Beating The Seasick Blues

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

Blue water fly fishing can be a blast, if you can get your head out of the bucket.

I get seasick looking a pictures of the ocean. That might surprise you, seeing as I spend a lot of time on boats fly fishing in saltwater. I have significant damage to my inner ear as a result of a serious sinus infection and I can barely walk a straight line on dry land. It’s something I’ve learned to deal with and if you are prone to seasickness, so can you. Don’t let a little queasiness keep you from an epic fishing adventure.

If you don’t get seasick, I’m happy for you, but don’t stop reading yet. I have a little tip for you too. Don’t be an asshole! Seasickness flat out sucks. I can only compare it to food poisoning in misery. So if your buddy starts feeling bad on the boat, don’t give him a load of shit. He’s a man! Because he knows how bad it’s going to be and he’s out there anyway. Know this with absolute certainty, if you rip me when I’m sick I will make it my personal mission to cover every inch of you with my vomit. We’ll see who gets the last laugh.

I had the pleasure of fishing with Captain Ron Doerr out of Jupiter, FL the other day. Capt. Ron has been running blue water trips for about thirty years and for twenty of them he battled seasickness. He eventually beat it, but I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be sick every day for twenty years. That’s tough. Real man tough!

I did pretty well on my day with Capt. Ron and much of it was thanks to him. I can’t tell you what a difference it makes to fish with a captain who understands. How you handle the boat makes a huge difference and Capt. Ron understands that from personal experience.

Before I get into tips that will help you beat seasickness it’s good to understand why it happens. Seasickness is literally in your head. It’s a result of your brain receiving conflicting sensory input. When your eyes see the relatively still world of the boat and your inner ear senses the rocking of the ocean, the brain is confused. This confusion leads to an unconscious mismanagement of the digestive system. The stomach over produces acid while the rest of the digestive system is shut down, and voila! You’re puking.

So if you’re a puker, here are some tips that might help you stay upright and fishing.

First of all, if you have done no saltwater fishing and are worried about it you should understand the you are not at risk of being sick when flats fishing. I know this is obvious to many of you but there are folks who don’t understand. The water on the flats is calm and the boat is small. You will not feel a thing. It’s blue water fishing in the open ocean, usually in a larger boat, where you will have problems.

Keep your eyes on the horizon

Watching the horizon is an easy way to fight off seasickness. It keeps your eyes and your inner ear on the same page so your brain can make sense of the situation. It’s not 100% effective. Eventually you are going to have to tie a knot or look in the cooler, or it my case, at your camera and that uneasy feeling will start. Looking back and forth from the horizon to the task at hand will help. If the boat has a head, DONT GO IN THERE! Trust me, anything is better. Watching the horizon is not going to solve your seasickness problems but it’s a big help. Stay focused on it.

Don’t go out on an empty stomach

Most people think that if there is nothing in their stomach that they will not get sick. This is far from true. The nausea has nothing to do with the food in your stomach and in fact an empty stomach is the devil’s playground. When the stomach starts producing extra acid there is nothing to absorb it and you’re in trouble. Eat a reasonable breakfast and avoid acid foods like tomatoes and orange juice.

Eat pretzels

Pretzels do a great job of absorbing acid. Take a big bag of them on the boat and eat lots of them. Especially if you start feeling uneasy. There is a psychological component to seasickness and when you get stressed the stomach steps on the gas and really starts pumping the acid. Stay ahead of it and keep a positive attitude.

Olfactory stimulation

Strong smells affect the nervous system like no other stimulus. Some are good and some are bad. Diesel fumes are among the worst, as is the smell of that head I mentioned. Good smells like ginger can settle your stomach quickly. QueaseEASE is a great product that really helps fight off nausea. Ten deep breaths every five minutes or so makes a world of difference.

Avoid anchoring up when possible

A boat moving freely on the water is much easier to handle than one which is anchored up. It’s more work for your captain but let him know if you’re feeling poorly and he may be willing to go the extra mile. Capt. Ron was great about this. A good captain knows that a sick client doesn’t tip as generously as a well one. Don’t be embarrassed to let him know how you’re feeling.

The patch rocks!

Transdermal seasickness patches are amazing. None of the over-the-counter medications help me at all. You may have better luck. The patch, however, works great most of the time. The thing is, it’s a powerful drug with possible side effects. See your doctor and get the proper test done before you use the patch. Taking one from your buddy is a gamble. They also make you seriously high, which is fine, just be careful driving or handling sharp objects and don’t make life altering decisions, like proposing to some girl you meet in a Key West strip club that night. (Spoiler alert- she’s a prostitute and quite possibly a man.) Don’t forget to put the patch on the night before you go out or you’ll just be sick all day and high all night.

