Category Archives: Fishing Safety

Four Fishing Etiquette Tips Desperately Needed By High School Fishermen and Captains and Too Many Other Fishermen


One of the biggest pet peeves for many freshwater anglers is when they are having a good day fishing from a boat in a quiet spot on the lake or river and another angler comes along, pulls up right beside them and starts casting in the same area without asking first.

“It happens pretty much on a daily basis,” said Mercury Pro Team member Michael Neal.

If it’s a public body water, everyone is welcome to use the resource, of course. In most places, there are no written rules about how far you need to stay away from other boats and anglers. It’s within your rights to fish next to someone, as long as you aren’t harassing them (intentional angler harassment is against the law in many states). It’s up to each individual angler to decide what’s responsible behavior in terms of how much distance to put between your boat and theirs. Practicing good fishing etiquette means treating other anglers and boaters on the water with respect and giving them their space.

Neal, who fishes the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour and Pro Circuit, said it all comes down to following the Golden Rule. “Treat others the way you want to be treated,” he said.

“Communication is key. It’s the number one thing that makes your day on the water go smoothly,” added Mercury Pro Team member and Bassmaster Elite Series angler John Crews.

Here are four fishing etiquette tips from these two pros to help keep it friendly and fun for everyone on the water. What’s outlined here are unwritten rules that guide tournament anglers and serious recreational anglers.

  1. A “bent pole pattern,” indicating that an angler has a fish on the line, is not an invitation to take your boat to that angler’s position and start fishing right next to them. It’s probably better to go somewhere else, but if it’s a spot you had already hoped to fish, just wait it out. “My advice is to wait until they leave to go over to that spot,” said Neal.
  2. When another angler is fishing in a spot near where you would like to fish, stop your boat within hailing distance and let the person know your wishes. For example, if an angler is fishing partway back in a creek, and you want to fish all the way in the back, ask first if he or she intends to head deeper into the creek before you go there yourself. “If I go into an area where someone else is fishing, I ask them if they are going to continue, and if it’s OK for me to fish there. If they are having a bad day and they want to be rude about it, you don’t want to be fishing around them anyway,” Crews said. On crowded lakes, you’re likely to wind up fishing near someone. In that case, keep a respectful distance. “We usually have a mutual understanding: ‘Don’t get any closer to me, and I won’t get any closer to you,’” Neal said, referring to his fellow tournament anglers.
  3. Don’t pass too close to another angler’s boat. “Stay away from the side where their rods are; pass on the other side if you can,” Crews said, adding that it’s important to give other boats with active anglers a wide berth when you pass, if there’s room. “Two hundred to 300 feet is ideal; 100 feet at a minimum. Pass at speed and make a minimal wake rather than slowing down and pulling a big wake. However, if there isn’t room to pass far enough away, come off plane well before you get near the other boat and idle past.”
  4. Never, ever cross lines with another angler. “The number one no-no is to cast across somebody else’s line. I’ve had it happen to me personally. I decided to leave the spot to him. I figured, if it’s important enough for him to do that, he can have it,” Neal said.

Use common courtesy, and there should be enough space for everyone to fish in harmony. When in doubt, err on the side of being as respectful as possible.

“Most anglers are super cool, and as long as you can communicate with them, you can make it work,” Crews concluded.

Fish Safely During COVID-19

How to Fish Safely During COVID-19
By Dave Precht
from The Fishing Wire

Editor’s note: Bassmaster has a new section called Fish Smart, with social hashtags #fishsmart and #livesmart. Click here for more related stories and videos. 

The lake one day this week was no more crowded than it usually is on a warm Saturday morning in spring — except this wasn’t Saturday. It was midweek during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency. The boat ramp was jammed, and you had to take a number to fish a community hole.

The rapid, unprecedented spread of the coronavirus has forced the closure of schools, businesses, events and any other nonessential gathering of people in our country and across the world. For many of us, being off work or out of school means an opportunity to go bass fishing.

But should we?

“Probably the safest place to be is on the lake right now,” said Dr. Neil Schaffner of Opelika, Ala., an avid bass angler and 40-year veteran of the medical profession. “Everybody knows you’re supposed to practice ‘social distancing’ by staying at least 6 feet away from other people. You can do that when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, in open spaces and open air.

“That doesn’t mean anglers should be oblivious to the dangers of contracting what for some can be a deadly virus, however.

Courtesy of Dr. Neil SchaffnerAn avid bass angler as well as a medical professional involved in the battle against coronavirus, Dr. Neil Schaffner explains how to apply ‘social distancing’ practices in fishing.

“Your biggest risk is at the gas pump,” Schaffner said. “Perhaps 500 people have touched the handle before you picked it up. The second greatest risk might be pulling through a drive-through to get a biscuit on the way to the lake.”

