Basalt fishing guide pulls struggling man out of Fryingpan River |

Basalt fishing guide pulls struggling man out of Fryingpan River

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Basalt fishing guide Joe Kayafas, shown in a file photo.
Courtesy photo |

Fishing guide Joe Kayafas has a great story about the one that didn’t get away, but he’s talking about a fisherman rather than a fish.

Kayafas, of Frying Pan Anglers in Basalt, was fishing the Fryingpan River with two clients Tuesday. They were moving from one section of water to another by car when one of his passengers spotted what appeared to be a man in distress in the river about 10 miles up Frying Pan Road.

Kayafas said he looked over and saw an elderly man face-up in the water and having trouble staying afloat while hanging on to his fly rod. Kayafas immediately stopped his car on the roadway, put on his hazard lights and jumped out.

“I asked him, ‘Sir, are you OK?’” Kayafas said. The man’s answer was unintelligible, so Kayafas, 32, swung into action.

“I don’t think he would have made it by himself. He was having trouble.”
Witness on the struggling man

He plotted an approach a split second before jumping into the water. He still had on his waders because he and his clients were going to fish some more. The water came up to his chest, he said, but didn’t top his waders.

Kayafas scrambled over to the man, hooked him under the arms and pulled him upright. The man said his legs wouldn’t move because he was so cold. Kayafas dragged him to the riverbank, where Kayafas’ own two clients assisted the man onto land.

Kayafas said he would have entered the water even if he hadn’t had his waders on because the angler obviously needed help.

“It was instincts mainly,” Kayafas said of his actions. “I had it handled in three minutes.”

He said he had to keep his cool because if he had panicked, the man in the water likely would have panicked, as well.

One of Kayafas’ clients said the man who was assisted seemed a little shaken and embarrassed that he had caused such a commotion and required help. The man shook hands with his rescuers and mentioned that he was 75 years old, according to the client, a visiting judge who didn’t want to be quoted by name for privacy reasons.

“I don’t think he would have made it by himself,” the judge said. “He was having trouble.”

Kayafas agreed, noting that the river was deep enough at that stretch that the man’s waders likely would have filled and weighed him down if he couldn’t have regained his feet or continued floating.

Kayafas said they didn’t stand around and talk for long after the incident, so he didn’t get the name of the man he pulled from the river.

“I had to get the hell out of the road,” he said. “It was a big traffic jam.”

They talked long enough to learn that the man had run into trouble while his fishing guide assisted another client a short distance away. The man said he didn’t require help from paramedics, so Kayafas and his clients left him in the care of his own guide.

After Kayafas and his clients pulled away, the magnitude of the action sunk in.

“It was blowing my mind that I might have actually saved somebody’s life right there,” Kayafas said.

The rescued man and his guide stopped by Frying Pan Anglers on Wednesday morning to thank Kayafas. The man asked Kayafas for his address because he intended to send him something. Helping somebody in distress was its own reward for Kayafas.


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