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Recently, on a cold winter morning, I gathered up a great group of friends for a day of paddling and fishing on Lake Jocasse in South Carolina.
We awoke early filled with the thrill of adventure in our souls, but little did we know how our day was going to turn out. This will be a day that I will never forget for many reasons.
It was a brisk and cool 27 degrees when we arrived at Devils Fork State Park. We rushed out to the non-motorized boat ramp and immediately started to unload our kayaks and canoes. Jon, Kris and I were in our kayaks, while Dave and his two boys were in canoes. Our game plan was to seek adventure with each other through fishing for Smallies and Trout. Lake Jocasse is known for its fantastic Small Mouth and Trout fishing, but there is also the monster Large Mouths that lurks in the lakes beautiful crystal clear waters.
Jon and Kris were the first ones in the water; as Dave and I squared the boys away in there canoe. We paid very close attention to the boys to make sure they were being safe and moving into the cove to fish for trout. Dave and I positioned our boats on the edge of the water, and Dave made his way off the shore. I was pushing off from the bank, and I started to make my way out into the open water.
All of a sudden I looked up and Dave had rolled his carbon fiber race canoe.
I was about 25 yards from him, and yelled out to make sure he was okay. It only took me a few seconds to get to him, but boy did it feel like an eternity. I asked Dave to swim in, and get into a change of clothes, while I dragged his canoe back in. In typical Dave style, while he was changing clothes, he said, “boy JD this is a heck of the way to start out the day.” I could not help but to smile as I made sure he was okay. We did not want to panic the boys so I paddled towards them to make sure they were having fun, and to check to see if they needed anything.
After spending about 15 minutes with the boys and watching CJ land a nice Rainbow Trout, I focused my attention back on Dave. Dave is an expert paddler, and really knows how to handle himself on the water, but it goes to show at anytime something can go wrong, quickly. As I arrived at where Dave was standing he seemed a little bummed out. I did not realize but Dave lost two of his rods when he rolled into the cold waters of Lake Jocasse. The thing that made it so bad was that Dave’s brother hand crafted one of the rods, and Dave’s father signed that very same rod, so it was irreplaceable to say the least. We both made our way to were the accident happened and neither one of us could see rods, which was odd because the lake is extremely clear. Little did I know Dave was marking land marks so he could later find his rods.
As I paddled my Wilderness Systems Ride over to where Jon and Kris were fishing, I could not help but to think about what all just happened.
Needless to say our first 45 minutes on the water were quite the adventure.
The three of us made our way up towards the Bad Creek Dam area to enjoy the rest of our day, while Dave and the boys fished the coves around the boat ramp.
The fishing was slow but the paddling and scenery were absolutely spectacular. Lake Jocasee is completely surrounded by mountains and has many mountain waterfalls that dot its shoreline. As we were taking it all in I looked up and right over our heads were two Golden Eagles, and one Bald Eagle. That alone made the hour drive to the lake worthwhile. These are just a few reason why this is one of my favorite places to paddle and bring people.
After spending almost the entire day on the upper end of the lake we arrived back at the boat ramp. We noticed that Dave and the boys had left. Jon also had to leave, but Kris and I were dead on staying until around dark. So Kris and I maneuvered our way back into this amazing little cove, and all of the sudden the trout fishing blew up. The cove was smack full of Rainbow and Brown Trout. Almost every cast we were landing a fish, and the two of us were really enjoying ourselves.
As we drifted back out of the cove towards the boat ramp, I explained to Kris this is right were Dave rolled his canoe. By this time it was around 4:00pm and we could see all the way down to around 25 feet. So we started searching around to see if we could see Dave’s rods, and low and behold Kris said there they are. We could see them sitting in about 15 feet of water. I look at my Lowrance, visually marked the spot, and noticed that the water was a chilly 48 degrees.
I could not stand the thought of leaving the lake and not trying to get Dave’s rods back. I knew I would only have a few minutes to try and retrieve them because of the chilly water temperature coupled with the 46 degree air temperature. So I made my decision and ran it by Kris, so he could keep an eye on me and the rods.
I ran up to the restrooms and took off all my layers besides my thermal shirt and waterproof pants. I made my way quickly down to the edge of the water, and asked Kris if he was still on the location where the rods were. As he said yes, I dove right into the fridge waters and made my way out to him. When I arrived to where he was at I immediately dove down to try and retrieve the rods. No luck, so I tried again, no luck. I grabbed onto Kris Wilderness, as I was gasping for air. The coldness of the water was really setting in.
I could not stop shaking, my chest was starting to burn from the cold, and it felt like someone was sticking 10,000 needles into me.
I told Kris that I really need to get out of the water, and he agreed. I was only in the bitterly cold water for around 3 minutes, and hypothermia was knocking on my door. I moved quickly to get up to the restroom so I could change into warm dry clothes. As I was changing I noticed that my thighs were turning blue, along with my feet. I jumped in after the rods to try and help a fellow paddler out, to test my body in cold water, but I really did not realize all of the effects it can quickly affect the body. I would not change a thing, but boy is this a day that I will never forget for many reasons.
There are three points to this entire article. One, you never know when something can and will go wrong, so be prepared in all situations. Secondly, wear your PFD at all times. Luckily Dave had his on, but it amazes me how many people do not even bother to wear one. Take the time, and try out several different kinds and find that right one for you. It just might save your life one day, especially when you least expect it. Lastly, think twice before jumping into ice cold water.
Oh yeah, Dave went back up to Devil’s Fork State Park the next day, and was able to retrieve both rods from his canoe.