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Outdoor adventures: Rock River demands respect

Published: Friday, June 28, 2013 11:41 p.m. CDT

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Well, I am sure you have read all about the terrible incident this past week along the banks of the Rock River.

Another poor soul who has lost their life to rugged waters flowing through the Rock River valley. Another black eye that will have some screaming for more regulations on water recreation.

Remember, it was not all that long ago, after a string of drownings at local dams, that had some officials screaming for the destruction of the man-made barricades. This bill was very seriously debated, and I believe the only reason we did not lose any of our dams was because our state simply couldn’t afford to blow them up.

I remember as a child heading to the Elkhorn creek after a string of rains. Dad and I were heading out to run some bank poles and throw lines in the rising water, which generally provides some great fishing.

As we approached our crossing spot, I could see the water was high and muddy, and moving pretty quickly compared to normal. I was hesitant at best to cross the raging water, so Dad slid down the bank and into the water to show me there was nothing to worry about.

Well, some three steps in and Dad slips, and all I can see are his fingertips sticking out of the water and a ball cap floating down the swollen creek. Dad’s fingers periodically would surface, then disappear as he was swept downstream until he finally was swept under a limb hanging just over the water’s surface.

Somehow his hands were able to latch onto that limb like a baby kitten’s claws to a flannel shirt. He then surfaced and was able to get to the bank and climb to safety. It happened so fast that it didn’t dawn on me until he climbed out of the creek that I had just almost watched my father die.

Needless to say, running a few poles became pretty unimportant that day, and we headed home – incredibly lucky.

I learned a lot about respecting the water that day. Unfortunately, being on the water as much as I am now, I continue to witness people doing incredibly stupid things. Yes, they get away with it most of the time, but they apparently have no idea how fast bad things can happen.

Just a couple years back, in April, I was witness to the rescue of a young girl who, along with her friends, had decided to swim across the Rock River’s 60 degree waters. She didn’t make it, and if it had not been for the boat just in front of me, she’d be in a box as we speak.

Fatigue and cold water temps zapped her energy, and she was going down as the man and wife team in front of me grabbed her – very lucky girl.

I often am asked by people about the water conditions in the areas of drownings when they occur. They will ask is it deep there? Is it swift there? So on and so forth. Well, most of the time these deaths are completely avoidable.

With absolutely no disrespect to any victims’ families or the victims themselves, I can’t help but ask in most situations, “Just what the hell were you thinking?”

I mean, wading up too close to the face of dams where you know big scour holes exist. Swimming in any part of the river under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Especially in unfamiliar waters that change from year to year and are rising quickly after days of rain.

I remember several years back, four young men from the Chicago area piled into a boat and headed for the Rock Island dam on the Mississippi River. Well, they had never been there before, they had exceeded the boat’s weight limit, and had no experience whatsoever.

Yes, you guessed it, the boat sank, and they drowned. A tragedy, you bet, and God rest their souls. However, you can’t fix stupid, and this is exactly what this was. If you go out looking for death, there is a good chance it might just find you.

So, please take a few tips so you’re not the next one who needs to be dragged off the bottom of a river somewhere.

First, check out the weather.gov website. The National Weather Service posts storm information, rainfall amounts, water levels and the rising water rate,  and keeps it very up to the minute. Avoid rising waters and inclement weather.

Now, this second part is very tricky. Everyone likes to have a beer or some kind of adult beverage on or along the river. Please remember that operating watercraft under the influence is not only dangerous, but it is illegal.

Swimming, however, is not. This is where a designated “smart person” comes in handy. Drunks have no business in the river, none at all. It is not a tragedy if you sink to the bottom never to return, it is your own stupidity. You will cause many much grief, so just don’t do it.

Life vests should be worn if you are not a good swimmer. The dog paddle does not count. You’re not a doggy, you’re an adult human being.

Also, if you are new to boating, take a boater safety class. Learn about anchoring at dams, boat operation and safety requirements. Don’t just assume you’ve got it covered.

In closing, I have always told my family that if I died of a heart attack while fishing and my last view of the world was my lines in the water out of the back of my boat, then I’d rest in peace knowing I died a happy man. Dying of ignorance, however, is something I am not going to do.

I owe that to my family and to myself. So please, please, please educate yourself and respect the water and what it can do, and enjoy it to the fullest. Always know in the back of your mind that in one second, one senseless act and your life can be over.

Be safe, and Go Catfish!

 

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