If you frequent various bass fishing related forums, it’s not unusual to read posts about anglers who have injured themselves whilst moving around on rocky shores. Given I also have a professional interest in this area; I tend to keep tabs on such mishaps. The list of these injuries I’ve noted over the years consists of more than mere hooks in flesh. In my head there is an extensive catalogue of traumatic maladies due to falls including: ankle sprains and various foot, ankle and below the knee fractures, knee meniscus (cartilage) and ligament injuries (including several anterior cruciate ligament injuries requiring reconstruction surgery), Achilles tendon ruptures (some requiring surgery), wrist breaks, finger fractures and dislocations, shoulder dislocations and massive rotator cuff muscle tears… not to mention the deeply etched psychological scars carried by some due to trauma to their prized rods and reels.
The most recent addition to my list was a member of BASS with ongoing spinal and leg pain following a fall onto his back when fishing on rock in the sun in shorts and trainers 5 years ago. The cause has finally been identified as due to a fracture of a vertebra and its secondary effects on a nerve. He is currently awaiting surgery and like most of the above is likely to miss a substantial portion of his bass fishing season. The bottom line is that the hazards incurred in doing what we love should not be taken lightly.
Obviously none of us will be dissuade doing something that brings us so much pleasure just because of this. Yet we can reduce our risk of getting injured in the first place. So in addition to exercising caution and concentrating on where we put our feet (admittedly a difficult task given fishing can leave you with tunnel vision), there are other excellent things we can do – some well-known, but others less so.
Much has already been written about footwear when rock hopping and I don’t intend to go over such ground again, other than to say it’s my experience that good rubber soles offer some help, whereas metal studs make a huge difference to my grip and stability when on bare rock or wet grass slopes (and to a lesser extent on soft weed and algae covered boulders).
Something I seen more rarely than anglers wearing of quality studded boots, is the use of a wading staff (wading stick), such tools are in my experience equally as equally effective in reducing the frequency of shoreline acrobatics,
I used to wobble and slide on the foreshore like an inebriated giraffe on roller skates until Ian Morris, very kindly, gave me one of the wading sticks he’d made for BASS members who might need one. Honed from 4 foot or so of seasoned hazel, it had a yard of cord tied to a drilled hole at the top end, allowing the staff to be attached to your jacket or waders. With it connected this way, it follows you around when you are actively fishing (both on shore or in the water) but remains readily accessible when needed.
Armed with this tool I now had 2 or 3, rather than 1 or 2 points of contact with the ground almost all of the time. So when things started to go wrong and I began to slip, rather than my arms being only of use in breaking my fall, I could use them through the staff to steady myself and prevent the tumble. With this simple addition to my shore outfit, in the past 5 years my slip rate is greatly reduced and falls are now rare indeed. Plus there is an added bonus that I move much faster – something that I only really aware of if fishing alongside someone who does not possess one.
The wading staff has other uses too. As well its obviously benefit for use in judging the depth when deep wading, I use mine to measure bass on a scale etched into the wood, I scare off errant bullocks by waving it menacingly and beat down vegetation that blocks my path when exploring remote costal terrain. So something costing very little (or in my case nothing!) has vastly improved both my effectiveness and safety when shore fishing. Obviously there are far more technical and expensive manufactured staffs made from for example of telescopic metal – but would you want to use something that cost up to 100 pounds for levering yourself up over rocks, let alone for beating back brambles or delinquent slabs of charging beefsteak.
The other worthwhile investment to reduce the risk of falls and injuries is in our own bodies. Wading staffs, boots and studs can be considered external aids to staying upright, but our own muscles, sense of joint position and balance reactions form the vital, yet overlooked internal systems. The better trained these components: the less our risk of ending up twisted and broken on the ground. As a musculoskeletal physiotherapist if I see a patient with an injury that is either due to, or resulting in a flaw in these components I will rehabilitate it. Yet as we all know; prevention is far better than cure, and anglers are no different to athletes, rugby players or gymnasts. So like them, if we too optimise our muscles and balance reactions, when go and dance on boulders waving our carbon sticks we will move more effectively and get injured less.
If you are serious about improving your balance (and have no unstable cardiac, neurological problems and no existing unassessed injuries) the following general advice will help your stability:
• Start with balancing on one leg (with something next to you to grab hold of just in case you lose your balance).
• If you can last 15 seconds with no loss of balance each time on each leg, then move on to standing on one leg and catch a ball off a wall. Better still invest less than 15 quid in a wobble cushion (or failing that just use a normal cushion) and balance on one leg.
• Other progressions includes hopping on one leg, then moving onto straight line hops, and finally to hopping in square or in zigzags.
• Finally lunges onto your wobble cushion (or onto a normal cushion), is a great high level exercise relevant for improving your chances of saving yourself when on uneven surfaces.
As with any activity, these exercises themselves carry a slight risk of injury, yet the probability of injury is way higher if you fish on the rocks without doing them. When combined with optimal footwear and a wading staff, all in all you reduce your chances of ending up laid up at home reading blogs rather than propelling bait, lures or flies into the ocean… in fact it’s not unreasonable to claim that for a few people reading this, following this advice will lead to more future fishing time and thus more bass.
Words and pictures: Matt Spence