Bolts of Lightning

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A bolt from the sky, and a bolt back to safety
By ALAN CLEMONS, The Fishing Wire

 Tuesday afternoon at the gas pump the first drops of rain hit the windshield, and then a bolt of lightning slithered from the black cloud that I’d somehow failed to notice back to the east.

Turns out our little hamlet was assaulted by a late-afternoon summer thunderstorm that rolled in like a Mack truck with fury and speed. Ominous clouds built into a mass of hellish blackness and peppered parts of the city with hail, rain and lightning along with a chilly wind that eventually took it northeast.

Of course, that was about the time I was planning to go fishing. Just a quick lap around the neighborhood lake to clear some cobwebs. Instead of a lunch break, I typically take a bass break. Hey, when you can, do it.

I don’t mind rain. I don’t mind wind. Heck, I don’t even mind wind and rain as long as I’m in a rainsuit or have just decided to get wet. Last July at Bienville Plantation in Florida the gentle rain didn’t bother me or veteran Bassmaster pro Bernie Schultz. After my protestations to stay on the lake instead of going to retrieve a jacket I had an explosive blowup on a topwater, and then caught a fat 7-pounder. Schultz then whacked a bigger one, we figured out the bite and it was on like Donkey Kong.

Lighting is another story. I’m always watching the skies for it when storms start brewing. Lightning can strike well in advance of visible cloud. You may see that towering mass off in the distance and even see some bolts snaking across the sky or to the ground. But you may not see that leading edge of supercharged electrons seeking a strike point … which could be you or your fishing rod out on the lake, dock or pond shoreline.

The National Weather Service offers some myths and truths about lightning:

http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/pdfs/LightningMyths-1.pdf

Of the deaths by lightning from 2006-09, according to the NWS, the majority occurred in June, July and August. That makes sense with more people out recreating during the summer, of course. Of those who died in 2008, a third were on or near water and 36 percent of the overall number were between the ages of 20-25.

The fatalities included fishing and hunting deaths, but were not limited to those and included walking, mowing the yard, golfing and clearing brush. Lightning does not discriminate.

Just about every angler has a story involving lightning. Some are pretty darn scary. I’ve heard of pro anglers who got trapped in open water during storms that formed rapidly and were surrounded by lightning strikes or were hit.

Most tales include seeing fishing line rising off the water and floating in air or hearing a buzzing sound. I’ve seen both, at the same time, on Guntersville Lake while fishing with a friend. We sought shelter in his truck before the storm hit, waited about 45 minutes and then returned to the water after it passed.

My rod tip buzzed upon making a cast and the line floated. I lowered my rod tip to about six inches above the water’s surface and it still buzzed like a little rattlesnake. My friend just laughed and kept fishing. I didn’t make another cast until things settled down. Whether that would have mattered, I don’t know. But I wasn’t keen on becoming a modern-day Ben Franklin with a rod instead of a kite.

A few years ago a severe storm hit during a Bassmaster tournament. Some anglers sought shelter; some continued fishing. I mentioned that to BASS founder Ray Scott a couple of weeks later and he got to the point.

“You know why they aren’t scared of lighting?” he asked. “Because they haven’t been hit yet.”

Don’t take chances.

You can fish another day if you’re smart enough to get out of the storm.

– Alan Clemons