As of this writing, many boat ramp facilities remain open, but some, including Green Pond Landing on Lake Hartwell, have been closed. Schaffner believes officials close some recreational facilities to protect personnel from exposure, while others are closed because restrooms and other facilities can be conduits to spreading the coronavirus.

He says to avoid touching any hard surface without protection. Wear gloves if you can. If you don’t have surgical gloves, work gloves are better than nothing. Anything that provides a barrier between your skin and a contaminated surface can help. Using a paper towel to hold the gas pump handle might save someone from getting the disease, he suggests. Unwrap that biscuit with a napkin and avoid touching any of the packaging. If you visit a fast food restaurant, make sure employees are wearing gloves.

While his recommendations might seem extreme, Schaffner knows what he’s talking about. When I phoned him, he was studying new, promising treatment protocols from Belgium as he prepares to become more directly involved in the battle against the epidemic. The endocrinologist on staff at East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, Ala., Schaffner’s background is in critical care, including tours as an emergency room physician in the military. If front-line physicians succumb to the virus, Schaffner and others in his position will be called into direct action.

Schaffner well knows that sharing the experience with a buddy makes fishing so much more enjoyable, but in these times, two might be a crowd.

If you’d rather not fish alone, he lists several ways to minimize the danger of catching coronavirus from a fishing buddy.“The good thing is that there’s at least 6 feet between the front pedestal and the back pedestal in a bass boat,” he said.

Still, it’s important to observe extreme caution when considering fishing with another person.

“If your buddy just got off a cruise ship three days ago, I wouldn’t go fishing with him,” Schaffner said. “If your fishing partner is coughing or has any other of the symptoms — fever, aches, sore throat — or has been exposed to someone with coronavirus, don’t go.” 

Should you still decide to fish with someone else, do all you can to avoid touching a surface your friend has touched. Agree that the two of you will stay on opposite ends of the boat and not touch anything the other has touched. If you hook a big bass and he nets the fish for you, sanitize the net handle.

Sharing the cab of a pickup brings the two of you into closer proximity, but Schaffner believes normal, steady breathing and conversation shouldn’t be much of a risk. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for both of you to wear masks and to drive with the windows down, he adds.

In these extreme times, what used to be done out of an abundance of caution has now become common sense.

Schaffner, who cohosts (with Rev. Jay Wolf) a local television program on WSFA-TV in Montgomery, Ala., “The Fishin’ Mission,” told me he’s preparing to go fishing this weekend … alone. “I would be a risk to my fishing partner because of my constant exposure and treating patients all day long,” he said. “Right now, I’m living alone, in my basement, apart from my wife and daughter. Their risk of getting the virus is me.” 

For more information on protecting yourself and others from coronavirus, visit and

Coronavirus and Fishing

Fishing in the Time of Coronavirus
No, this is not the Death Star, but some say it could be a very large problem for many of us considering its tiny size.

By Frank Sargeant, Editor
from The Fishing Wire

As this is written, the world is undergoing a level of mobilization unseen since World War II. Some of it may be over-reaction, but there’s no doubt that this is a real, no-kidding worldwide crisis that’s going to affect us all for months to come.

The enemy this time is not a mad dictator, but rather an invisible microbe—but one that apparently has the potential to be deadly to many of us. The human race seems to have almost no resistance to contracting it. In the U.S. alone, health authorities are estimating that over half of us might get it. While doubters are noting that not nearly as many have died from coronavirus as from other strains of flu, we are only in the first weeks of a curve that’s rapidly going upward.

And while the vast majority will recover quickly, just as with other strains of flu, some will not. The World Health Organization currently estimates a death rate of around 3 percent, while some other agencies have put the number as low as 1 percent. That does not sound like much until you look at the likelihood that, in the U.S., some 160 million of us are allegedly likely to get it according to federal health officials. One percent of 160,000,000 is 1.6 million. Three percent is 4.8 million.

Among those over 60, the death rate has been around 10 percent, approaching 15 percent for those over 80. The average age of the U.S. Senate is 61.8, and of the House, 57.8. Donald Trump is 73, Nancy Pelosi 79. It’s safe to say we can expect Washington to go all in to stop this disease.

But at this point there seems to be no stopping it, only alleviating the impacts. There are many folks out there who have it and don’t know it according to the CDC—the symptoms can be very minor for many, but they are still contagious.I’m not a doctor, and don’t play one on TV. But what the doctors—including my own son–are telling us is that the goal is to lower the rate of spread, which will mean that those who do get a serious infection will have a bed in the intensive care unit and a ventilator available if needed. A rapid spread, on the other hand, could make things difficult for all. Hospitals could be overwhelmed, as they apparently have been this week in Italy.

