A Coupla Good Things to Know About Electric Fences

Guest Blogger: Joe Dellaria, Woodbury MN

800px-Yellow-insulator-electric-fenceOver the years, I have encountered numerous electric fences. I would like to share two experiences that others may find helpful in successfully getting over these potential hazards. Failure to properly traverse these obstacles can give you a good jolt at best, and at worse can cause some serious damage.

My first losing encounter with an electric fence came early one fall morning. My good friend, Harold (we’ll call him that to protect the innocent), had flown in to fish the weekend with me. The sun was just starting to glow at the horizon as we were getting an involuntary shower from the dew covered corn stalks as we made our way towards the river. Finally, we reached the end of the cornfield and quickened our pace as we walked through the last twenty yards of chest high grass.

This was one of my favorite spots to fish first thing in the morning. I had hooked several big fish in this series of pools – but had failed to land any of them. I was anxious to even the score with at least one of these fish. I knew there was a barbed wire fence coming soon and instructed Harold to slow down and keep his eyes peeled for the fence – it was sneaky and hid well in the tall grass. Shortly, we found the fence. Having successfully avoided getting impaled on the barbed wire, I was preparing to push the top wire down and step over. Harold grabbed my hand while saying, “I don’t think you want to do that.”

Confused (nothing new there, I’m always confused), I asked, “Why?”

Being observant, Harold pointed out that it was an electric fence and pointed to the yellow insulator bumpers on the posts.

“Good catch!” I said, as the bumpers were not there the last time I fished this spot a couple of weeks ago. Looking the situation over it appeared the safest approach was to crawl under the lowest wire. Which I successfully did.

Harold is a bit taller than me. This may seem to be an unnecessary detail. But, it proved to be critical.

I was silently getting impatient as Harold worked his way under the fence. Everything was going fine until a single tine of the fence barb just grazed Harold’s back (now you can see why his height was an issue). Wham faster than you can lose a trout on the hookset he was flat on the ground. Simultaneously he let out a loud and prolonged, “Uuggggh.” I thought he was messing around and started laughing heartily.

Unfortunately, Harold was not messing around and after a couple of seconds he regained his breath and managed to croak out between gasps, “You jerk, that really hurt.”

It became immediately clear that Harold had taken a full hit from the fence. His hands were touching the dew soaked ground, he was fully grounded, and the electric fence did what it was designed to do.

After a couple of minutes, Harold regained his breath and was able to finish crawling under the fence. We made it a point to do an army style crawl under the fence when we went under the fence to go home.

The main point in this story is that even just grazing a single tine of the barbed electric fence was enough for Harold to get a whopping shock. Fortunately, he collapsed to the ground breaking the circuit he had formed from his back to his hands.

The second and third battles with an electric fence occurred several years later. The trico spinner fall had just started. In order to get to one of the most productive spots you have to walk through a pasture surrounded by an electric fence. Getting into the pasture is easy. That electric fence is about 40 steps from where you park. It is a high traffic area and several spots are easily passable. It’s still a good idea to pay attention so you don’t accidentally rub your leg on the fence as you go over.

The challenge comes at the other end of the pasture. You have two choices. The first is to carefully climb over a deadfall that was strategically placed to straddle the electric fence. Trout fisherman are a determined and lazy lot, they tend to do the very least to just clear the bar, or in this case the fence (not that I stopped to fix the problem). The deadfall served admirably for several years but was starting to show its age. All the easy to use branches had broken off long ago. Now you had to be strategic and select the right set of branches to insure clearing the fence without an incident. If it rained, extra care was required as the well-worn branches got pretty slippery when they became wet. Again, with care this was passable.

The second choice was to get in the stream and carefully walk through a small slot that was just deep enough to allow one to bend over and shuffle under the fence.

Since I was already on land, I elected to go over the fence using the deadfall. No problem, I quickly scrambled over the fence – I knew the best combination of branches by heart.

4175968_d697740aThe fun started on my way back to the car. There were still some fish rising in the pool just upstream of where the electric fence crossed the river. I got a couple smaller fish and started back to the car. Since I was in the river, I decided to do the river “two-step shuffle” under the fence. When I got to the slot it became clear that run-off from the latest thunderstorm had raised the water level so that it was impossible to get under the fence safely.

I stood there and weighed my options. The first was to walk back 20 yards to a low spot on the bank so I could get out and use the deadfall crossing. That seemed like too much work (remember, I said trout fisherman are lazy and do just enough to get over the bar). Then it dawned on me, I could use my rod to lift the electric fence a few inches and shuffle under the fence.

“Bingo, I thought. I’ll be past the fence in no time flat.”

This is what I like to refer to as an “information poor situation.” That is, you don’t have enough information to prove the outcome. But, as others like to say, “We are about to find out.”

It turns out that the cork handle on my rod was not a sufficient insulator and that I had underestimated the ability of my rod to conduct electricity. As I lifted the fence, physics did its magic and delivered a hefty jolt through my arm holding the rod. This led my arm to jerk over my head in an involuntary spasm. Fortunately, the jolt caused me to stumble forward and under the fence before it settled back to its original position.

I was clear of the fence, but there was one small problem remaining. During the involuntary flinch, one of my hands caught my glasses between the sidearm and the lens causing them to fly up over the fence and into about 3 feet of water. Of course, the water was muddied from moving around. It took twenty minutes for the water to clear so I could find my glasses. See, much easier than walking back 20 yards, getting out of the river, and climbing over the deadfall.

A year or so later, the deadfall finally crumbled. I usually used my wooden net to push the electric fence down so I could get over. On this particular day, I elected to use my new boron rod to push the fence down. It turns out the new boron rod was very similar to the old technology rod and conducted electricity quite well. I took another jolt for the team so I could write this blog and warn you that your fly rod is likely a good conductor. As your mother used to say, “Don’t do that you could get hurt!”

