It was half past two in the morning when the alarm went off at Fire Station 25. The sound jolted me out of an unsteady sleep, and I arose from my bunk trying to listen to the call, making my way toward the unit I was riding.
The dispatcher’s steady voice crackling over the speakers, “Engine Companies 25, 31, and 4, Truck 25, Battalion Chief 1, and Medic 25 respond for the alarm sounding at….” Her voice trailed off in the distance as I groggily crawled into Medic 25 and headed out the door. Probably another false alarm, I said to myself, still trying to adjust to the fact that 90 seconds ago I had been asleep. Before we arrived on scene, the dispatcher radioed to the responding units that they were receiving multiple calls from this address—an ominous sign indeed.
Within seconds of our arrival, the location became a blur of activity. Each of us had been trained to handle emergencies and equipped with standing operating procedures to guide us. The engine company hooked up to the hydrant and advanced a hose line to the second floor of the apartment building. By the time Engine 25 arrived, heavy smoke billowed from under the door. This was no false alarm!
The truck company forced open the door and began the search for victims. I had just come from the third floor when I heard the Chief say, “Beau we’ve got a victim over here.” I quickly took off my air pack and helmet. I turned to see a female victim lying in the front yard. Although she wasn’t burned, I could see that she had an even bigger problem—she wasn’t breathing. We had to do something for her, and had to do it fast. Fortunately for the victim, we were trained professionals who face all such situations with a plan. We quickly assessed her condition and determined our course of action.
Panning Your Next Trip
Planning your next fishing trip before you take it might be the most rewarding thing that you do this season. Many anglers, and particularly beginners, don’t understand the need to formulate and execute a plan before setting out for a favorite stream or, even more important, the fishing trip of a lifetime in an exotic locale. These hapless folks haven’t a clue as to what they will do when they arrive at their destination. Often this “cluelessness” results in a frustrating—and possibly needlessly expensive—fishing experience. Just as the scene of an emergency is not the place to plan or train for a rescue, so your fishing spot is not the place to plan your next fishing trip.
Where to Go, Who to Take
Leisure time is most often limited by scarce resources, time or money or both. Let’s say, for example, that you want to take your young, inexperienced child fishing. This outing might be a bad time to embark on a three-hour drive to that river in the next state that you’ve longed to check out. Instead, search for a nearby stream or pond that you know fairly well and that is easy for beginners to fish.
If, however, you are envisioning a camping trip, the main goal of which is parent-child bonding, then the long drive to the site might have its own benefits. Still, familiarity with the terrain and conditions of the locals is preferable, particularly when your fishing partners are children. If this is your child’s first fly fishing excursion, spend some time practice-casting in the front yard. Finally, consider swallowing your pride and taking along a spinning rod just in case he or she becomes discouraged on the river.
If you plan to fish with a buddy, iron out the details up front. Who will drive? Where will you stay if you spend the night? Where will you meet if you don’t start at either party’s house. How long can you stay, and what’s the best way to get there? Another good idea is to decide who pays for what. It’s also best to know beforehand what the other person’s budget is before you get on the road. If you intend to camp, decide who is packing what. It’s no fun to find out at the end of a long day of fishing that you’re stuck at a remote campsite with no sleeping bags and no tent because each thought that the other was responsible for bringing these items.
What to Bring and Check
Every fly fishing venture involves rods, reels, flies, and a vest. But you must take your planning to the next level if, for example, you intend to fish in a remote location with no fly shop nearby. Don’t forget backup rods and reels as well as spare line. And many anglers who do remember to bring extra fly gear still forget the creature comforts that make fishing so much more enjoyable: sunglasses, a waterproof jacket (most often forgotten if it’s sunny outside when you embark on your trip), dry socks, and a change of clothes (for that unintentional but inevitable creek swim).
Check on the weather forecast before you leave. I learned this one the hard way when I went trout fishing at Bighorn River Lodge in Montana (www.bighornriverlodge.com). When I left Virginia, it was 70 degrees and I boarded the plane wearing shorts and a tee shirt. Imagine my surprise when I landed in Billings, Montana, and found snow on the runway. Thank goodness the lodge was well stocked with extra gear for poor planners like me. It’s just plain dumb not to plan to protect yourself from too much sun and from dehydration. Skin cancer is a very real threat, though many anglers don’t think about the sun until they are sunburned—at which point the damage has been done. Get sunscreen with SPF 15 or better to protect yourself. And pack plenty of water for your trip. I recommend taking a long a portable filtration bottle. Choose a handheld model—it’ll pay for itself in a single season. Most important, lay off the booze until the fishing is over. There will be plenty of time to “celebrate” the day’s triumphs after you drive home safely or you make it back to camp. Prolonged exposure to the sun; weak, rubbery wading legs; and alcohol are a dangerous combination.
Time to Fish
Once you arrive at the river or lake, take some time to observe your surroundings before you rush in pell mell. Where is the structure? Where is the shade? Do you see fish breaking or rising? What are they hitting? Which way is the wind blowing and is that expected to change? I make it a point to visit the local fly shop and get an idea of what’s biting. While I’m there, I pick up a few flies or a leader or two out of courtesy—the information the local shop owner is providing me is crucial to my success, and such shops depend on avid anglers for their livelihood.
Another ticket to a successful excursion in unfamiliar waters is to hire a guide. Theoretically, your guide is your professional planner. He knows the region and the water better than you do, so he can tell you what to expect, what to bring, and what to look for when you get to the water. I am delighted to be able to report that the victim my team treated at the apartment fire that morning made a full recovery; in fact, she later came by the fire station to thank us. Lucky for her, we had a plan before we arrived on the scene. Take a hint from your local fire fighters and plan your next fishing trip well. Having a plan before embarking on your next excursion may not be a life and death decision but it will make the difference between facing the inevitable hitches in your day with aplomb and letting them ruin your entire trip.
Beau Beasley (www.beaubeasley.com) is a 23-year veteran with Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department and currently works as a Captain assigned to Engine 431in Reston, Virginia. He is the author of Fly Fishing Virginia: A No Nonsense Guide to Top Waters and is a proud member of IAFF Local 2068.