The fishing industry is doing the right thing. Over the past week I’ve had literally dozens of event cancellations come in to the Fishing Wire for posting, including some from nearly every state, and ranging in size from small regional game and fish meetings to massive boat shows that would normally generate millions of dollars for the industry. My friends in the guide business say business has fallen off a cliff.

While we’re all hoping this will subside in a couple of months and business will return to normal, if it does not, jobs at all levels will be affected, as well as the businesses that provide those jobs. Supply issues from China may also become huge if the current reduction in cases there proves short-lived—most tackle, lures and accessories used worldwide are made in China. To say nothing of our 401-K’s—don’t remind me.

In the meantime—one of the best things we can probably do is go fishing. Angling is a sport of low human density, lots of fresh air and plenty of sunshine, all of which give us the best shot at staying healthy. The same might be true for spring turkey hunting, hiking or camping. Getting outdoors also helps us reduce stress, something most of us can use right now.

Of course, for those at highest risk, the best advice is simply to stay home, period.It’s going to be a rocky few months, any way we slice it. Many of the conveniences and daily routines all of us expect as Americans may temporarily go by the wayside. (Like toilet paper on the Walmart shelf . . . .!)

But we’ll get through it. And we’ll come out the other side much better prepared to deal with the next of these bugs, highly likely somewhere on the horizon in this age of global travel and commerce, but hopefully many years in the future.

If you’re not already up to here with info on the virus, here’s a link to an article my M.D. son sent me, outlining the position of a lot of physicians at present:

Boating Comedy Can Be Dangerous

The boating comedy show continues at area lakes. After a relatively sane weekend at Bartletts Ferry two weeks ago, this past weekend at Sinclair proved the inconsiderate and those too stupid to follow rules and laws have not put boats away yet.

The most dangerous thing I saw as at the Highway 441 Bridge. I had pulled under it around noon to get in the shade and was watching two young boys fish from kayaks. The older looked to be about 14 and the younger one maybe 10. They were having a great time fishing around the pilings in their tiny boats.

All bridges in Georgia have big “No Wake” signs and buoys on them. There are at least two reasons for that law. Going under a bridge your visibility is limited by pilings and riprap. Going slowly helps avoid an accident. No wake also helps protect other boats from being slammed into pilings and thrown around under the bridge.

As is usual many barges slowed down enough so their wake was only a foot or two high rather than the three or four foot wakes they usually throw off. The kids in the kayaks had a tough time when hit with even a one foot wake. If their boats had been damaged or if they had been swamped and drowned, the boat driver making the wake would be legally liable for it.

The worst I saw was an idiot in a pontoon boat. He came at the bridge wide open, having to go around the no wake buoy on the way, and duck down to keep from hitting the bridge with his head. There is no way he could see other boats under the bridge or coming to it since he could not even keep his head up. He went under the bridge at full throttle. I tried to get my phone out to video it and get his registration numbers to report but did not have time.

The dumbest thing I saw was at the boat ramp. I came in a little early and the only other club member at the dock was Kwong. He tied up and went for his trailer as I idled in. As I tied up I knew we were in trouble. The double ramp had a big SUV with a trailer backed in almost taking up the middle of the ramp. The big barge he wanted to load was tied to the dock and when he got out of the SUV he left his door open, further blocking the other side of the ramp.

Kwong finally got his trailer backed in around the open door and I pulled him to the top of the hill, went back to my boat and he tried to back my trailer in for me to load. But now not only was the inconsiderate idiot’s door open, the three people with him were standing in the middle of the one open ramp. They finally moved when Kwong almost hit them with the back of the trailer.

I got my boat loaded and Kwong pulled me to the top of the hill. I watched as another club members pulled their boat out. The guy with the barge was still trying to get his on the trailer right. Then he pulled up just enough to clear the water with the back of his boat, not only blocking that ramp but also blocking the area where you have to swing around to back you trailer in.

I think the whole club took our boats out on one ramp while that idiot blocked the other one. Maybe it will get too cold for such inconsiderate folks soon.

Handling the Heat and Staying Hydrated This Summer

Tips for Handling the Heat and Staying Hydrated This Summer

From GoBoatingFlorida

In many parts of the country, summer boating safety tips revolve around the increased number of boats and activity on the water. In Florida, we experience that issue between Thanksgiving and Easter during what we affectionately refer to as ‘season’. However, summer boating in Florida does come with its own set of seasonal challenges, which are either heat or weather-related. Let’s start with weather…

Afternoon Storms

Spend any time in Florida between mid-June and late August and you will notice that almost every day, the skies open up in the middle of the afternoon and send (you’d swear) nearly every drop of precipitation they have down upon us for about an hour and a half. For those of us on land this simply means staying inside and dry.

