Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The day that lightning struck twice.

Your Olympic Peninsula Fly Fishing Guide.
Catch & Release, Fly Fishing Only!

Learn about lightning safety here:

  Having grown up in the northeast, I learned from an early age to be aware of lightning, and how to avoid it.  We would stand on the front porch on a summer evening and watch the sky light up for miles around us. We would see the flashes of electricity arcing across the sky, and we would count, "One-thousand-one, one- thousand-two, one-thousand-three . . ." Waiting for the booming thunder to follow the bright flashes of light. If the time between flashes of lightning and booming thunder got progressively shorter, we would go indoors and sit in the living room, away from windows, doors, wiring or plumbing etc. And if we were playing outdoors, we knew to get to shelter at the first rumbling of thunder in the distance. 

  There were plenty of stories about people, horses, livestock etc., that had been hit by lightning, and many were killed by this. I had countless televisions, answering machines, coffee makers, refrigerators, etc., killed by lightning strikes too. So I was always well aware of the dangers. I didn't take any chances. It was a common experience to be out fishing somewhere, on a hot, humid, hazy day, and to have a storm cell move in and suddenly lightning was sparking and booming all around you. The scariest times where when we would be out on a lake in an aluminum canoe when these storms would erupt. You either paddle like crazy for the shore, or you take your chances, lying on top of the life jackets  in the bottom of the canoe. Either way it is a crap shoot.  

    Once I began guiding fishermen in southwest Alaska, I learned that they almost never heard of any lightning strikes there. Some of the  other guides in camp had been there for years of fishing seasons and they never saw any lightning there. I though that was good news. I wouldn't have to worry about it all summer. One afternoon in July I was out behind the kitchen in the yard, washing out some coolers. It was a bluebird day, clear as a bell, about 70 degrees, no wind, plenty of mosquitoes. And then, "out of the blue"- CRAAAAAAKKK-BOOM!

   The lightning had struck the pump house, just a few dozen yards away. I was appropriately surprised / terrified by this. I was inside of that Lodge in a flash. My ears were ringing. Everyone in camp was surprised. They all went out to see the pump house, where it's tin rook was still smoking from the heat of the lightning discharge. I stayed behind, back on the sofa in the lodge, my hands folded in my lap. Outside the sky was still a lovely pastel blue, with no clouds or wind. I waited inside for an hour before going back out the door. We had to carry water by bucket for the rest of that week, as we waited for a new replacement pump. That was the closest call with lightning that I had ever experienced. And it was disturbing to me since no one expected that in that region, especially on a day like that. Any time I was in the outdoors back home in New England, I was always careful to seek cover right away, at the first sign of electrical storm danger. 

This stuff will kill you. Photo NOAA

      Once I had moved to the Puget Sound region I learned that lightning was more likely to occur in the mountains, and that closer to sea level it was "rare."  (My post-Alaska updated interpretation of the term "rare" included a presumed geographical radius of  about 50 feet of safety.) I wasn't going to take any chances!

     And then one warm, humid June day, I was out walking the beaches with a father and son whom I had guided several times before. We were sea-run cutthroat trout fishing on the Olympic Peninsula. As we were fishing our way down a sandy point, the air grew warmer, and heavier. And way off in the distance, from up in the mountains, I could hear thunder rolling down the slopes. I silently counted to myself, "One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three one-thousand . . ."  We could see just the faintest flicker of lightning flashes. The air had an ozone smell to it, and the thunder was growing ever closer. I knew we would have to seek shelter immediately. I told my guests to put their graphite fishing rods down on a nearby log, and run to their car. They looked at me like I was flat nuts. But once they saw me running back to the parking lot, they reacted quickly. (Perhaps the only thing more rare than being hit by lightning would be to see me actually running!)

   We got back the hundred yards to the cars, and a thunderstorm was blowing over the hills, across the bay, and right down upon us. Breathlessly, I told the men to stay in the car, keep their hands on their laps, touching nothing, don't put the keys in the ignition, keep the windows shut. Wait till the storm passes. Then I turned to get into my truck. I was standing in a puddle, holding the steel door, stepping into the truck, when the lightning struck the fence nearby. It sounded like a howitzer cannon going off, right next to my head. The pain was immediate, and overwhelming. There were little streaks of electricity showering off of the fence-line, grounding into anything nearby. I was instantly, utterly paralyzed with electricity and pain. Every cell in my body was on fire. I couldn't do anything as my muscles were rigid with the shock. It felt like an eternity. I thought, "This is the end." And then it let go of me. Just as suddenly, I was able to now move, and I jumped into my truck, with lightning banging all around us. I glanced over at the guys, still safely in the car next to me, and their faces were transfixed in horror and astonishment, at the sight of me, still alive, just sitting in my truck smiling back at them.  

   We watched the storm blow through, and as it swept across the bay and up over the opposite shoreline, with  flashes of lightning and rumbling thunder all of the way. In about a half hour it was out of sight, and the air had cleared. It was a nice, cooler, sunny day on the beach. So we went fishing again.  We were all giddy with the experience. I felt alright at the time. Just glad to have survived that lightning shock. And I was happy to be fishing again. The dad in this pair was casting a streamer, and stripping it back in, and it had been slow going. But now he had a good fighting, robust fish on. And even though it was "early" for it, I suspected that he had hooked a big ocean run coho. He had the rod deeply bent, in an almost vertical lifting pose, when I told him to just walk back up the beach, until the fish touches the sand. He did it, perfectly, and the fish slid into a few inches of water at our feet. There in the wash of the waves, I looked down to see a beautiful, enormous, wild sea-run cutthroat trout, well over 20 inches long. And with a flip and a turn the fish darted away, leaving the barbless hook Clouser Minnow fly on the beach as he darted away. I was dumbstruck. The old man had let all of the pressure off of the fish. He had allowed the leader to go completely slack. And that was that. 

Trust me when I tell you that lightning struck me twice that day. 

This is probably the most relaxing way to fish for sea-run cutthroat.
One angler, maybe two,  Call or write for details.

Your Olympic Peninsula Fly Fishing Guide and Instructor

    I am guiding fly fishers on the Olympic Peninsula beaches, rivers and streams. We walk and wade, or row along the shorelines in the dory, fly fishing for sea-run Coastal Cutthroat trout in freshwater and saltwater, and in the rivers for Cutthroat trout and summer steelhead. This is all strictly catch and release, traditional, barbless single hook, fly fishing only. Lunch, snacks, soft beverages, and use of some equipment is included. I also offer personalized and private fly fishing and fly casting instruction for beginners through advanced casters. I would be happy to help you plan your Olympic Peninsula fly fishing adventure, for all levels of ability, beginner to expert. Public presentations, Naturalist Guide, rowboat picnics, tide pool and  river trail day trips. Please call, write or email for booking details. Now booking for April through October and beyond. 

Bob Triggs
Little Stone Flyfisher
P.O. Box 261
Port Townsend, WA

Licensed Washington State Guide 
Certified Fly Casting Instructor
Trout Unlimited Aquatic Educator Award
2006 W.S.U.Beach Watcher / Water Watcher graduate
U.S.C.G First Aid/CPR/BLS/AED/BBP/HIV Certified

Phone: 360-385-9618


Unknown said...

Great story Bob. I will tell you sometime about my Grand Canyon lightning experience. Cheers, Bo

Bob Triggs said...

Thank you, Bo!