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Hazards of Winter Fishing

Four men rescued from icy waters

Quick thinking and years of experience by two charter captains saved the lives of four fishermen angling in near-freezing waters east of Picton, Ontario.

Scott Walcott and Sheldon Hatch, charter captains on separate vessels that morning, were on trips with several clients at about 11:45 a.m. November 23rd when Walcott spotted trouble about 500 meters off Adolphustown near Loynes Island.

"I looked up and saw what looked like the bow of a boat in the water and a bunch of debris," said Walcott. "There was a planer board and a cooler and a piece of pizza floating."

As he pulled his boat closer, he saw four men, ages 22 to 53, in flotation suits floating on their backs around a sinking 18-foot fishing boat.

"Four men in the water," he radioed to Hatch who was in a boat a few hundred meters behind him.

The two charter captains worked together to pull the men in as they floated helplessly on the water. "They were so out of it they couldn’t even swim to grab the buoy," said Hatch. "Literally, we had to throw it within an inch of them or they wouldn’t get it."

The men had been in the water for three to five minutes before the captains showed up, but much longer than that could have spelled disaster. Once off the water, the men were taken to Prince Edward Memorial Hospital in Picton, treated and released.

This incident demonstrates the caution we as anglers must practice when fishing in the winter months. Berkley would like to share a few tips from pro staffer Sheldon Hatch that keep his clients safe on the ice or frigid waters while hunting for their trophy of a lifetime.

  1. Be overly prepared
    This cannot be said enough. As anglers we pride ourselves on our preparedness. These men were wearing flotation suits, which is a great place to start. Most anglers will notice that being overly prepared means a more relaxed trip because whatever happens they are ready.

  2. Pack extra
    Typically extra tackle is needed, but not in this situation. Sheldon Hatch and Scott Walcott were ready with extra clothes for the men once they boarded the ship. Who thinks to pack extra clothes? The seasoned pros know that this could mean warmth if a bad situation occurred. Luckily, the two were ready and saved four lives.

  3. Don’t panic
    Time is everything in these emergencies, and there is no room for panic. The fast thinking of Hatch and Walcott prevented any additional panic. Each knew they had a different job to do once they arrived at the scene. Walcott called for backup and emergency personnel to be there waiting for them. Being calm under pressure is key in moments like these.

  4. Know the water
    The water that morning was calm but turned rough at a moments notice. Walcott noticed from his initial approach that the anglers were well prepared for this type of occurrence. The boats operator was shocked how quickly the seas turned that day, noting, "it all happened so fast." Perhaps the operator was unaware of the conditions, but knowing the area and the climate changes can save an accident from occurring.

  5. Alert
    Sound the distress at first glimpse of trouble. Walcott happened upon this wreckage. He was not alerted to the situation. It doesn’t matter if it is cell phone or radio, alerting someone to your location will undoubtedly save your life.

Going through this winter season, make it a memorable one on and off the water. Be safe. Winter fishing can be a fun outing, but going in unprepared can spell disaster.

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