If you’re out on a boat, it’s a whole different story. Depending on sea conditions, this could be a long hour and a half, especially if there is lightning—the biggest concern. The best way to deal with this kind of weather is to, obviously, not be there. Check the forecast and schedule your time out to be before or after the storms. When this is not possible or something comes rolling in quickly, seek protected water or, better still, head to shore.

Staying Cool

The Florida sun is intense most of the year, but summer is the worst…especially mixed with increased humidity. Which means sunstroke or overexposure to the sun is a real danger. This, unlike weather, is more within your control. Sunscreen is an easy precaution. Use a high SPF and make sure to use the water/sweat-proof kind. Apply before you go out and one or two times during the day depending on your skin type.
The other thing to do is add or use the boat’s canvas top. If it has a hard cover, which is common on larger boats, this is easy. Smaller boats usually include a Bimini top which provides great shade but many boaters don’t use them while running as they can often vibrate underway…a small price to pay for shade.

Finally, jump in. After all, you’re on a boat. A quick swim can lower your body temperature quickly and refresh you all at the same time.

Staying Hydrated

Your body depends on water to survive. Every cell, tissue, and organ in your body needs water to work properly. Your body even uses water to maintain its temperature.

Water makes up more than half of your body weight. You lose water each day when you go to the bathroom, sweat, and even when you breathe. You lose water even faster when the weather is really hot—so if you don’t replace the water you lose, you can become dehydrated.

Symptoms of dehydration include: Little or no urine, or urine that is darker than usual, dry mouth, sleepiness or fatigue, extreme thirst, headache, confusion, dizziness or producing no tears when crying.

Don’t wait until you notice symptoms of dehydration to take action. Actively prevent dehydration by drinking plenty of water. For some people, fewer than 8 glasses may be enough on an average day—this amount should be increased 50-75% when outdoors in hot wether. And don’t forget, you can stay hydrated via fluid intake and eating water-rich fruits and vegetables like grapes, watermelon, tomatoes or lettuce.

Following these guidelines can help keep you safe, healthy, and none the worse for wear on your next outing. Boating safe is boating smart!

Read more like this at

Staying Safe Offshore Is Planning and Taking Care

Staying Safe Offshore

By Frank Sargeant, Editor
from The Fishing Wire

The death of a young angler off the Louisiana coast this week reminds all of us yet again of what each of should remember every time we step into a boat: you are responsible for your own safety once that vessel leaves the dock. No matter whether you’re within cell phone range of 911 or many miles offshore in SSB range only, the brave folks charged with coming to get you often cannot get there in time to save you from your own mistakes.

Not to say that most of us don’t make those mistakes early on–and fortunately, most of us survive none the worse for them. I well remember heading offshore on Florida’s west coast to capture kingfish in a 15-foot jonboat with a single 10-horse outboard that only started when it felt like it, and without a sign of a radio aboard–and this was well before the age of the cell phone. I had 25 feet of anchor line on board, one gas-station sandwich and a gallon jug of water. It seemed enough to get out there two or three miles, catch fish and come home, and I did.

That sort of youthful impulsiveness can get you killed, of course, but somehow it did not. That was not the case in Louisiana, and a 19-year-old who loved fishing as much as most of us who read these words do is gone. We can never remind ourselves or our loved ones often enough that the sea is unforgiving. Here are just a few of the most basic reminders that help to keep us safe:

Never leave the dock without filing at least an informal float plan with someone who will know immediately if you don’t come back when you planned.

Never leave the dock without a dependable communications device. A cell phone can work if you’re headed a mile or two offshore or into the backcountry–but remember that cell phones are not waterproof. Get it wet and you’ve got nothing. Otherwise, you’ll need at least a VHF, which typically has a 25-mile range. Any farther, you’ll need a sat phone or SSB to have any hope of reaching someone.

An EPIRB is an essential piece of equipment today for offshore boating. Push the emergency button and the first-responders know you need help and exactly where to find you–it’s incomparable insurance at a modest price.

Never head offshore in a single-engine boat unless you’re accompanied by another boat. Every mechanical contrivance can break down. Even new engines sometimes get the hiccups. At least carry a “kicker” of 10-horses or better that can get you home slowly but surely if necessary. Twin engines add a big get-home factor.

Remember that fuel economy varies with fuel conditions. Burn no more than 1/3 of your fuel going out, 1/4 trolling, and 1/3 returning–always plan on some reserve because if a strong wind or rough seas come up, it can take far more fuel to get home than it took going out.

Both by law and by common sense, you need a quality life preserver on board of the right size to fit every passenger. Put ’em where you can reach ’em fast–you may have only seconds if a wave comes over the transom. In iffy conditions, wear the preservers.

