Believe it or not, fishing really is a dangerous sport. Sharp hook points impaled in our fingers…annoying cuts and pokes from fillet knives and fish spines…burnt thumbs from screaming drags…hazards are everywhere and the list of related injuries goes on and on. But until you’ve wiped out in an open livewell you haven’t officially joined the ranks of offshore’s elite.
Falling feet first into an open livewell may sound impossible, and though you might be under the false impression the blunder is a rarity, the truth is that it happens to seasoned captains and mates and anglers of all skill levels more often than you can possibly imagine.
Many of today’s high performance center consoles are designed with multiple in-deck livewells, some of which are literally the size of small swimming pools. During the heat of battle in the midst of a highly competitive tournament, or when multiple fish are hooked simultaneously during an otherwise casual weekend outing, excitement and controlled chaos ensue and it’s easy for a hasty fellow fisherman to unintentionally leave an in-deck lid wide open. Of course, the unfortunate victim about to learn a big fat lesson didn’t even know the hazard existed until it was way too late.
Without second thought, I took a step back and made a quick turn while battling an acrobatic sailfish. We were down by two releases with two hours of fishing time remaining and desperately needed the points. Down goes Frazier! One leg in and one leg out, I found myself waist deep in saltwater and scrambling in a 200 gallon tank full of fragile threadfin herring—precious scale baits that I lost many hours of sleep for and worked so hard to catch. If that wasn’t enough, I simultaneously slammed my forehead against the gunwale on my way down and lost my expensive sunglasses over the side.
Everyone knows that tournament rules state no one else can touch a rod once a fish has been officially hooked, so instinctively I jumped back into action, kicking my feet and clawing my way out of the baitwell with no regard for its occupants. Committed to doing my part, I proceeded to end the fight and successfully release our seventh sailfish of the day. Sadly, in the end it made no difference whatsoever.
Really, thinking back on the entire ordeal it actually sounds funny—falling into an open livewell, slamming your head against a gunwale, losing an expensive pair of sunglasses, killing half of our precious bait and of course, the relentless heckling. The good sport that I am, I took it all in good fun and joked about it all that afternoon. It was all fun and games until three days later when I fell over in excruciating pain and ended up in a hospital bed recovering for a week due to a ruptured spleen.
Now humbled, healthy and sporting a new nickname, what stands out the most about the entire episode is that surprisingly, every offshore fishermen I talk to about the mishap says the very same thing, “Oh yeah, I’ve done that!”