We've all been there. You're fishing during heavy flows, imagining that you're being careful, when you realize you've done something stupid. Maybe you've incrementally waded deeper than you should, each time telling yourself that just a few inches more can't hurt. But you've found yourself gradually losing contact with the bottom of the river between steps and you realize that, while you'll probably be able to make your way back to safety without incident, there's at the very least a worrisome chance that you won't. Or maybe you've just been paying attention to your casting too intently and you took that last step without checking it first, plunging down several feet and getting grabbed by the current. Thankfully you're able to grab a rock and hoist yourself back into more wadeable water, but you wonder what would've happened if that rock hadn't been there.
All water, but especially water with heavy flows, is dangerous. Some of us only encounter these conditions when we fish local waters during spring runoff, after big storms or when we travel. Other anglers — like those that fish big, brawling rivers like Oregon's Deschutes — encounter these potentially life-threatening conditions with regularity. Staying safe when fishing in these sort of conditions means being alert, intently wading only where you believe good footing and manageable flows exist, and boating and kayaking with care.
And there's life jackets. You know, those things that stay stowed under the seats when you're in a drift or jet boat. The things you carry so you don't get fined by your local fish and boat commission. The things you never actually consider wearing when you're fishing or rowing because they're uncomfortable, restrictive and generally a pain in the ass. There's also PFDs (personal flotation devices). PFDs do a much better job at staying out of the way and being more comfortable to wear, but are basically life jackets "juniors". They're intended to keep conscious, confident swimmers afloat in calm water. Sure, they're an asset in any dangerous situation, but they provide minimal flotation when compared with life jackets.
Soon, however, anglers and other folks that spend their time out on the water — everything from surfers, to kiteboarders to kayakers to triathletes — will have another choice: the Hyde Wingman. The Hyde Wingman is a life jacket that is often being referred to as a PFD, because of its slim, minimalist, unrestrictive form factor. In truth, the Wingman — at only 1 cm thick — is considerably thinner and lighter than any PFD we've encountered and the Wingman — with its head and neck and front-of-the-body flotation and its 25 pounds of buoancy — is most certainly a life jacket and not a PFD.
As a true life jacket, the Wingman has a serious advantage over still-bulkier PFDs when it comes to potential hazards facing anglers that are swept downstream into boulder-laden, brawling waters, taken off their feet into frigid waters by subsurface ice flows, tossed from rock-hittng drift boats into rapids and so forth. Most importantly, it might just be one you'll actually wear thanks to its slim profile and unrestrictive wearability.
Not only will the minimalist form factor of the Hyde Wingman likely place nice with many hip, chest and sling packs — the thinking minds behind the Wingman's design have built the life jacket to allow for modular attachment of additional storage. Hyde will be making both a chestpack and a waistpack which would likely function well for the storage of fly boxes, terminal tackle and other fishing essentials. Depending on the method of attachment, chest and waistpacks from other manufacturers may integrate directly as well. Hyde will also be introducing a hydration bladder for use with the Wingman.
We're not naive enough to think that the Wingman will be making it with you to all your angling destinations, and we're certain it doesn't need to. But the fact that you'll soon have access to a life jacket you can comfortably wear all day without impacting your fishing, on those days when you know you're headed out into fast, icy or otherwise dangerous waters — especially when you're headed out alone — well, hell, that's really something.
The Hyde Wingman is currently available for pre-order via their campaign on Kickstarter. More in the video below.