Carry a lot more drinking water than you ever expect to need. At least a half-gallon per person per day is a must–and you’ll want twice that if you’re out there in hot weather. It’s wise to take enough for three days anytime you go offshore. Ditto for food, in waterproof packaging.

Rain gear keeps you comfortable in a shower, and if you’re adrift, it can keep you warm overnight. Buy good raingear for everyone aboard and keep it where you can get it fast.

Last but not least, remember the oceans are deep and wide–and your boat should be, also. Lots of freeboard, lots of beam, and the more length the better keeps you safe. These days, I’d consider a 25-footer with an 8’6″ beam my personal minimum, though I ran a 23 and picked my days for a good while without problems.

There’s no boat and no preparation that will absolutely keep you safe in all conditions. But following the basics of good seamanship and common sense can go a long way in the right direction.

What Are Two Good Survival At Sea Books?

Survival at Sea–a Couple of Fascinating Reads

By Frank Sargeant, Editor
The Fishing Wire

438 Days

438 Days

Most of us who spend time at sea like stories of sea survival—you always have it in the back of your mind that it could happen to you, someday, if the stars aligned just so. One of the more intriguing is detailed in the book “438 Days” by Jonathan Franklin, the story of Salvador Alvarenga’s incredible survival while drifting some 9,000 miles across the Pacific, from the coast of Mexico to the Marshall Islands.

The writing is a bit choppy and interspersed with information that’s interesting regarding survival, but that breaks the mood of the story, and yet I found the book a compelling read—I finished it in three nights, which is fast for me. For those who thought, when this story broke in the news in 2014, that it described an impossible feat–that somehow the fix was in–this book and the photos included should allay those suspicions. Here’s the gist of it:

On November 17, 2012, Salvador Alvarenga left the coast of Mexico for a two-day fishing trip. A vicious storm killed his engine and the current dragged his boat out to sea. The storm picked up and blasted him west. When he washed ashore on January 29, 2014, he had arrived in the Marshall Islands, 9,000 miles away—equivalent to traveling from New York to Moscow round trip.

For fourteen months, Alvarenga survived constant shark attacks. He learned to catch fish and birds with his bare hands. He built a fish net from a pair of empty plastic bottles. Taking apart the outboard motor, he fashioned a huge fishhook. Using fish vertebrae as needles, he stitched together his own clothes.

He considered suicide on multiple occasions—including offering himself up to a pack of sharks. But Alvarenga never failed to invent an alternative reality. He developed a method of survival that kept his body and mind intact long enough for the Pacific Ocean to toss him up on a remote palm-studded island, where he was saved by a local couple living alone in their own Pacific Island paradise.

Based on dozens of hours of interviews with Alvarenga and interviews with his colleagues, search and rescue officials, the medical team that saved his life and the remote islanders who nursed him back to health, this epic tale of survival by Jonathan Franklin is a true version of the fictional Life of Pi. With illustrations, maps, and photographs throughout, 438 Days is a study of the resilience, will, ingenuity, and determination required for one man to survive fourteen months, lost at sea. List price is $26.00, from Atria Books, less on

In the Heart of the Sea

In the Heart of the Sea

Also in this vein, I recently read “In the Heart of the Sea” by Nathaniel Philbrick, which has been around for a while, but was recently released as a major motion picture. This is also a story of sea survival, based on the story of the whale ship Essex out of Nantucket in 1819.

The Essex was rammed by a giant sperm whale far off the coast of South America and sank, leaving 20 men in three small whaleboats. (Yes, the tale was the basis for Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, written in 1851.)

Over the next three months, the men sailed all over the South Pacific, frequently driven in the wrong direction by prevailing winds, storms and currents. As their food disappeared, they turned to cannibalism, first of those who died from duress, and later by drawing straws and killing each other so that a few might survive. In the end, only eight were left, including two who were found in one of the surviving boats sucking on the bones of their deceased shipmates.

It’s a fascinating look at survival, at the limits of human endurance, and at the historic whaling industry. It’s from Penguin books, and available on

Lyme Disease In the Southeast

Slow Diagnosis Leads to Slower Recovery Since Lyme Disease Is Not Supposed To Be In the Southeast

The Fishing Wire Editor’s Note: We’re cautious when it comes to serious health threats. Our staff knows two people suffering right now from the effects of Lyme Disease because of late diagnosis by doctors who believed “this region doesn’t have Lyme Disease”. Because of that, we’re featuring Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources staffer David Rainer’s report on how a similar reluctance to pronounce a diagnosis of Lyme Disease lead to undue medical suffering. It’s a cautionary tale we hope will increase sensitivity; not create undue concern.

