Take shelter from the storm before it hits
A rocket’s red glare wasn’t the only fireworks show on Independence Day weekend. Lightning put on a show that was exciting to see, unless sky gazers saw it from the lake.
A Friday morning of fishing at Beaver Lake was on our agenda July 5. Blue sky and wispy clouds made a pretty picture when we made our first casts at 6 a.m. Storms were in the forecast for later.
The day held promise with my fishing pal Dwayne Culmer catching a couple of largemouth bass on top-water lures. A Zara Spook did the trick. By 7, one of the meanest-looking storm clouds either of us had seen rolled in at low altitude from the northwest.
Its dark form showed beauty in its own way, with swirls and jagged cloud ridges, like an upside down mountain range in the sky. The thick mass seemed low enough to reach up and grab a hunk of storm cloud.
Nary a lightning flash was seen, but we wisely motored across the lake to fish closer to the boat ramp and Dwayne’s truck. Curtains of rain were a dark veil in the distance. Dwayne elected to put his boat on the trailer before the deluge hit. We could fish another day.
Lightning is a danger to all, but it’s an occupational hazard for people who make their living on the lake. Jason Piper of Rogers worked as a fishing guide at Beaver Lake for years. Sudden thunderstorms, especially in midsummer, were common. Keeping his customers safe was top priority, he said when we chatted later about lightning.
When a storm blew in, most often Piper would steer his boat into an empty covered dock stall for shelter. Through years of guiding, Piper has made friends with dock owners all over the lake. Often he was able to duck into the dock of someone he knew.
“I’d position the boat in the middle of the stall, where it wasn’t touching metal, and I’d tell the people with me not to touch anything metal,” Piper said.
He and his customers waited out some wicked storms, but Piper said lightning never struck a dock.
Sometimes he didn’t know who owned the dock where he took shelter. In all the years he guided, he never had a dock owner show up in the middle of a storm and holler, “Get the heck out of my dock.”
“I don’t think anyone would do that. We’re talking life and death, in my opinion,” Piper said.
His advice is to keep an eye on the weather. Know what to expect before heading to the lake.
“If you’re close to the ramp, you can always beach your boat and wait out the storm in your truck,” he said.
Start motoring back toward the ramp the moment the weather looks nasty, especially if there’s a murmur of thunder. Fish within safe reach of the ramp. That way skippers and passengers will be close to safety.
One thing Piper doesn’t recommend is making a long run to the ramp. It risks getting pounded in the middle of a thunderstorm when lightning is at its worst. That’s asking for trouble, from lightning and dangerously rough water if the storm blows a gale.
Stay safe during storms and live to fish another day.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org