He has pointy teeth, fins, and was about a foot and a half long.
I decided to paddle wearing the same gear as almost everyone else on the lake: a swimsuit! It was so hot. But unlike many others I added a PFD and paddle shoes.
I thought I would be able to swim for a few minutes in the cold water and do a Cowboy Scramble up my Boreal Baffin.
Even under dressed for the water temperatures, I was pretty sure I could do at least one Cowboy Scramble. I wanted to see what would happen to someone who fell in.
But I had trouble convincing myself to get into the deeper, colder lake water from the warmer shallow waters along the shoreline. Even in May it was still freezing cold. I stood there for awhile with the water only up to my knees.
"Wow. Without a wet suit, it's a big shock!" No way was I going to practice jumping into the water from my boat or dump myself over wearing only a swim suit.
Then I looked down at my feet.
He would swim away a little, then charge forward. His mouth was open. I saw his teeth.
Then I remembered a paddle buddy who reported a hungry fish striking her bare toes while on a swim one year in this lake and taking away a little skin. She recommended swimming with paddle booties. It was hard to believe. But I suddenly became a believer.
And I was about to go for a swim wearing very little gear in one of her favourite swimming spots. "Hey, are you that fish!?"
My paddle partner came over to take a look: "That is a big fish. He's not shy either. The fish are really hungry in spring. Too bad I didn't bring my fishing gear."
Me: "I don't think we need it. Look, he likes my feet!"
I was ready to throw myself into the cold water wearing only my swimsuit and a kayak PFD to see how well I'd fare. But now, I was a little scared of the fish! I know it sounds stupid, but you didn't see his teeth.
We threw rocks into the water nearby to scare the fish away.
Before the water cleared, he came back.
I jumped forward anyway into deeper water. "Uh, uh, uh, OH MAMMA!"
Immediately, I could feel a light squeezing pressure in my chest. That's the heart and lungs complaining and warning you that the sudden shock of cold water is not a good thing. The mouth comes gaping open. It's a gasp reflex and that's how you can suck in cold water when you should be keeping your mouth closed. But my head didn't go underwater and I was only inches from solid footing.
Then, I got out of the cold water, put on my wet suit and PFD for safety, and went for a nice 10-15 minute swim with the fish.
At the end of the day, I paddled back to the boat launch wearing my long sleeve wet suit top. I paddled past scores of people in kayaks, canoes, and stand up paddle boards wearing only t-shirts and shorts, 50% of them had no PFD.
Wow, I thought, if only you knew what you risk. Too bad that the only time you find out may be your last. But seeing little kids in boats dressed like that with their parents is difficult for me to watch.
I feel there isn't enough media to inform people about the dangers of hypothermia and what the general water temperatures are in spring, summer and fall. I think there should be warning signs at boat launches and public beaches.
When I paddled the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior from Bayfield, Wisconsin in the U.S., there were warning signs at most boat launches, warning people about the dangers of cold water and to "Respect the lake. The Lake is the BOSS!" The water is always cold there and the wind is serious. It certainly made me think twice and take extra precautions when paddling there.
People don't seem to be as cautious when paddling close to home on local rivers and smaller lakes.
Too many stores today are selling small recreational paddle craft and gear, like hardware stores and general stores. A lot of them just sell stuff. They don't sell the most important item: knowledge of the sport and its dangers. Anyone can buy a boat and hop onto all kinds of waterways without any knowledge or skill. Paddling is becoming a more and more popular sport and this is becoming a more and more important topic.
Stay warm. Play safe.
Test your gear in a safe way or bother to purchase some! A swim suit is not cold water paddling gear. Spring waters in Canada are cold. Some water is too cold to swim in or fall into without a wet suit or dry suit year round.
A long-sleeved wet suit, paddle jacket, or a dry suit is also great protection from sunburn and from those biting bugs on the shore. Don't assume your big brown Labrador dog can swim to shore in cold water if he jumps out of your boat far from shore, especially not without a doggie life jacket.
Happy paddle trails!
A follow up to this story:
A Meet up with Persistent Perch's babies in June