From Ronnie Garrison – I tested positive for Lyme Disease in central Georgia a few years ago and suffered problems for a year before finding a doctor in Alabama that would treat it in a non-standard method.


David Rainer
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Unlike most victims, Chuck Sykes knows exactly when a deer tick bit him that led to a six-month journey through pain, suffering and frustration.

“I was bitten on July 30,” said Sykes, Director of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. “I knew I’d been bitten. I was looking at some potential rabbit research projects with the dean of Wildlife and Forestry at Auburn University. On the way home, I felt a tick bite me behind my knee. I pulled over to the side of the road and got him off.”

As a lifelong outdoorsman, Sykes said the tick bite didn’t raise any unusual concerns because of previous encounters with the blacklegged tick (aka deer tick).

“I didn’t think anything about it; I’ve been bitten a thousand times,” he said.

But between two and three weeks later, Sykes started having symptoms of the disease named for the area around Lyme, Connecticut, where numerous cases were observed in the 1970s.

“I would walk the dogs at night, and when I would come back in, my hands would be hurting from holding their leash,” he said. “I’d get up in the mornings to get on the treadmill, and my feet were hurting so bad I couldn’t get on the treadmill. I had fatigue and joint paint. Sounds like Lyme disease to me.”

That’s where the frustration started. When Sykes posed that possibility to the first doctor he went to, Sykes said the doctor gave an incredulous look.

“When I told him I thought I had Lyme disease, he had the same reaction that I have when someone tells me they saw a black panther,” Sykes said. “He told me, ‘No, you don’t. We don’t have Lyme disease down here.'”

Sykes then learned that, because he was bitten on the job, he needed to follow a specified protocol for work-related illness or injury in having his illness assessed. The resulting reports from those initial numerous medical exams and extensive blood tests produced no answers on the cause of Sykes’ increasingly debilitating symptoms.

At that point, Sykes decided to turn to specialists recommended by friends. After another round of multiple doctors, with numerous exams and blood tests, various explanations for Sykes’ illness were offered and explored, but none confirmed. Like the initial doctor, none of the medical professionals thought the cause was Lyme disease.

By this time, it was October and Sykes could barely walk. His ankles were swollen and his feet hurt so badly that his gait was substantially impaired. “I was basically shuffling around like I was 90,” Sykes said.

Although a very early Lyme disease test had returned as negative, Sykes had learned that the disease can take an extended time after exposure to show up in testing. Given what he knew of his symptoms and those of Lyme disease, Sykes felt compelled to make certain that was not his problem.

Finally, a coworker told him about a local doctor with a keen interest in Lyme disease. Sykes made an appointment as quickly as possible. The doctor had found a laboratory in California that was at the forefront of the detection of Lyme disease. Sykes pulled $1,500 out of his bank account to pay for the testing that insurance wouldn’t cover.

“Lo and behold, it comes back to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) as positive for Lyme disease,” Sykes said. “The doctor put me on a cocktail of antibiotics, and within three weeks I was 90 percent back to normal. I will be on antibiotics for another six months, but I’m at least headed in the right direction.”

Sykes said others in Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries have suffered from Lyme disease, and some haven’t responded as well as he has to the antibiotics.

Recently, I wrote a column on Carrie Mason, a teenager from Wetumpka who was a participant in the Buckmasters Life Hunt who has suffered the debilitating effects of Lyme disease. Mason’s family ran into the same kind of obstacles that Sykes encountered and ended up in Washington, D.C., for treatment.

Also called deer tick

Also called deer tick

The blacklegged tick is found in most of the eastern United States. The tick can transfer the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, although diagnosis is difficult. Image courtesy of the CDC with permission.

Sykes’ case does not follow the CDC theory that the tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours for it to transmit the bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) that causes Lyme disease.

“I know when I was bitten, and I know when the symptoms started,” he said. “Whether I had been exposed 10 years ago, I don’t know. I know that I didn’t have the symptoms. With this tick bite, I know exactly when the symptoms started.”

The CDC gives guidelines about how to extract a tick to ensure that the head is not left attached to the victim’s skin.

“That one bit me and within 5 minutes I pulled it off,” Sykes said. “I got the whole tick; he was still crawling before I killed him and threw him out the window.”

During his ordeal, Sykes heard about a tick-borne illness seminar at Auburn University that was organized by graduate student Emily Merritt under the guidance of Graeme Lockaby, Dean of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences at Auburn. Funding is being sought for Merritt to conduct a doctorate-level research study in Alabama this year.

Lockaby, who was with Sykes when he was bitten, said Merritt had shown particular interest in tick-borne illnesses because she hails from an area where Lyme disease has the attention of medical professionals.

