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Trip Report (i'm Lucky To Be Alive)

6551 Views 56 Replies 55 Participants Last post by  VanAllen
This is less of a "fishing" report and much more of a "life experience" report.

So on Thursday, September 13th, I wake up in my girlfriends apartment in Seattle and carry out my plan of fishing the upper Skagit/Cascade rivers for Coho on my new switch rod. Everyone was talking about the crazy storm approaching that day, but I had been planning this fishing day for a week, and I was damned if the wind/rain was going to stop me. My girlfriend even begged me not to go as she "had a bad feeling about it". I make the long drive up the Skagit River regardless, hoping to get into the water before the storm arrives.

I recently just purchased my first ever pair of waders. I have never had the luxury of being able to stand in deep cold water for extended periods, and I was looking forward to my first time doing so (you can probably see where this is going...).

I park at the confluence where the Skagit River meets the Cascade River. It was truly beautiful area. By that time, though, the rains had started and there was no one else around. The river was basically blown out.

I hike down to the river, and for whatever reason, I feel that it's imperative that I cross the river to the other side, as I would have much better access to the hole I wanted to fish. I was able to do so, but was quite shaken up as I made it to the bank on the other side, as the current was extremely strong. The depth never really went higher than my upper waist (I'm 6'5''), but still I had lots of trouble. It probably took me 20 minutes to cross a 25 foot-wide river.

And so there I stood, fishing in the pouring rain/wind for the next four hours. I caught nothing, naturally. There was zero visibility and the water just kept getting higher and higher. All things considered, though, I did appreciate the solitude and casting practice.

Right before sundown, I realized that I had to get back to my car. That's when things went very badly very quickly. It was pouring, absolutely pouring, and the winds were starting to get crazy. I waded about halfway across the "shallow" part of the river. I was shocked at how high the river had gotten in a matter of hours. The current was literally pulling my feet straight off the rocks on the bottom. I had no service on my cell phone. There was no around. I was basically screwed (and it's entirely my own fault I admit).

To make a long story short, I spend about 30 minutes getting about halfway across the river, which I was able to do with some success. With every step I maybe made 2 inches of actual progress. But about 15 feet from my target, it was obvious that the water depth dropped significantly. Knowing this, I took one step, and bam, I was gone. I shot about 30 feet down river and promptly ditched my backpack/tacklebox/etc which are still gone to this day. I was very quickly approaching the confluence of where the Cascade meets the gigantic, rushing Skagit. And so I literally gave up on trying to catch bottom with my feet, and I got horizontal and started swimming. My waders and coat filled up with water and I feel myself being pulled under.

It's kind of hard to explain the feelings I had during this time. It went from "Oh shit" to "Oh God" until I honestly thought to myself "Well, Pete, this is where you die".

I kept swimming towards the bank but I couldn't make any progress at all. Right when I hit the confluence, I drift straight into a boulder, which was literally the only thing between me and the Skagit river (perhaps some of you have actually been to the confluence and know the rock I'm talking about). I frantically climb on top of it and take off my waders and all my clothes (meaning, I was standing on rock in the Skagit river in nothing but my boxer shorts). I hurl my waders and clothes to the bank, and I make a jump for it. I land close to shore, grab on to a bunch of thorns and sticks and struggle to basically pull myself up, my body all muddy and cut up from thorns and branches and rocks.

I finally reach solid ground. I laid there on the side of the river, in my boxers, and broke down and wept for 5 minutes straight thinking of my family.

This^ may have all sounded very melodramatic, but I can honestly say without any doubt that, if that boulder didn't happen to be there, I would 100% be dead. I was already planning out what I'd do if I got into the Skagit (don't fight, lay on my back, try to stay afloat, and pray to God I hit something).

Suffice to say, I have a newfound respect for water now.

Anyways, I just thought I'd share this story as a reminder for those are are starting to get too cocky with their river wading.

