Henry Gilbey
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Henry Gilbey blog

I think I saved an angler's life on Monday

I do not remotely mean to sensationalise what happened on Monday or draw attention to what I did, rather I thought I would tell you what went down (quite literally) and let you draw your own conclusions. I did what any regular human being did and helped somebody out who got into serious trouble - nothing more, nothing less, and I don't think I am exaggerating the situation by saying that if I had not by pure chance been around to help this angler out then my feeling is that he would have most likely died.

A friend of mine had landed a couple of nice bass on Sunday afternoon (couldn't fish, it was my youngest daughter's birthday) and with the forecast I fancied a couple of hours out and about somewhere local to me after dropping my girls off at school on Monday morning. I had an idea of where I was going to go, but my mate rang me up and kindly told me that the water around there was still pretty mucky, hence he had moved location on Sunday and caught the fish. So I changed my mind based on this phone call and decided to go where Mark had caught his fish - nope, I don't like "chasing" fish, but with the recent weather I was grateful for any on the spot help with water clarity, and of course I would do exactly the same thing back to a mate.

Where I ended up is a spot I have fished on only a few occasions, but it's out of the way to the point that you could most likely walk the coastal path all your life and never even realise that there was a way down to the rocks. I scrambled down with Storm and I was a little surprised to see an angler already there, albeit there is plenty of room and I can fish the other side of the little bay and not get in his way. I have never seen the bloke before but I believe in being polite so I shout hi and ask if he's caught anything etc.

So I fish away. Conditions are pretty much spot on, but I'm not getting a touch. I am fishing below where I have left Storm by my rucksack as it's fairly pounding in, so after a while I climb back up the slippery rocks to give the dog a stroke and grab a drink of water. By chance this other angler is up from his perch and I go over, introduce myself, and ask what his name is - for the purpose of this blog post, let's call him "John", and he's dressed in red waterproofs. He's retired and has fished for bass around all here all his life and to be honest he seems like a thoroughly nice bloke. He knows anglers who I know etc. We then head back to our separate rocks and carry on fishing.

It's Monday and I can't spend ages out and about. I dropped a small bass beneath my feet and I'm thinking about heading back to work when I get another tap on my XLayer/jig head combination. Let's give it another fifteen minutes or so and see what happens, which to be honest is precisely nothing. I head back up to Storm and start packing a few bits and pieces into my rucksack for the walk back up, and by chance John comes by me to clamber down the rocks in order to get across a gully and onto another set of rocks that are being exposed by the ebbing tide.

I can remember turning around from my rucksack and seeing a red body suddenly falling end over end, hitting a protruding rock and then coming to a sickening thump of a standstill on some boulders down below. I have never seen a person fall like this - I am guessing the drop was about 10-15', and John went down about as hard as a person can I suppose. I still feel sick when I think about it.

I suppose you just react to a situation like this without thinking. I immediately made my way down to John, and as I was getting down to him as fast as I could, I will never forget seeing red water around his head as the waves lapped his face and mixed with the blood. He was lying on his side with his face down over the edge of one of the boulders and I remember thinking that either he's dead and how on earth am I going to move his body, or more pressingly, I need to get his head up and out of the water or else he's going to drown if he is still actually alive.

I get down to John and get my arms under his shoulders to lift his head out of harm's way. There is no movement but I am hoping he's out cold rather than dead, and a few moments later I can thankfully feel his body try and move a bit. You don't realise how heavy an essentially lifeless body is, and John is not remotely a big bloke at all. I keep on talking to try and reassure the both of us that it's ok, and yes, I might be more in shock than John because I am completely aware of what has happened. I am keeping his head out of the water and after a little bit we manage to slowly but surely get John up to a position where he is gingerly standing with his back against a rock. The tide is ebbing so I am not too worried about the water coming up too much higher except for the odd surge, but as John takes the strain on his own he suddenly starts to crumple and I quickly get my arms around him to hold him up. A few moments later and he's kinda back in the land of the living and making some sense.

I've got a phone signal and I tell John that I want to call the emergency services, but from the off he is adamant that he just needs a bit of time to steady himself. I want to call for help and I am trying to think straight, but I've got a bloke who is telling me that he's kind of ok considering what has just happened and it is becoming apparent that he seems to have got away with this relatively - save for a lot of blood all over his face from a nasty gash to the back of his head and some obvious discomfort in his lower back. I am convinced that as he was literally cartwheeling down the rocks he knocked himself out cold before hitting the boulders and perhaps landed about as slack and un-tensed as possible, which in my mind is perhaps why he got away so incredibly lightly. A part of me honestly can't believe that this bloke is alive and moving.

Slowly and carefully we start to make our way back up the cliffs. John has got only a small rucksack and a rod with him so it's the least I can do to carry them up for him so that he has all hands free with me very close behind in case anything else happens. Eventually we get back to our cars and I ask that John at least lets me follow him home/come back to my house for a sit down, or perhaps we could head to the firing range to see if we can find a medic to check him over, but he's having none of it. He could not have been more thankful but he says that he will be ok to drive home. I don't like it but I can't make the bloke do something he doesn't want to do. We swap phone numbers and he promises to call me the moment he gets back, but not long down the road he pulls over to say thanks again and I ask to speak to his wife on the phone to let her know that there's been an accident. And we do speak again later on when he got back home.

So there you go. Not something I want to see again, but that is what happened and I keep on thinking about how close I was to not fishing that particular spot at that particular time - I was there by chance and I pretty much reckon that if I had not been there then John would most likely not be around to go fishing again. I did what any regular person would have done in the same situation, indeed I keep going over my actions to think about what I might have done differently or better - but the truth of the matter is that I saw a horrible situation unfold very quickly and I just reacted. I cannot tell you how much I have gone over and over in my head the decision making process to go fishing where I did and how close I came to not being there - and ultimately how happy I am that I was there to help this guy out.

What can we learn from this accident ? Well we could bang on about not fishing on your own, lifejackets, decent footwear (John was wearing wellies) etc., but this is an angler who has fished around these spots all his life without any great hassle - John got unlucky and slipped, but you could say he was also lucky that I was there to help out. Many of us go fishing on our own and never tell anybody where we are going. There is always going to be an inherent level of risk when you spend time around water and rocks, but there is risk with almost anything you do in life. We do what we can to stay as safe as possible, but on the rocks it can take only the slightest mistake to put yourself in potential danger. I can't get the image of John's body literally cartwheeling like a rag-doll down those rocks, but I balance this out with how glad I was to be in the right place at the right time to be able to help a fellow angler out. What happened changes nothing about what I do, and I am sure that in time John will be back out fishing (we have been in touch and he's doing well), albeit with a greater sense of just how quickly things can go from good to bad.

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