“Our intention is to do a state-wide assessment of the status of ticks and tick-borne illnesses in the South,” Merritt said. “We’ll be looking at all different tick species and hopefully sample several different pathogens that they might be carrying. First and foremost, we’ll look at Lyme disease, but we’ll also look at Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Southern tick-associated rash illness.

“We’ll take tick samples off wildlife and dogs. We’ll also drag for ticks in likely places. Hopefully, we’ll eventually be able to identify hot spots across the state, areas where people have to be concerned about contact with ticks. We don’t know how bad it is. That’s what we want to figure out.”

Merritt says she doesn’t know why the CDC doesn’t list Lyme disease as a threat in the Southeast because, like Sykes, she knows of numerous people who have been affected by Lyme disease.

“Being from New York, I’m hyper-aware of ticks and tick-borne illnesses,” she said. “Part of the reason that I decided that Auburn should be studying this is I know several foresters, hunters and people who work outdoors who talk about all the people they know who’ve had Lyme disease. It’s scary to hear about it as much down here as I do when I talk to people up north.

“That’s why I think it’s a bigger issue than what we know about it. But it is hard to prove in the lab. So our biggest battle will be to find a sample and confirm it in the lab so we can say, hey, here’s the evidence. Even if the proportion of ticks with the bacteria is not as huge as it is up north, the chances of you getting Lyme can still be great, depending on where you are. The chance is still there even if it’s not as prevalent as it is up north.”

Thoroughly convinced that Lyme disease is a concern for people who enjoy the outdoors in Alabama, Sykes said, “Unlike the black panther stories, I’ve got scientific documentation and proof of Lyme disease that occurred in Alabama.”

What Are Electronically Aided Collisions?

Electronically Aided Collisions

Editor’s Note: Today’s feature on the Electronically Aided Collision designation isn’t a joke. As pilots and long-distance truckers have long known, too-much attention to the electronics and too-little situational awareness can have horrible consequences.

by Frank Sargeant, Editor
from The Fishing Wire

Glass Cockpit

Glass Cockpit

A ‘glass cockpit’ like this one is a wonderful asset to offshore fishing and navigation, but boaters can sometimes be seduced into watching the screens more than they keep a lookout ahead.

“Electronically Aided Collisions”, EAC’s, sounds like a joke, but they’re an actual new designation of Coast Guard accident descriptors. USCG says so many accidents are occurring as a result of the electronics many of us now have aboard–ostensibly to help us avoid accidents–that it made sense to set up a category for it, and of course this being the Coast Guard, they gave it an acronym.

The issue is basically the same as for those ashore who are unable to restrain themselves from texting while driving a vehicle–distracted attention has unfortunate results when you are responsible for piloting several tons of moving mass.

Afloat, though, there is some reason for us to be playing with our electronics–they are usually our only means of navigation offshore, as well as our all-important fish-finding tool–absolutely critical in reef fishing, and very helpful too with pelagic species that often hang around major bottom breaks, sea mounts and other structure.



Radar makes it possible to operate safely after dark and in fog and rain, but a sharp eye ahead is always required when the boat is underway.

We depend on them for weather, for operation in low light and fog, to help us in locating aids to navigation (i.e. buoys), hazards and lots more–basically most offshore anglers would prefer to stay at the docks these days rather than attempt to fish or travel long distances without their electronic nav and sonar systems.

But in all this dependency, it’s easy to forget that the electronics are not a video game at home in the man-cave. A real-time lookout ahead every minute the boat is moving is a must to avoid consequences that range from just dumb–like running over a log and wiping out prop or lower unit–to catastrophic, like striking another boat or a fixed object.

The danger goes up exponentially with autopilots linked to the electronics. We quickly come to depend on them, in combination with the GPS, to drive the boat for us, avoiding the struggles with maintaining course that sometimes come in rough seas.

Radar and GPS

Radar and GPS

Radar overlaid on a GPS screen provides loads of information to the modern boater who can afford the full electronics package.

But, as an old skipper told me once, an autopilot has no brain, no eyes and no conscience–it will happily drive your boat right over a fleet of whale-watchers peacefully paddling their kayaks or a family pontoon boat out for a sight-seeking trip.

Don’t forget, too, that if you set the exact location of a marker as a waypoint, and then punch that waypoint into your autopilot and let the boat take you to it, the boat will very likely HIT the marker when you get there if you’re not alert.

Radar identifies ships and piers clearly, but may not mark–or may return a very dim echo–from a kayak–or a floating log.

Texting is less of an issue offshore where cell phones won’t work–but working to label a fishing site can also be an issue–best to simply “save” and then put in the descriptors when you’re safely shut down.

