A fly fisherman wades across to Ferry Beach in Scarborough after an afternoon of fly fishing. When fly fishing one should wear the correct-sized waders and use a properly tightened wading belt. A wading belt, worn around the waist, slows water from entering the legs of waders. Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald file photo

The death of a fly fisherman Sunday on the Kennebec River in Embden was an uncommon incident for a generally safe sport, according to officials and experts.

“We really don’t have fishing fatalities,” Mark Latti, communications director for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said in an email this week. “Sunday was very much an anomaly.”

James Wescott, 56, of Fremont, New Hampshire, was fly fishing on the Kennebec River on Sunday when he lost his footing while trying to walk to a gravel bar in the river, fell into the river, and died after being swept downstream, authorities said.

James Wescott and his son, Jarod Wescott, 34, of Norridgewock, were in Embden near the Solon dam, a local fire chief said.

After he fell, the elder Wescott’s “waders quickly filled with water as he was not wearing a wading belt,” according to a news release from the Department of Inland Fisheries of Wildlife, which includes the Maine Warden Service. His son tried to get him to shore but was unable to do so because of the weight of water in the waders and the fast-moving current, the department said.

The release did not specify the cause of death but said Wescott was swept downstream and was later found unresponsive by first responders.


Neither the state nor any federal agency tracks recreational fishing fatalities, Latti said, though the Coast Guard does track commercial fishermen deaths. Other recreational activities – especially boating – tend to cause more serious accidents and deaths, he said.

After fatalities from any activity, the state Office of Chief Medical Examiner determines the cause of death, such as drowning, but does not list the activity that led to the death, according to Latti.

Jack Sullivan, a guide with the Skowhegan-based service Maine Fishing Guides, said he could not comment about what led to Wescott’s death as he was not there. There is always risk involved when wading in rivers, said Sullivan, who is friends with Jarod Wescott.

“It really can happen to anybody,” said Sullivan, who has been guiding for six years.

On Sullivan’s trips in the Moosehead Lake region and on the Dead and Kennebec rivers, clients do fall often, he said. But there are several key points to staying safe and avoiding accidents.

First and foremost, Sullivan said, is wearing the correct-sized waders, which are waterproof boots or overalls that extend from the feet to as high as the neck.


“You want a wader your size because if you have oversized waders, and you go down, you are going to fill up and there’s too much space in there,” Sullivan said.

Also important is the use of a wading belt that is properly tightened, Sullivan said. Wescott, the man who died Sunday, was not wearing a wading belt when he was swept downstream, officials said.

A wading belt, worn around the waist, slows water from entering the legs of waders.

“Expensive wading boots and waders are nice, but it is the $10 belt that will save your life,” a 2014 story in Fly Fisherman magazine about fly fishing safety said. “The only thing better than a wading belt is two wading belts. When you fall in the water without a belt, the waders fill up quickly. A wading belt can delay or even completely prevent water from filling the waders.”

Sullivan’s other recommendations for staying safe while wading include being aware of surroundings, having a buddy system, and wearing felt-bottom or studded boots to grip rocks.

And if fishermen do slip and fall into the river, they should stay calm and try to get back on their feet or swim to shore where they can then stand up, Sullivan said.

“If you fall, do whatever you have to do to get your feet back under you,” he said. “Don’t worry about the fishing gear anymore. Don’t worry about anything – your number one focus should be getting your feet back under you and becoming stable once again.”

Even though fly fishing is relatively safe, Wescott’s death serves as a reminder of its dangers, even for experienced fishermen, Sullivan said.

“It’s a complete tragedy,” Sullivan said. “But it also humbles you in a way. People need to realize that fishing, it can be dangerous, and you do have to realize that if you’re not safe, you’re adding that risk of something tragic happening.”

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