readily. You must approach with care, total confidence and be armed with methods of repelling them - backing off quickly or kicking or lunging them away with arms to the chest. Only attempt to assist the person from behind; often you might have to dive underneath to get there. There are techniques for repelling a person who has made contact with you - basically you screwed up on your approach and got too close - so now you need to use twisting Kung-Foo methods to free yourself. It was quite an education and knowledge that may actually save my life again, in the future. I can also see it being useful knowledge in the pub fights that I don’t get into anymore...
Couple this with techniques for getting your rescued client ashore, CPR for when they’ve stopped breathing (always good to refresh) and it’s been an extremely useful weekend I think.
Passing any test is always just the start of course and it’s important to practise skills regularly.
So the relevant award has been the Bronze Medallion. I would thoroughly recommend taking this exam for any fishing instructor, guide, strong swimmer. And if you are not a strong swimmer then join a swimming club. Swimming is 90% technique, 10% fitness. If you can learn to fly cast then you can learn to swim!!!
The greatest news of all this weekend, is that Ashly has learned to swim!!! Yay!!! And at 39 years old (going on 27!). This is a huge burden off my mind. I was always worried that she might fall in while I was playing a big fish and I would have a difficult decision to make. But now, difficult decision no more: first land the fish and then land Ashly! In fact I can even pass her the Go Pro to shoot some video from the water after she has fallen in, for that fish’s angle perspective.
Have a fantastic fishy week and if you haven’t got to grips with water yet then change that today, and join a swimming club! They WILL teach you! If you can swim then join a swimming club and become stronger. And then, like me, get a lifesaving certificate. Let’s face it; we are the guys on the water every day. We are potentially all lifeguards.
ps a big thanks to Lee Soon Keong, Datu Ooi and Dr Lee!
I've just booked myself in for the Desaru 70.3 Triathlon in April - time to start training again.