Like many of you, I am often on the river by myself. Depending on the area, and my Spidey senses, I sometimes carry a handgun, bear spray, people spray, a whistle, a knife or nothing. Self-defense is something that I think about often; I have even taught several classes, one to a women’s fly fishing group. But I have thought a little differently about it the past few months, not because of me necessarily, but because I have a teenage daughter who is venturing out on her own. A few years ago one of her friend’s guardians came to me and asked me what his granddaughter could use on school grounds to protect herself. He told me that she had stayed late at the high school one night and when going to her car she became aware of a male following her. She hurried to her car and drove off. She wasn’t sure if his car was near hers and she was being paranoid or if she had just dodged danger. Nonetheless, she felt helpless and her grandpa wanted to help.
Obviously, there are weapons that are not allowed on school grounds, so several options were out. I work in law enforcement, so I sought the opinion of my colleagues, especially the school resource deputies. Coincidentally, the defensive tactics instructors had been teaching flashlight defense this year. I had not yet been to the training, but as we talked I realized that this was exactly what I was looking for.
A flashlight can be a very effective self-defense tool. It is easy to carry and not conspicuous if held in your hand. The flashlight I am referring to is commonly called a tactical flashlight and is often used by police and military. Tactical flashlights are roughly 4-8 inches in length, have a bright beam and an aggressive or jagged front end; ideally, the butt end will have something aggressive as well, like a window punch used for breaking vehicle windows. They are designed for maximum durability. This tool can easily be kept in a pocket, backpack, purse, wader pouch, or vehicle. It is vital to note though, that a weapon, any weapon, does you no good if you can’t access it quickly.
First and foremost, flashlights help you identify threats. The threat might be human or structural. I often fish into dark and end up walking trails that have rocks and roots and other hazards. My flashlight is a huge help. As far as human threats, simply shining a light on them can be enough to deter bad behavior. If you have ever had a bright light shined in your eyes when it is dark, you know that the light disorients, even temporarily blinds. This moment is a prime time to defend yourself against an attacker.
A natural reaction to light being shined in the eyes is to bring your hands to your face to block the light. In this moment, you need to decide to flee or fight. As I mentioned before, tactical flashlights will often have a jagged or aggressive front end, and sometimes a window punch on the rear. This aggressive edge can be used to strike at your attacker. If you have a primary weapon, such as a gun, knife or pepper spray, the flashlight should be held in your non-dominant hand, or the hand opposite the primary weapon. If you have nothing but the flashlight, carry it in your dominant hand. Once you have shined the light at your attacker’s face, blinding or disorienting him, strike at the side of the head or across the face with the jagged end of the flashlight. The motion should be similar to the pinky side of your fist to the side of the face. You can redirect your momentum and strike again on the other side of the face if needed. At this time, you should create distance and get out of there and contact authorities. Don’t forget to make noise; scream your guts out! If there are others on the river or in the area, you want their help.
There are countless choices and prices when looking for a tactical flashlight. Some important things to consider are: SIZE – try to find a light not much bigger than the palm of your hand; BRIGHTNESS – you will want something bright enough to disorient, generally not less than 120 lumens; EASY – I prefer an on/off button on the rear of the light. A strobe option is nice (strobe mode is a whole different level of disorientation). Batteries or plug in; WATERPROOF – I fall in the river, a lot. You want a light than will endure your fishing habits, as well as weather; RUGGED – you want a sturdy light. Pay attention to the jagged edge on the front end of the light, something that will leave a lasting impression.
When it comes down to personal safety, your first and best weapon is awareness. Be aware of your surroundings and identify potential threats. There is strength in numbers. If you are with someone, you are less likely to be assaulted or attacked. But let’s face it, we sometimes fish alone, in remote places. Solitude is one of the things I sometimes look for in fly fishing. Whether you are alone or not, have something with you for your personal protection; and whatever you choose, make sure it is accessible, and you have practiced with it.
About the Author, Holly Finn:
Holly is a sergeant with a Utah law enforcement agency. She is a firearms
Instructor for her agency and the local police academy. Holly is a fly fishing
junkie who hits the water every chance she gets. Why she fishes: “I find absolute
beauty in fly fishing. It is the culmination of all that nature has to offer in one
experience. The scenery, birds & fish, sounds of the river and the art of the
pursuit all invigorate me. My senses come alive, no matter where I find
myself. Fishing runs me through the emotional spectrum as well. In one
outing I can feel joy, pride, frustration, anger, excitement and peace.
Sometimes these all occur in one hole or one cast.”