Top News

Paul Smith: Stay safe and wear a lifejacket

Paddling jackets are designed with high backs so they clear the kayak seat.
Paddling jackets are designed with high backs so they clear the kayak seat.

It always makes me happy when I buy new outdoor gear. I’m happy right now. I just purchased a new fly reel for blue water.

I suppose you can never have too many fly reels, but I must be getting close. Goldie tells me I already have too many. It seems that I can always rationalize a new one for one reason or another, either a new species to catch, or something technical that tickles my fancy.

Goldie wears her lifejacket — always. She is smarter than me.

In Sweden folks make high-quality stuff, think Volvo cars and Jonsered chain saws. I bought a new Jonsered, second biggest made at the time, in late November of 1986, and it stills cuts juniper like a Buck knife though butter. That’s more than 30 years. So I chose a Swedish made fly reel this time around.
Danielssson fabricates fantastic devices of steel and high-grade aluminum to reel in the most powerful fish. I chose their biggest and baddest, model, the H5D-11-14wt.
That means it will match up with rods in the 11- to 14-weight range, much too big for typical Newfoundland and Labrador salmon fishing. Hardly anybody goes bigger than 9-wt. I use a 7-wt nearly all the time.
Anyway, you should always match your reel reasonably close to your rod weight. If the reel is too heavy the rod tip will want to go skyward on its own while you hold the cork. And conversely the tip will sink downward if the reel is on the too-light side. The rod and reel loaded with line should balance on a finger at mid cork or closely thereabouts. The reel acts as a counterbalance for the rod, and isn’t just for reeling in your catch. That’s nice to know, because a well-balanced outfit is much more pleasant to cast.
Why would I want such a massive torque cranking endless backing holding spool for fly line? There are always new species to catch and I love adventure into the unknown. I’ve done plenty of fishing in Florida, but all in freshwater, inter-coastal, or right on the beach. We stopped for a quick beer one evening after fishing for snook and reds until sunset. It was a fishy establishment where everyone talks fishing. I got chatting with a guy who runs charters offshore. He showed me photos of tuna on his smartphone, tuna that he had caught that day. I was intrigued.

This is a Danielsson I already own, salmon fishing size, a wimpy cousin to the big gun I ordered today

Blue-water fly fishing is where you go way offshore, often out of sight of land, to cast fur and feather to the biggest of swimming critters, like marlin, sailfish, and tuna.
My new friend offered to take me out in the Gulf of Mexico next May, for a crack at yellowfin tuna or sailfish. I did not say no.
His boat typically caters to hardware and bait anglers but they are thinking about business potential in the fly-fishing market.
I’m going to help them out with a story, if the moon is right and the stars properly align, meaning that we catch a fish or two. I will have fun trying and I’m getting gear in order, hence the blue-water capable reel. The rod is next, stouter than anything I presently own.
You should always wear a lifejacket at sea. I’m also going to shop for a new lifejacket for this offshore excursion.
I have jackets now, but nothing that doesn’t impede me at least somewhat. I won’t need the slightest handicap while trying to boat an 80-lb tuna. I’m thinking on a life vest with an inflatable cell for floatation. You just pull on a tab and the device inflates to keep you buoyant. They are very popular with offshore sailors who run about heaving boat decks pulling ropes and reefing sails. I could also use it at home for cod fishing. And I would wear it always.

I have been guilty of not always wearing my lifejacket.
I know it is wrong.
I always comply with the law and have enough jackets in the boat for all hands, but I don’t always wear mine.
My lame argument is the typical lack-of-comfort line of reasoning. And that doesn’t really hold water anymore. You can buy some pretty comfortable life vests. I have one specifically designed for kayak paddling and it is amazing. I don’t even notice that I have it on in the cockpit. Now I need a similar one for use in powerboats.
You may have noticed a missing lifejacket in my last week’s column. In the photo of one angler taking a picture of another with a fish, one hombre isn’t wearing a life jacket. A reader noticed and emailed his concern.
He pointed out — correctly — that lifejackets only work if you wear them. Accidents happen unexpectedly and quickly. You could be in the drink with no time to find or install your lifejacket. The bottom line is to wear it. Find one that fits you comfortably and keep it on.
Keep safe on the water this summer, and stay tuned for my scribblings on recreational cod. I wonder is there a way to fly fish for them?


Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at  or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock.  

Recent Stories