Donnie Burke of Charlotte, N.C., fell out of his boat and into the Catawba River a few years ago. 

In February. 

Luckily, he was camping on the river and wasn’t far from his campsite to which he quickly returned, built a fire, dried off, warmed up and changed into some dry clothes.

But the fact that things could have been much worse is not lost on him, and even though he never considered giving up winter fishing, he does do some things differently that will help him immensely if he takes a swim again.

“Before I even hit the water, I was just thinking how thankful I was that my campsite was close by, and I flung myself back into my boat and sped off as quick as possible. It wasn’t until later that night that I began to realize just how bad things could have been if my camp was farther away,” he said.

Before that incident, Burke never carried a change of clothes in his boat with him, but that’s one of the things he changed.

“Now, I carry a full change of clothes and a towel in my boat, and it takes up less space than you’d think,” he said.

The secret is in using vacuum-sealed bags that are sold in the travel sections of department stores. They are big Zip-lock bags with a valve for sucking the air out with a vacuum cleaner.

Burke’s bag contains a towel, a pair of boxers, a pair of pants, a long-sleeved shirt, a jacket and a pair of socks. He stores the under his boat’s deck alongside tackle boxes and other gear.

“You would never believe how much stuff is in that bag by looking at it. It’s small enough that it’s easy to forget about it, but it could save your life. I would have needed it to save my life that day if I had not been close to my campsite. And I don’t go fishing in the winter time without checking to make sure it’s there,” he said.