The open ocean is a beautiful thing and it’s full of amazing fly fishing opportunities. Don’t let the fear of seasickness keep you from experiencing it. Get yourself some pretzels and patches and get out there. If your buddy gives you any shit, puke on him for me!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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29 thoughts on “Beating The Seasick Blues

  1. I’m with you on this one. Happens to me in cars too. I can not do anything that would take my eyes off the road whether I am a driver or passenger.

  2. Seasickness = worst. The only time I got it I got it bda. I was out with the family off the Florida coast when I was 10 or 11, we were way out and got in to an epic Mahi school…and I thought I was going to die. I turned colors that should not be possible and complained so loud and long that we left it behind to run back in. The moving air helped and I swear the second my feet touched land I was instantly back to 100% fine. My dad didn’t talk to me for two days.

  3. I agree, the worst! I’ve spent good money on a blue water fishing trip, on a large twin deisel boat, only to spend the majority of the time lying on the deck of the boat, praying we would start moving again! I’ve been sick in the Gulf, once on Lake Michigan, but I’ve been out on the roughest waters I’ve been on in the Pacific, and been totally fine? Strange. Nice write up. Ryan

  4. The over the counter stuff like Bonine or Dramamine work for me. Pretzels also help. I have never gotten seasick again once I started using Bonine. But, as you said Louis, it may be in my head, and if I think I have it resolved, it is resolved. The OTC drugs can cause drowsiness and definitely not a high. But that has never interfered with enjoying my offshore trips.

    I had a friend once that had a bad reaction to the patch that was prescribed to him and had to abandon it. He was dizzy and disoriented, even ashore. We were on a multi-day trip for mahi, and he removed the patch, stayed ashore one day and switched to bonine and managed fine the last day.

  5. I’m that asshole… Being out on the open water doesn’t bother me. It actually feels soothing, and if I sit for too long, it puts me to sleep. Like rocking a baby. LOL. I always carry Dramamine with me just in case though, especially for my wife. I remember taking her out on a charter one day to do some snapper fishing. Even with medication on board, she still spent the majority of the trip puking off the port side of the boat. She swears she’ll never eat captain crunch again. These are some good tips though. We’ll have to see about those patches for the wifey next time we go out.

  6. The worst part about being seasick is you think you are going to die and then your are afraid that you are not. My old man and I used to fish for sharks off the coast of maine when I was a younger and I was seasick every weekend. When the boat was moving I was fine but as soon as the motor was off and drifting with the tide my world got rocked. Dramamine helped but always made me tired. Since then I have spent a ton of time on the big blue and feel like I grew out of it. Is that possible? Either way good post and those who battle the rocking waves while being seasick are MEN.

  7. But if you don’t bring along a seasick friend, who’s gonna chum up the yellow tail and mahi??

    Seriously tho, three years of working in the Keys, I’ve seen my fair share of people losing it. Here’s some tips I have: If you are taking seasickness medication of any type, start it the night before, before you go to bed. Most medication takes several hours to kick in, and if you wait until you’re boarding, you’ve waited too long. Also, stay in the night before you’re big trip. A hangover does nothing to help your inner ear issues. If you aren’t sure if you’re prone to seasickness, do these anyway, as it’s better to remain unsure than to figure it out in the middle of a big bite. Staying hydrated helps as well, in addition to all the other benefits staying hydrated has.

  8. I worked on sportfishing boats out of San Diego for over a decade and everytime someone got seasick I would have them eat a pickle or two and it worked every time. The vinegar helped neutralize the stomach acids almost instantly.

  9. Pingback: Tippets: Dam Removals, Asian Carp Move North, Beating Seasickness | MidCurrent

  10. This “Oldtimer” has seen his fair share of kneeling at a deck rail–Gulf Stream out of Nags Head back in the 60’s. Remember this as your throwing your guts overboard, if you feel any hair coming up swallow it quickly!! That will be your asshole. Happy sailing, Pete.

  11. worst ever was getting sea sick while diving once.
    remove regulator
    insert regulator
    you get a face full of cool looking fish that clean up the mess

  12. I am a chronic seasickness sufferer and I use most of the methods you outline above with some success. Hooking up usually banishes the problem for a while at least. But the only absolutely foolproof cure for me is to sit under a tree 🙂

  13. The absolute best remedy for sea sickness that I have used, especially for on board guests, for over 50 years is Karo syrup. I always keep a bottle aboard. It’s a super concentrated sugar solution that instantly reverses the hyperacidosis that’s responsible for “green around the gills” syndrome. An ounce or two shot from the bottle does the trick.

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