Safety on the jetties, that dot the West Coast, is paramount. Every year you see news reports of accidents on the jetties and the beaches here in the PNW. Most anglers that decide to venture out on the coast know the risk the water, rocks, and sand provide and go into it with the best intentions. They know how to swim, or they aren’t going that far out, or their phone has a flashlight function. This is all well and good, but the salt is a very unforgiving place. Below I am going to go over some of the items I bring with me when I go out on the jetty and some tips for navigating the rocks. Hopefully with these you’re not just confident going out there, day or night, but also confident if something does go wrong.
I bring a laundry list of gear when I go out on the rocks. Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up. The first thing I have is a good pair of boots. I use wading boots with studded soles. I have found over the years of going out there that they offer grip that nothing else will give you. The studs bite into the porous rock extremely well and very seldom is there a rock that is too hard and smooth where studs don’t help. I do want to note that does still happen and normally when you least expect it. Within just a couple minutes of walking out there you will be able to spot them quickly. The bare minimum you would need would be closed toe shoes of any nature. Just remember that every rock, no matter how solid or dry it may look, is slippery.
Next on the list is a pair of pants. This seems trivial, but everything from the fish to the rocks to air is sharp on the jetty. Shorts are not your friend. I wear slightly heavier pants than what I would wear on the river, but lighter than jeans. You want something with loads of stretch to aid in the comfort of climbing over all those rocks. But you also need durability so take all of that into account when choosing what pants to buy. I have 2 pairs of 5 pocket pants from Cabela’s that have worked out great considering the price. Now Wrangler, Carhart, and others have similar types of pants as well.
Layering is so important. The west coast is an unpredictable place to fish. One moment it can be sunny with zero wind and the next it could be the edge of a cold front pushing in, pelting you with wind and rain. I wear layers out there and leave room in my backpack to shed them so I have no excuse not to. Normally people leave on layers they shouldn’t or leave layers in the car because they don’t have the space. Don’t be that guy.
The next piece of kit I have is a PFD. I rarely see anyone else out there with one. There is something, I think psychological, about not thinking you need or want a PFD when you’re fishing on the shore. But as I said earlier everything is slippery. One wrong step or large wake from a passing boat and you’re knocked in. The ocean on the west coast is extremely cold for the season and can take your breath away. Then if you add in the fact that the rocks are, again, slippery, you need all the help you can get if you fall in. Buy a low profile PFD or even a self inflating one. Like insurance it’s nice to have when you need it.
Eye protection is overlooked. Most fly anglers wear polarized sunglasses when they go out. I absolutely do. But when the sun goes down most guys take them off and don’t put anything else on. Please put something on. I’m lucky and have to wear prescription glasses so my ass is covered. I always think back to an article I read when I was younger about a fly angler in Mexico fishing on the beach without eye protection of any kind. The wind picked up and threw his line around in a way he wasn’t expecting and it caused a 3/0 fly to go directly into his eye. A trip to a Mexican hospital and many surgeries later he is now partially blind in that eye. I think about that a lot when I’m fishing in the wind.
Now the safety gear doesn’t end there. I keep a lot of bits and bobs on me incase of X,Y, or Z. I have a head lamp for when it gets dark. I also carry extra batteries as well because you never know. I also have a whistle on me as a signaling device. Your voice is only so loud and a whistle will cut through all the white noise. I have a couple glow sticks in my pack and as soon as it gets dark enough I crack one and stuff it into my life jacket in a slot that keeps it secure but also still allows the light to be visible. I keep a pocket knife on me just in case. The last thing I bring with me is some trauma first aid stuff. In a quart sized bag I have some gauze, medical tape, and a tourniquet. You just need stuff to stop bleeding when you’re that close to the car. That is basically all the safety gear I bring with me when I head out to the coast.
These are just the things I try to do when I’m on rocks. First, I have my head on a swivel. I never know when someone decides to climb the rocks behind me in my casting zone. What wave sounds am I hearing? What are the birds doing? Etc. You just have to be aware. Next, I’m checking each step I take. The times I step and I’m unsure what the rock will do or where my foot goes is rare. Next, I listen to my body and know what it’s saying. When I’m too cold or hot I add or remove layers. If I feel too tired I just call it or go take a nap. When my fingers are too “pruney” or my thumb has been torn up by all the fish I caught I know when to call it then too. The main thing is common sense. I’m enjoying the jetty as a young single guy. As I get older and when/if I have a family the jetty will become a more and more of a risky place where I could take on too much liability. There is no shame in admitting that you aren’t cut out for the rocks anymore. I know lots of guys that loved river fishing but when they knew it was time to quit they shifted their focus to stillwaters and now love them and their knees thank them.
If you have any safety tips you want to add leave them down below or let me know through my contact page I’d love to hear them. Until then enjoy the jetty and the incredible fishing it offers!