A few years ago an acquaintance who was a professional fishing guide took a client out on Old Hickory Lake one mid-summer morning and on up in the day, as a blazing son hovered overhead, he began to feel faint.
That was the last thing he remembered until he regained consciousness back at the marina where he lay stretched in front of an air conditioner covered with wet towels.
He had passed out from heat stroke.
By good fortune or divine miracle his client that morning was a doctor who immediately recognized the symptoms, realized the seriousness of the situation, and piloted the boat back to the dock after placing a water-soaked shirt over the unconscious guide to protect him from additional heat.
The guide at the time was middle-aged, in good health, and had been fishing throughout summers his entire life. He had never had a problem with heat until that one time – and it almost killed him.
About the time came too with a blinding headache, an EMT crew arrived. One of the EMT workers said if the guide had passed out alone in the boat and remained there under the searing sun, he probably would have died.
That’s one lesson to remember when fishing in the heat of summer – never fish alone.
Also, wear loose, light-colored clothing, cap or hat, and keep hydrated by constantly drinking water and such nutrients a Gatorade. Beware of alcohol – being on the water can enhance its effects.
The heat can be especially dangerous for the elderly and those with medical conditions.
The Dog Days of Summer – not named after drowsy old dogs, but after the “Dog Star” Sirius which is particularly bright and visible that time of year – is when the heat index is usually at its peak and the most hazardous for outdoorsmen.
The heat index is a combination of the air temperature and humidity and reflects what the ambit temperature feels like to the human body.
When the heat index approaches 100 it’s wise to stay out of the sun, and particularly off the water. The water reflects the glare of the sun’s rays, giving boaters a double-dose from above and below.
Out on the water there’s no shade. And compounding the situation, when the boat is moving passengers don’t notice the heat so much. It can sneak up on you.
I’ve never suffered a heat stroke, but I’ve become light-headed a few times in extreme heat. It’s important to recognize the symptoms – dizziness, dry clammy skin, lack of perspiration, headaches, nausea. However, not all victims show all those symptoms, so a good rule of thumb is if you start feeling woozy, get off the water immediately and cool down.
The best advice is to stay off the water during the hottest part of the day, from noon to four. Fish early in the morning or late in the afternoon, or at night.
But if you do go, be aware of the dangers and take precautions. Heat stroke can strike the most healthy, seasoned boater, and it can happen suddenly without warning.
Since his close call, my guiding buddy stopped fishing in mid-day during the scorching days of summer. The fishing is generally not very good at that time anyway; maybe the fish are smart enough to be inactive in such heat.
Hopefully fishermen are too.
Larry Woody is The Democrat’s outdoors writer. Email him at [email protected].