Water, water everywhere

Take hydration seriously when fishing
nalgene water bottle
Photo: Olgierd / cc2.0.

The unofficial kick-off to “Bug Week” in the Catskills came in hot, and I don’t mean the fishing. Air temperatures soared to the mid-to-upper 80s, while river temps, at least away from the direct influence of the tailwaters, eventually nudged into the low 70s, virtually shutting down miles of otherwise prime trout water.

A group of friends and I shoved off in canoes for an annual float/camping/fishing trip on the mainstem of the Upper Delaware River, not long before it became unfishable (ethically, at least) due to the heightened water temperatures. The sun blazed down, so I wore a UV hoodie, long pants, and a buff. The river ran on the low side with a headwind in some spots, so the paddle downriver wound up being kind of a slog (we learned long ago not to bother fly fishing from fully packed canoes). We made it to our campsite in about five hours, stopping once for lunch.

We offloaded our gear and set up camp. The site, which is on private land owned by a friend, has no direct road access, or nearby houses, or cell service. It’s as close to a wilderness experience as one can get on the mainstem of the Delaware, which is why I have camped there for the past few decades.

I took a water temperature around 7 p.m. Sixty-nine degrees. Damn. My personal cut-off is 68, and I didn’t think it would drop enough by last light, so I decided not to fish, at least that evening. Instead, I opened a beer and took a comfortable seat around the fire pit. Then I had a second beer with dinner along with some water — but apparently, not enough of the latter.

A little before dark, at what would normally be prime fishing time, one of my friends and I decided to take a short walk to a favorite spot just to see if there were any trout rising or bugs on the water. When we got there, we spotted a few sporadic rises and some sulfurs trickling off, but not nearly the action we would have expected if the river had been just a few degrees cooler. On the walk back, we strategized about fishing early the next morning in cooler temps when the trout might still be sipping from overnight spinner falls.

We got back to camp, and I sat by the campfire. Suddenly, I began to feel excessively sweaty — so much so, one of my friends asked me if I was OK. I affirmed that I was, walked back to my tent, peeled off the UV shirt, and put on a cotton T-shirt. Then I sat back at the campfire. Almost immediately. I broke out into a cold sweat and started feeling dizzy. I told the group what was happening, and then said I was going to lie down in my tent for a few minutes. I didn’t make it. A few steps later, my feet gave out.

I reassured the group. Surely I was just light-headed and needed to lay there for a few minutes. Then I started vomiting. After a couple of volleys, I felt slightly better, so they helped me back to my tent where I laid before throwing up some more. Thankfully, one of them selflessly brought me his cooking pot which made a fine receptacle. I started shivering. Whatever was left of dinner and lunch came up. One of the guys tried giving me some water with some electrolyte powder but it immediately came back up.

Now I was scared. Was it food poisoning? We all ate the same thing and everyone else seemed fine. Heart attack? Stroke? The beautiful river and roadless woods now seemed as isolated as deep space. Laying there in my tent shivering and now cramping up, I considered my options. I called out to the group: "I think I gotta get out of here."

Thankfully, my friends had already devised a plan. As soon as I made my plea to get off the river, two of them took off into the woods towards separate places where they knew they could get a bar or two on their cell phones. They both reached 911 and after some dropped calls and triangulating to determine exactly where we were on the river, a team of EMTs eventually made it to camp on foot. They helped me to a waiting pick-up truck parked on a rough dirt road. From there, we made our way to the main road where an ambulance waited. They had a helicopter on standby, too, but the EMTs told them to stand down when they could see I was stable.
Inside the ambulance, one of the EMTs — all of whom were amazing — administered an IV, along with an anti-nausea drug that provided relief within minutes. Half an hour later, I was at a local hospital, where tests revealed the culprit to be dehydration — nothing more. I felt relieved but also a little embarrassed that so much effort had been spent to extract me from the river.

So, what happened? First of all, and most obviously, I didn’t drink enough water. I probably consumed a little more than a quart during the float. Twice that would have been more appropriate, and a full gallon a day is recommended when doing moderate exercise (like paddling) in hot weather. In addition, I’m convinced the UV hoodie I wore trapped heat and caused me to sweat even more. I have noticed that some so-called “breathable” fabrics breathe better than others. This one apparently was a dud when it mattered. I tossed it in the garbage when I got home.

Perhaps the lessons for our climate-addled future, where mid-May is sometimes the new July, are simple. First, drink water. Then drink some more. It’s also important to take stock of your sun-protection. If you’ve become inclined, as many anglers have these days, to swaddle up like a mummy, make sure your gear truly breathes. If not, consider doing things like we did in the “old days” — shorts, short-sleeves, and lots of sunscreen. And lastly, when possible, fish with friends. Having trusted fishing buddies who can keep a clear head during an emergency is priceless.

Temperatures have since moderated in the Catskills and the rivers are cooling again. Time to get back out there for some more swings — fully hydrated, of course.

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