January on the Texas gulf coast can be down right brutal with all the rank weather we receive at this time of the year. Bone chilling winds coupled with humid overcast days can make even the toughest fisherman wish for a warm spot in the truck and hot cup of coffee. As the temperatures outside sag below freezing most anglers take precautions and wear the best foul weather gear they can get their hands on. Nobody forgets to grab that windproof jacket or the thermal underwear because those are no brainers. The one piece of outerwear that nearly every fisherman does without is the most important, a life jacket. Yes I am just as guilty as the next guy when it comes to not wearing a PFD (Personal Floatation Device) but that is going to change this year, that’s my own personal resolution for 2006 and I will tell you why.

Several years ago I met a guy who became one of my best friends; I actually took him on his first real saltwater trip into Sabine lake as well as many trips to Toledo end. This guy took to the sport of fishing like there was no tomorrow. And he got pretty good at it along the way. Before too long, he purchased a boat and was fishing every chance he got, mostly in Sabine lake because it was close to home. He figured out some of the subtleties of the sport and seemed to understand how to fish and where to go, he had found his hobby.

During one stretch of winter months my friend, who mostly fished by himself, made what appeared to be another normal trip out on the bay. The weather was a little rougher than he liked it, so he decided to head for a protected shoreline on the east side of the lake. Now, if you have ever been on Sabine lake, you know there is little traffic in the wide open middle part of the lake, especially on choppy days. Now my friend is making his way across the lake as best he can considering the waves and direction of the wind. All was going according to plan until he had motor trouble, which was the first problem. As the boat stalled out and drifted helpless against the conditions it was just a matter of time before he started taking waves over the transom. It was just minutes until the boat began to stand nose up, sinking. Can you imagine the feeling?

Within minutes the boat was completely capsized and floating miles from any shore with my friend clinging to the bow eye for dear life. Now mind you, this is winter and the water temps are low 50’s, so you can just visualize the shock his system had just gone through. While telling me his story, he said he really thought he might die before someone came to help, either from drowning or hypothermia. Some 30 minutes into the horrifying ordeal he spotted a crabber nearby running his traps, calling to him did no good as he was just too far away. That must have been tough to see help so close yet so far away. After another 20 minutes in the water his prayers were answered as two men in another boat happened to see him as they were headed back to the dock. The kind strangers gave him a slicker suit to put on and rushed him back to the dock to seek medical attention at the coast guard station. A warm shower, cup of coffee, and dry clothes were welcome reminders that he had reached dry land and indeed was safe. Every time we fish together I thank the big fisherman upstairs for those two men who saved my friend’s life.

That story really hits home when it’s someone you know and realize it just as easily could have been me or you. Now I agree that the old style PFD’s were uncomfortable and bulky, that’s why nobody wanted to wear them. I am guilty of only wearing one if I have my son, Hunter, in the boat with me; instead of wearing one all the time. With all the new styles of PFD’s out there you can surely find one that suits you, I have fallen in love with the suspender style models that can inflate on their own or can be inflated manually. They are comfortable and easy to fish in; which means they are less of a hassle to wear. In addition to the PFD, it’s a great idea to add some sort of signaling device to the PFD, like a whistle. The sound of a whistle can be heard much farther than your voice, especially if you have been screaming for a while or get cold. I have waded with anglers who wear just such a set up and it has many helpful uses. I know one fisherman who used the whistle to signal for help when he got stuck by a ray and couldn’t walk. Just something to think about.