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Mackenthun: Tethering phone can save it from watery grave

My cell phones have long carried a proud tradition of dying in the line of duty. They go down in glory in their deaths, having served me until their ends came.

The first that I remember was in my pocket on a survey of the Nemadji River 15 years ago. Wearing waders that looked and felt like Goodyear truck tires, I had been in the stream about an hour before I hit a pocket of walled clay and my footing instantly gave way.

I was quickly falling prone into the river channel, water rushing into my waders.

I tried letting the phone dry out in a bag of rice, but no amount of minute moisture osmosis would save it.

Another phone died at Henry Lake by Cleveland, stuffed in a wader pocket that ended up submerged and taking on water.

A third phone was placed in a duck hunting blind box with some other wet items on a muggy day. It too succumbed to water damage when I pulled it out of the box a few hours later.

“Moisture detected,” it showed me for the remainder of its final battery cycle.

I’m not a smart man, but I can recognize a pattern when I see it. My personal and professional time on water makes me a candidate for phone water loss.

I purchased insurance for my phones, up until they were paid, and then later on when I discovered that smartphone manufacturers started applying better waterproofing technology.

Just as cell phone memory, storage, cameras and battery life improved on an incredible trajectory, so too did impact resistance, waterproofing and general hardiness.

Modern smartphones have rubber grommet seals that allow submerging for up to 30 to 120 minutes. These modern adaptations were welcome, and I’ve put my phones to the test, dealing with boat spray, rain and wet pockets.

They’ve always lasted.

The calamity that finally caught up to me and so many others, is a cell phone’s mortal enemy, the ice fishing hole. I had always done my best to be careful around ice holes, never talking to anyone close to a hole and being cognizant of danger by keeping my phone in a zipped pocket.

For all my years of avid ice angling, I’d avoided dropping my phone down a hole or even near one. Then a couple months back, while leaning over to pick up my gear and call it a day after an up-and-down winter trout opener, my 2-year-old Samsung Galaxy fell from my unzipped pocket, splashed in my hole.

I gasped and lunged, touching it briefly before watching it descend into the darkness of 40 feet of water over a rocky reef.

Contacts, apps, downloads, pictures, videos and more were gone in an instant. Most of what I keep on my phone is backed up, but a few photos that would have made great stock images for stories were gone.

Mackenthun: Tethering phone can save it from watery grave

I fished the remainder of the weekend without incident, then got a replacement early the next week. Smart phones are a blessing and a curse — on the one hand, they simplify everything in our lives into one place and on the other hand, by doing so, control our lives.

And worst of all, they are incredibly expensive!

They are miniature computers we all carry around to manage contacts, calendars, paying bills and keeping up with a changing world.

The experience was a lesson. All my previously fried phones were in my possession. A phone you lose is gone for good.

Insurance is still a good plan for loss, theft or destruction, but a little physical protection, as many do with screen protectors and cases can go a step further. While on the water, a good way to protect your wireless device…is to reintroduce a wire!

Ben Tietz has a solution for losing cell phones and other valuable gear.

In 2018, Tietz started Robohawk in Grimes, Iowa. Now beginning their fifth year in business, Robohawk makes equipment and smartphone tethers for anglers and outdoor enthusiasts. The idea of tethering your phone first started by the need to tether other gear.

“I started kayak fishing in 2015,” Tietz explained. “I wanted a way to get out on the water the same year my daughter was born. I started making leashes and tethers for my basic fishing tools; I didn’t want to be dropping them over the kayak.”

Tietz was on a panfish angling trip with buddies in southwest Iowa and his friends were impressed with his tethered tools. They convinced him to start marketing and selling the devices.

“I just ran with it, tried to perfect it,” Tietz said. “There was a lot of trial and error. I wanted it to look good and be functional. I found a way to make them look uniform. I started by mostly selling to kayak anglers. Then that winter, I realized it made sense to sell them for ice fishing, too. You don’t want to lose that $1,000 smartphone. It’s a pretty cheap insurance policy.”

Tietz points out the obvious — everyone is carrying a smartphone around in their pocket, and they are expensive to replace. Committing to tethering your gear or phone is really using a preplanning and organized mindset.

Not everyone carries a nail clippers, flashlight, hemostat or other fishing tools on retractable lanyards, but many do for convenience and having everything in the same place.

It’s the same idea with your cell phone. Using a tether means that you will always put it back in the same place. It’s a good way to get organized.

You can tether your fish grips, measuring board, scissors, pliers or other tools, so you can always find them in your boat, kayak, fish house or on your vest. You can even color code your tethers for further mental organization.

Robohawk sources as many of their materials as they can in the United States and assemble everything in central Iowa, producing uniform and attractive designs.

“If you’re the type of person that is holding off, you will eventually lose something,” Tietz advised. “I hope it’s not a cell phone. Yes, most of us have insurance, but it’s still a pain in the butt. Tethering takes a little getting used to, but it will save you some heartache.”

Take it from me, a phone in the hand is worth 10 in the lake.

Scott Mackenthun has been writing about hunting and fishing since 2005. Email him at scott.mackenthun@gmail.com.

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