You could see the storm blowing up Lake Palestine from the dam. What you couldn’t see was the lake or the houses along the cliff at Eagle’s Bluff.
Guide Robert Baxter waited about as long as he felt comfortable before cranking up the boat’s big motor and seeking refuge under the Highway 155 bridge. Once it blew through, we pulled back out on the river channel and started fishing again until another storm approached.
This time Baxter made a run toward Saline Bay, hoping the storm would skirt around us. If not, we weren’t far from the Smith County boat ramp. We were able to continue to fish in a light rain as the main storm traveled down the main lake. At some point, while we were fishing on that late April day, unfortunately, a boat went over the spillway at a high speed.
Safe boating is all about making good decisions, and with the Texas boating season starting Memorial Day and running through Labor Day, it is time to not only make sure your boat is in top shape, but your game plan for emergencies is as well. While boating is supposed to be a good time, there is a serious side to a summer on the lake. It can be dangerous, and it can be deadly.
Since March of last year, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game wardens have responded to 62 non-boating related drownings and 18 boating related drownings. If it can be called good news, those numbers are down from the same period in 2015-16, when there were 74 non-boating related drownings and 19 boating related drownings. According to 2015 U.S. Coast Guard statistics, the most current available, Texas ranks sixth in boat registration with 572,000. Texas trails Florida (889,000), Minnesota (808,000), Michigan (787,000), California (772,000) and Wisconsin (623,000), and is down from its peak of when the state consistently registered more than 600,000 boats a year.
In the last 12 months, there were 115 accidents reported on Texas lakes. The most dangerous sites were Canyon Lake and the Lower Laguna Madre, with seven each. However, a boating accident can occur anywhere. There was one last month during a night fishing tournament on Lake Jacksonville, when a tournament participant hit a non-tournament fisherman’s boat that was reportedly anchored in the lake without lights. Fortunately, it was a non-fatality accident.
Two other boating accidents in East Texas didn’t end as well. In January, a father and his 5-year-old son died when they were caught on Lake Tawakoni duck hunting and a fast moving storm blew across the lake. In April, on the same day Baxter and I were dodging storms, a husband and wife died after their boat went over the spillway at Lake Palestine.
Six of the fatalities in the last 12 months involved paddle craft such as kayaks, canoes and paddle boards. This is significant because while accounting for a third of all fatal accidents, paddle craft were involved in only 6 percent of the accidents reported. But again, if there is a silver lining of sorts, the number of…