I never wore a life jacket while fishing. I am a strong swimmer. I swam on the swim team back in my school days. I never imagined a situation where I thought I wouldn't be able to save myself or tread water. I normally would be fishing in my deep hull 14 foot aluminum boat. We didn't go fast, we didn't go out in bad weather, and we didn't drink while fishing. I figured I had nothing to worry about.

Then, on a frigid fishing opener a few years ago on Lake Vermilion something happened that changed my mind. It was about 35 degrees that day. There was a little bit of chop but nothing to serious. We putted out into about 20 feet of water and started fishing. With it being so cold, my fishing partner and I were dressed in long underwear, overalls, thick winter jackets, winter boots, hats and gloves. We were dressed for snowmobiling conditions, not fishing conditions. With all the gear we were wearing, thinking of putting a life jacket over all of that seemed ridiculously uncomfortable.  Besides, we were safe, we would be fine.

A few hours into the day, my fishing partner stood up in the front of the boat. He slipped on something and fell with all of his weight on the side of the boat nearly going in himself. He tipped that boat so severely that water actually started coming over the side of the hull.  I was shocked. I never expected that could happen. He was able to pull himself in and both of us were terrified. I am positive that we were just inches away from dying. If we had gone in the water with all of that gear in those frigid of temperatures, I don't know if both of us would have made it out alive.

Neither of us imagined that scenario, and that what I felt like a complete idiot. Of course you don't imagine the unthinkable happening. If everyone saw a disaster coming there would be no drownings. It was a quick lesson that I now always follow. If I'm in a boat, I wear a life jacket.

I decided to look around at options for a self inflating life jacket. The U.S. Coast Guard says the best life jacket is the one that you'll actually wear. As long as it's U.S. Coast Guard approved and in functional order, you'll be fine. Wear it.

The self inflation life jackets are hardly noticeable to the wearer. Mine came from Cabela's for just over $100. You can replace the C02 cartridge if it inflates and use it again. It also has a pull tab for manual emergency use. I now wear it anytime I'm in the boat and it's the single best investment I've made in my fishing gear.

So please, if you are someone who hates wearing a life jacket, consider this option.

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