Lightning Thunder and Fishing

When the crashing thunder woke me Thursday night I smiled – thinking how glad I was to be at home and not on the lake. Lightning thunder and fishing do not go together for me! While I was growing up lightning terrified me no matter where I was. That came from spending the night on our screened in porch when I was about eight years old during a huge thunderstorm.

After that night lightning and thunder scared me. As I got older I learned that I could be safe, even outside, but I still will not be out in open water when a thunderstorm is near.

I was supposed to go to the Alabama River near Montgomery for an Alabama Outdoor News article early Thursday morning. On Wednesday night I talked with the fisherman taking me and we agreed to postpone it till this week due to the weather. Both of us agreed we don’t mind rain but do not want to be on the water during a light show!

That was the right decision. There was a BASS Open tournament on Smith Lake north of Birmingham starting Thursday. BASS sent out a text at 4:00 AM Thursday morning to the 350 fishermen entered in it that the first tournament day was canceled and it would be a two day rather than a three day tournament. They don’t do that except in dangerous circumstances.

Over the 42 years I have had a bass boat I have spent some scary hours in one on lakes during a thunderstorm. One of the first was in the early 1970s in late June on Bartletts Ferry just north of Columbus. Bob Pierce and I had gone down and camped before a tournament to practice.

Back then we always put in at the dam. Bob and I decided to run way up the Chattahoochee River one day. It is still dangerous but now there are channel markers to keep you off the mud flats. There were none back then.

We slowly worked our way up the river in my 1974 Arrowglass bass boat with a 70 HP motor, finding our way around the dangerous shallows. About 3:00 PM, without warning, lightning started popping all around us. We had not heard anything up until that time so did not have time to try to get back down the river. It was raining too hard to see even if the lightning had not bothered us.

I eased into a small creek where I felt safe with big overhanging trees on the bank, thinking if lightning hit one of the trees we would be ok in the boat. I had to keep using the trolling motor to hold us in the creek. The wind kept trying to blow us back out onto the river and open water.

After about an hour of this I realized the boat was no longer moving. It was so full of water it was sitting on the bottom, with the motor stuck in the mud. I turned on the bilge pump and it ran constantly for the next three hours.

As it started getting dark at about 8:00 the storm broke and we managed to get back to the campground. That was a miserable afternoon of sitting and not fishing.

A few years later on a hot August afternoon I went to Jackson to practice for a night tournament the following weekend. I had been fishing up Tussahaw Creek and catching a few fish but as it got dark I rode to the dam, in the same Arrowglass boat, and started fishing near it.

Again, suddenly and without any warning, the wind started howling over the dam and lightning started cracking around me. It was one of those storms so close you hear a crack, boom and thunder so close to gather it is almost one sound.

Back then there was no drum line keeping boats away from the dam. I pulled my boat right in the corner of it where it hit he rocks and put my trolling motor down between two rocks to hold me in place. The dam rose about 20 feet over me and had a metal railing that I thought would work as a lightning rod.

When I looked up the rain blew over the top of the dam sideways the wind was so strong. I sat down in the drivers seat and put my head on my arms on the steering wheel. I could still see the flashes of lightning. It was so bad my dog Merlin crawled under the console to hide.

After sitting like that for two hours the storm passed and I ran to Kersey’s, put the boat on the trailer and came home!

In a Top Six tournament at Lanier in the early 1990s I was in the first group of boats to go out. There were 91 boats in my flight and all were sitting in a group out from the ramp at Laurel Park waiting on the signal to start taking off.

We heard some thunder off in the distance then suddenly it was right on top of us. I told my partner I was not going to sit in open water and we idled over and got under a dock. The other 90 boats sat there and ignored the lightning.

I was boat number 89 of the 91 and when the others were let go the storm had moved on. I waited a few minutes then took off. Fortunately that was the last storm of the day!

We have lots of thunderstorms this time of year. Be safe, stay out of open water when fishing if one is near!