Wading Fly Fisher Dies on Cowlitz River

Tragically, a man from Gig Harbor was killed Tuesday while fly fishing on the Cowlitz River near Toledo Washington. He apparently slipped in the current while wading. He was unconscious when rescued and CPR was started immediately. He was then transported to an Olympia hospital. Unfortunately, the man died about five hours later.

Drowning is the suspected cause of death but an autopsy will be performed to confirm.

All of my fishing is now in Puget Sound saltwater. So shallow wading is the norm. Particularly when targeting Sea Run Cutthroat Trout, going deeper means the fish will be closer to the beach than me.

But there are locations that have tidal currents that are as strong as some streams. A strong ebb current out of Burley Lagoon near Purdy looks like a river. Take one or two too many steps into the current and the water pressure is surprising – certainly enough to knock me down when the water was above my knees. I understood when it happened how risky that was.

It was a lesson I learned on the Yakima River.

I was deep wading in the upper Yakima above Cle Elum, I stepped into a sloped pool and started to go buoyant. There were several scary minutes until I could work my way on my tip toes to shallower water. Even with the gentle current that day I felt like I was not in control of the situation.

Fortunately for me, that changed my outlook and rules on wading – even if fly fishing magazines (and some catalogs ) have plenty of photographs showing someone up to his (always his) chest in wild water. That’s dumb and risky.

So my rule is to stay shallow. In practice I try to go in no deeper that my knees. At times, I will go in to mid thigh but only if I’m sure of the conditions and my footing, and I know why i’m doing it.That raises the related point that being in the water requires awareness at all times.

Another dumb thing I’ve seen is someone in waders not wearing a wading belt. And that includes some well-known fly rod maker representatives doing in-water demos. I think it sends a bad message. Wearing waders? Wear a snug wading belt.

Finally, I have a wading staff. I carry it at times and locations where the wading might be tricky. While I’ve never had to use it – it’s a comfort to know it’s there.

I don’t know the man who died. I may have seen him at the Gig Harbor Fly Shop but I’ll never know.

All I know is this is another tragic reminder of how precious life is. Rest in peace.

The news article can be found here.