Last week, Jim Sammons sent me a sad text. “Let the debate begin. Another death of a kayak angler without a PFD,” the host of The Kayak Fishing Show wrote. Later, we’d learn the victim was Leonard Kevin Jones, 57. Jones was not only not wearing a PFD, he was fishing solo, in foul weather, suffered from a heart ailment, and may have been an inexperienced paddler. These are all too typical risk factors in kayak fishing fatalities.
No one knows what killed Jones. A medical emergency, the stormy weather, the inability to self rescue, or maybe even drowning. “A PFD could have helped him survive. That is all I am saying,” he added. Then he said that he was calling Kayak Fish out, as well as every other media source that publishes photos of kayak anglers going without PFDs. In turn, I challenged Sammons to state his case. Here’s his response. – Paul Lebowitz, Editor, Kayak Fish
No PFD, No Publicity
By Jim Sammons
I have been in the kayak fishing game a long time, and have really enjoyed watching this sport that I love grow all over the world.
In the early days of kayak fishing there were no publications dedicated to the sport. For publicity the only options were fishing or paddling magazines. I will never forget submitting some spectacular images to Paddler Magazine and being turned down because I was not wearing a PFD. "Are you kidding me, I am 25 years old, have spent my life in the ocean surfing and diving. I am bullet proof, I don't need a stinking PFD," I thought to myself.
Fast-forward many years and my attitude has done a 180. Perhaps with age and experience I am feeling my own mortality. I did almost drown while kayak fishing on the Ottawa River, and I was wearing a PFD at the time. I am certain the outcome would not have been so good if I had gone out without one. Last year I was destroyed in the rocks San Clemente Island. Without a PFD it could have been much worse. I have also had to rescue more people than I can count that have fallen out of their kayaks without the skills to get back in.
Watch Sammons nearly drown.
This sport is growing and with more participants around the world we are hearing about more deaths. The common theme is something like: inexperienced, going out in adverse conditions, not wearing the proper clothing and not wearing a PFD. People are not immortal. Without a PFD we tend to sink. Things can go wrong quickly, as in this video of a kayak angler hit by a boat.
The latest cover of Kayak Fish shows a kayak angler hooked up to a marlin. The angler is not wearing a PFD. I think this sets a bad example.
I am not questioning any person's skills in a kayak or on the water and I certainly don't think it is our government's job to mandate the use of PFDs. We certainly cannot insert common sense into every kayaker's brain. I do feel that people trying to make a name for themselves in kayak fishing have an obligation to set an example to those that are looking up to them or just entering the sport. I know of kayak fishing guides that don't wear a PFD and I find this utterly irresponsible.
I put it out there to every person that is submitting images, to every guide and every person that is trying to make it in the kayak fishing world to please wear a PFD at all times and for every media source to only show anglers who are wearing one. Let us all try to set an example to the people that look up to us for advice and guidance in this sport we all love.
You may feel immortal or bulletproof, that you can swim for miles in freezing shark infested waters and have no need of a PFD. So don't do it for yourself, do it for the family and friends that will miss you and mourn your loss. If you have no friends and family, then do it for me. Your drowning is bad for my business.
Kayak Fish responds: So far as we know, no one has ever died from wearing a PFD. Some have no doubt died from going without. If you want to crack our pages, it won’t hurt to wear one. We recommend it, but don’t look for us to censor photographs or print disclaimers. Kayak Fish reflects the reality of the sport. The reality is some people choose to go without. We hope that choice is an informed decision. What do you think? Tell us. -PL