It’s also wise to remember that all electronics sooner or later break down. Constant exposure to the vibration, humidity and corrosion present around marine venues means they have a limited lifespan, and if you are depending on the unit to drive the boat at the moment when it gives up the ghost, you and your crew may be in big trouble.

Weather on Radar

Weather on Radar

Radar can also alert boaters to bad weather ahead, but there’s no substitute for eyes-on real-time information.

Sometimes, even when they’re working, they’re just plain wrong. My GPS invariably used to show me traveling right THROUGH a mile-long island when I drove down the Little Manatee River just off Tampa Bay.

They don’t keep track of their masters, either. Recently, former Miami Dolphins player Rob Konrad fell off his boat while fishing in South Florida. The boat was running on autopilot and promptly left Konrad behind. Fortunately, he was still a pretty athletic guy–he swam the 9 miles back to shore, arriving at 4 a.m.! The Coast Guard found his boat many miles away, still chugging along happily on autopilot.

Even far offshore, you can never take your eyes off the course ahead–boats show up out of nowhere. So do large chunks of floating debris, big enough to destroy your lower units.

Night operation is particularly hairy. I used to fish offshore occasionally with a great commercial reef fisherman who ran out there in a Cigarette type boat at 40 to 50 mph–at night! While he was perfectly happy to sit in the cabin and watch the radar at that speed, I was always a nervous wreck by the time we got to the ledges about dawn. (The decks would be littered with flying fish by the time we got there–they hit the cabin like baseballs as we sped along!)

Bottom line is that a “glass cockpit” is a wonderful thing, but our electronics are not yet even close to being set-and-forget; you are obligated, both morally and legally, to keep a lookout every moment your boat is underway, if you don’t want to become one of the Coast Guard’s EAC’s.

Why Are Life Jacket Codes Going Away?

Life Jacket Type Code Labels Go Away
from The Fishing Wire

Step Toward Eliminating Confusion and Introduction of New Designs

Life  Jacket Code

Life Jacket Code

In an effort to be more consumer friendly and spur innovation, the US Coast Guard is dropping its Type I-V labeling system.

ANNAPOLIS, MD. — In a move that’s expected to benefit recreational boaters, on Oct. 22 the US Coast Guard will drop the current life jacket type code scheme — Type I, II, III, IV and V — that has been used for years to label and differentiate the types of life jackets and their specific use. Chris Edmonston, BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety President and Chairman of the National Safe Boating Council, said, “The boating safety community believes this move by the Coast Guard will help lead the way toward more comfortable and innovative life jacket designs, help boaters stay on the right side of the law, lower costs, and save lives.”

Explains Edmonston, “This is positive news is that we will no longer see a Type I, II, III, IV or V label on a new life jacket label after Oct. 22. This type coding was unique to the United States, tended to confuse boaters, limited choice and increased the cost of life jackets.” He says removing the type coding is a first step towards the adoption of new standards that will eventually simplify life jacket requirements for recreational boaters.

“This move is expected to lead to the introduction of new life jacket designs, especially those made in other countries as US standards will be more ‘harmonized,’ initially Canada and eventually the European Union,” said Edmonston. “Along with a wider variety, aligning our standards with those to our neighbor to the north and across the Atlantic will help reduce prices as manufacturers won’t have to make products unique to the US market.”

Inflatable Life Jacket

Inflatable Life Jacket

Inflatable PFD’s have become very popular in recent years thanks to their comfort and ease of stowage.

However, Edmonston cautions boaters must still abide by the current standards when using older life jackets marked with the Type I-V labeling, as they will remain legal for use. “We must continue to have a properly fitted life jacket for all aboard, and as always, you’ll need to follow the label’s instructions regardless of when it was made. Simply put, if you follow the label, you’re following the law.” A full list of the current life jacket types and descriptions can be found at, and any update on new life jacket types and styles will be posted here when available.

In additional effort to help change the mindset of what a life jacket must look like, The BoatUS Foundation, the Personal Floatation Device Manufacturers Association (PFDMA) and the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), recently kicked off a “Innovations in Life Jacket Design Competition” to seek out the newest technologies and design ideas. Running through April 15, 2015, the contest seeks entries from groups or individuals, including collegiate design programs, armchair inventors or even boat and fishing clubs. Entries may be as simple as hand-drawn theoretical designs to working prototypes and will be judged based on four criteria: wearability, reliability, cost and innovation. For more, go to


About the BoatUS Foundation:

The BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water is a national leader promoting safe, clean and responsible boating. Funded primarily by donations from over half-million members of BoatUS, it provides innovative educational outreach directly to boaters and anglers with the aim of reducing accidents and fatalities, increasing stewardship of America’s waterways and keeping boating safe for all. A range of boating safety courses – including 33 free state courses – can be found at