- Peter
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Scary. I already consider myself something of a wading weenie; I think I just become more of one. Very glad you're still here to tell your tale.
Glad you made it out Peter. I've had close calls too, one of which could have been the end. Moving water never fails to impress. Don't go there again. And I don't mean the location.
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Wow Peter! That story has all sorts of lessons for us. So glad you made it out of that tough situation.

That sounded like a really horrid and grounding experience. You were lucky. I think that many of us on here have had similar scares though probably not so bad. Out of your depth, no control with freezing water filling you waders, it's not uncommon unfortunately. I totally get the 'got to fish, screw everything else thinking.' I've had boxer threating challenges on the Snoq and Sky. On the Snoq, I got my ankle stuck between two big rocks in really fast current, ~3 ft deep facing upstream, if I'd lost my balance there's no way I could have kept fighting/breathing. I went for it because I was keen to fish and totally underestimated the current, depth and terrain until it was almost too late.

The basics should be if you don't wade lot, don't wade a lot. Also size isn't everything, I'm 6' 5" too, I now don't like going deeper than my mid thigh. Know how to use a wading staff, not have on. Learn how to use it properly. Have a fishing buddy there with you (one who can say 'Hell no fool, let's go eat/have a beer/go home' and always wear a PFD.

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By that time, though, the rains had started and there was no one else around. The river was basically blown out.

I hike down to the river, and for whatever reason, I feel that it's imperative that I cross the river to the other side,
I am guessing this was the moment of truth.

Super happy you made it back and learned some good info.
I did a bunch of Canyoneering in Utah, and well, any rain and you were toast.
Well shit! I'm 6'5" also and I was thinking about posting how I "almost lost it downstream for the first time ever this past weekend".

However, that would have entailed about 30 seconds of discomfort until I floated down to some shallow water and stood up again. And I would have had two people around to save my ass. And that water was mild.

Actually, it would have been better typed as a comedy.

Glad you made it to safety.

I have, in other realms and other activities, had those moments. One of the most common things about them, to me, is that not very many people understand them after the fact.

You also get a kind of surreal feeling 30 minutes later standing at a gas station filling your tank and watching other people just go about their day. Makes you want to just laugh or shout out, "I ALMOST JUST DIED ALONE".

It's a real mind bender. All-in-all though, it will become one of your best life stories around a campfire and something that burns deep into your memory banks that you will never forget.....for better or worse.
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Glad your alive. Learn your limits, but don't test them when the river is "basically blown". You are lucky
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glad it turned out as good as it did.

when you said " My waders and coat filled up with water and I feel myself being pulled under. " what was it that was pulling you under ?

i recently was caught by a rapid increase in a tailwater flow/water level and i took a swim. it reminded me to encourage my fishing buds to take a swim in their waders under controlled conditions with a safety overlook so they know how to deal with such a situation before it happens. .
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I guess I have to be the first to say it. You're an idiot! No fishing hole in the world is worth wading across a river that is "basically blown out." Even a river that's thigh deep and moving can be tough and you went into a blown out river up to your upper waist. Idiot! Lucky we're reading a forum post and not hearing about the search for your body on the news.

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I am grateful that you survived the event; now learn from it. It is highly likely that we have all been guilty of lapses in judgement - I'll openly admit that I have and more than once - most occurred back in my perceived "young & bulletproof days." A lot of knowledge & good judgement is born of experience - some of these from bad experience and failure. No fish, game, or outdoor experience is ever worth placing your well-being or life in jeopardy. You were extremely fortunate to survive this. I hope you continue to enjoy your fishing passion and the outdoor experience. Now file this nightmare away and proceed on the journey a wiser & more cautious man. "I think I can make it" is the point at which to stop, not to continue. Be well.
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Peter, very glad you survived (very, lucky!), and can use this as a huge personal lesson-which I am sure it has sunk in, and you can do good by spreading this newer wisdom-which you have just started. Keep it up. Water is very dangerous.

You have to be careful out there. Summit fever, drugs..etc.. there is a fine line that people cross and it is one taste too much, or they chase a taste that they never get to.

