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Bitter cold hazardous for outdoorsmen

Larry Woody, Outdoors Writer • Dec 15, 2015 at 2:14 PM

Lebanon's Jim Duckworth and I once went fishing on Old Hickory Lake on a frigid winter morning that was so cold we had to break the ice around the launch ramp to get the boat in the water.

During an early-season trip to the Canadian wilderness, fishing buddy Bob Sherborne and I got caught out on Little Vermillion Lake in a sudden snow storm that was so heavy we could barely navigate around the huge chucks of ice that were floating on the surface.

I once caught several trout on Marrowbone Lake by casting a spinning lure onto ice that covered the back of a cove; when I dragged the lure off the ice, the trout would hit it as it fluttered down into the water.

As a kid, I used to fish with my Uncle Bud in the Tennessee River below Watts Bar, catching sauger on winter days that were so cold ice formed in our rod guides. After each cast, we'd peck our rod tips against a rock to knock the ice out.

The recent bitter cold spell that turned much of the country into a giant ice box brought back some of those frostbitten memories -- and reminded me of why I no longer go fishing when the water turns from liquid to solid. (Where's that Global Warming when we need it?)

Freezing temperatures are rough on anyone who's outside, but especially so for outdoorsmen on or around the water, such as duck hunters and fishermen.

Getting dunked during warm weather is merely a nuisance; getting dunked when the temperature hovers in single digits can be fatal. Hypothermia can set in in a matter of minutes, shutting down the body's vital functions. A Memphis man perished last week after falling through the ice on a frozen lake; he didn't drown, but instead died from the extreme cold.

Experts offer tips on precautions that all winter outdoorsmen should heed, starting with the obvious: be careful around the water. If you accidentally get wet, remove the soaked clothing, dry off, and seek warmth as quickly as possible.

However, that's not always possible in remote areas. In life-threatening emergency situations, any available dry clothing should be shared with the victim, and he should huddle with a companion for body warmth until shelter is reached or help arrives.

Even when staying dry, hypothermia is a possibility. Wind chill can add to the problem; a breeze lowers already-low temperatures and can quickly cool the body core to dangerous levels.

Then there's the threat of frostbite. Even though it's not life-threatening like hypothermia, frostbite is extremely painful and can result in permanent damage to frozen tissue. Extremities like fingers, toes, ears and noses are particularly vulnerable.

Wintertime outdoorsmen are advised to dress in layers, take precautions against getting wet, and be mindful of growing numbness in extremities. Individuals who suffer from circulatory or respiratory ailments should be especially wary of being exposed to extreme cold for extensive periods.

I don't venture out on freezing days as much as I used to. Every winter the cold seems colder, and the fireplace seems more inviting.

I figure the fish will still be there in the spring, after the ice melts.

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