All of these stories had a “happy ending” – i.e. we survived to tell the story. Depending on the electric fence, a shock can give a jolt leading to discomfort all the way to death. If you encounter an electric fence, it is best to assume a shock could lead to death unless you know otherwise. Take every possible precaution not to receive a shock. Hopefully, the above stories have increased your awareness and caution towards electric fences, and perhaps put a smile or two on your face!

13 thoughts on “A Coupla Good Things to Know About Electric Fences

  1. Michael Vorhis

    Joe, what a great theme for an article! There are so many dangers and gotchas tied up in the logistics of what we do, and they’re all part of fishing. I enjoyed your stories very much.

    I used to string electric fence wire in a futile attempt to keep our ponies in, back when I was a kid. Being smaller than full-sized horses, ponies are commensurately smarter. They can listen for the “click, click, click” of an electric fence transformer sending out pulses each second along the wire…when there’s no clicking because some recent rain or wet stick shorted the circuit, they walk right through it. I do believe they can read the schematic on the transformer’s side.

    In the beginning, in an effort to instill a healthy respect in their noggins, we hung pieces of bright tinfoil on the live strand. They put their curious noses up to the shiny thing…then, WHAM!…they’d do a dance all around the field, slowly settling down to assume it must have been their imagination, and gathering the courage to do the “inspection by nose” again, then WHAM! and the dance. Didn’t take them very long to start listening for the click of the transformer.

    Of course we got nailed a time or two ourselves. It may not be as powerful as the electric jolt of a big trout hammering a downstream wetfly, but it’s close. : )

    But Joe, you really made me mad with your “trout fishermen are a lazy lot” stuff. Dude, have you been talking to my wife?!

    – Mike

    Reply
  2. Mary S. Kuss

    I’m always very much on alert about electric fences, but not because of any personal bad experiences. A man once gave a presentation at a Trout Unlimited meeting I attended, and told about an experience of his own with an electric fence. What happened to him was so horrible to contemplate that it is permanently seared into my memory. It involved not wanting to take the time to get out of the stream but rather standing in the water in leaky waders and using a fence post carrying electrified fence wire as a target for an obvious physiological need. The substance in question also turned out to be a good electrical conductor. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

    Reply
    1. Joe Duca

      Hi Mary, when I first read this post I laughed when I remembered almost doing what that gentleman from your meeting did. I don’t know if it made more sense to test the fence first by touching it with my hand, but I did. I felt I slight numbing “heat” from the fence, that’s it. I’ve received worse shocks before but nothing like Joe describes, maybe this fence had less juice. Needless to say, I directed my business elsewhere. Thanks for sharing the results of what could have happened.

      Reply
  3. Joe Dellaria

    Hi Mike,
    Sorry, sometimes the truth hurts about the “lazy thing”. I laugh almost every outing as I see short reroutes of the path around a fallen branch. Most of the time it takes no more than a few seconds to move the object so everyone can use the path again.
    If you like, I can get Kate to edit “lazy” out and use languid or indolent. At least that way we can test how “lazy” your wife is to look up the meaning of the word (unless of course she has a bigger vocabulary – which is likely as most fly fisherman probably wouldn’t look up a word they didn’t know.)
    My best advice, in this case, is to print the article and use white out or a scissor to excise the offending words.
    Thanks for your reply. Hopefully the smile is still on your face!
    All the best, Joe

    Reply
    1. Michael Vorhis

      Joe, can you work in the word “slackards” and phrases like “taking up space on the planet” and “slouching down the road of life” while you’re at it? Just for accuracy. : )

      – Mike

      Reply
  4. Joe Dellaria

    Hi Mary,
    I am well aware of similar stories and debated whether to include that in the blog. You did a nice job of phrasing the story in a kind and gentle fashion. It turns out that liquid excrement from humans contains electrolytes (i.e. charged particles [sodium and potassium to be specific – sorry I am a chemist]) that carry the charge from the fence to the person. The other reason I didn’t include this was it’s hard to type when you are wincing imagining the pain that would cause. I have not talked to someone with firsthand experience, so I don’t know how long the pain lasts. All I know is, I will always use a tree in lieu of an electric fence post.
    Thanks for the reply!
    All the best, Joe

    Reply
    1. Mary S. Kuss

      I should have known that this would not have been an isolated incident. Sorry if I grossed anyone out–or caused them to have sympathy pains. I figure it’s always better to be warned in advance of situations like that. Being female, I can’t imagine what this would feel like or how long it would take to get over it. I’m sure it’s not good, though.

      Reply
  5. Joe Dellaria

    Hi Mary,

    As I said, I am happy I don’t have any firsthand experience with this. AND, I will be happy to go to heaven having never experienced such an incident!
    All the best, Joe

    Reply
  6. Joe Duca

    Thanks for the warning Joe. As I told Mary I almost had a close encounter of the #1 kind with an electric fence. I didn’t realize there’s​ a difference in the juice they produce. Perhaps I shouldn’t​ have touched it by hand either. From now on I’ll take the long way around.

    Reply
  7. Michael Vorhis

    Guys, for the kind of electric fence that sends high-voltage pulses out onto the wire about every second, there’s still the “time it” approach, if you’re so inclined. My ponies could do it. Just listen for the loud solenoid “click” and make sure you’re neither touching nor…uh…aiming electrolytic liquids onto the wire…when the click happens.

    You’ll have to be a lot more adventurous than I am to try this strategy. But you’d go down in some kind of history for having tried.

    Remember: One second window, no more. Best to guardband it by about 100 milliseconds after the click, for propagation time of the pulse along the wire.

    By all means let us know how it turns out! : )

    – Mike

    Reply

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