Wading staffs, inflatable vests, learning to wade, learning rivers. I am sure a few too many here will scratch their heads when they read "you were surprised how fast the water rose in 4 hours".. to be dead honest, that is ridiculous. ANY river/stream/creek anywhere can rise in minutes !!!! If you had that mindset, then you need to really slow down the process and get some mentoring. No fishing trip is worth it.

Be prepared to stay the night on the opposite bank-or almost anywhere you are. Stuff happens-even close to your vehicle.

A sobering story-not sure it made it on this board, but I read about a guy on another of the fishing post boards locally not long ago, was a guy who posted alot of reports and was a enthusiastic fisherman. He bragged about buying cheap inflatable rafts instead of nicer ones. You can guess what happened. He drowned. Took awhile to find his body. Very sad and the reason is right there. Going back and reading his posts right up to that fateful day will make you sick to your stomach. Senseless. Truly.

Gotta use your brain-the size of a softball, when chasing a creature with the brain the size of a dime-if that. The chase is all within, it fills the void of lost hunt and gather mode. The outcome matters not when fishing for sport. Living is also part of that rudimentary, but most important, basic urge.

Glad you passed the test, do not try that test it again.

Safe times to everyone!
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Nothing like a near death experience to make you really appreciate being alive. Yep been there.
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Crossing a river, it is terribly easy to end up on a tongue (submerged bar) with the current pushing you down stream until you're nipple deep and out of room. I know. Fortunately I managed to tip-toe dance through the deeper water and make it back. But it could have been really bad, alone, no pfd, feet of snow. Sure as rain some guys will read Peter's story and think "duh, what an idiot". Well, I'm not an idiot, and don't think Peter is either. A slight miscalculation is enough sometimes. PFD's, yes! Wading staff, yes. Especially in high conditions. Thigh to hip deep is enough for me anymore.
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Frist thankful you survived and made it safely back to the GF!

Secondly thanks for sharing your experience; lessons/reminders for all of us!

Gartham provided an excellent suggestion! Anyone that spends much time on our rivers whether wading or boating owe it to themselves and their love ones to mentally being prepared to deal with a dunking. Taking a "swim" while fully clothed and in waders in a swim environment (a pool maybe the best) is something folks should consider. In case one finds themselves in a tough spot panic maybe as big as an obstacle as any thing; not knowing "what to expect" can prevent clear thinking.

In addition to some of the other excellent suggestions given above a couple other things a wading angler might keep in mind include:

In situations where rising water might be an issue; tail waters (and yes the Skagit is a tail water), during and following storms. thunderstorms in the foothills, etc. be aware that the water can rise. The hard way I learned that even after an relatively easy wade regardless of how good the fishing may be I keep track of the river flows. Often I will mentally mark a spot on the shore line thinking to myself if the water rises to that rock/log/etc. I'm out of there.

When fishing new areas it can pay to spend a few minutes with a map to learn the lay of the land. There often are alternatives to that dangerous wade. In Peter's case some brush busting and a couple mile walk while not much fun may have been desirable over a river swim. Even a trespassing ticket would have been preferable.

And finally after several dicey experiences (including a face to face encounter with a black bear)I can say with certainty allowing yourself enough time to avoid unfamiliar stream crossings, brush busting or hiking trails in fading light or darkness is a wise move.

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Glad you made it! Terrifying experience.

Remember to wear a PFD, and especially remember to wear a sturdy wading belt....it will keep your waders (and you) from acting like a drift anchor in the current.
yes, you lucked out Peter! No one wants to read an obituary here, and I'm glad you aren't mentioned in those pages. Now get a wading staff and use the thing-it's use might have found the hole you stepped into. Actually living life can be a Darwinian experience!
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Wading Staff works the other thing Do Not Take The Skagit Lightly It has some powerful under current
I was going to mention a wading belt and a wading staff. But several here beat me to it.

I fell down on the Sauk one time This was many years ago. In was wearing those rubber coated canvas chest waders. It wasn't deep but fast. I had on a wading belt. At least I was smart enough for that. I fought against everything. I finally got my feet under myself and stood up.

Since that time I haven't waded over my knees. Now I don't even wade anymore.
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