Lightning is major danger to fishermen

Larry Woody • Updated Jul 31, 2013 at 8:27 AM

A few summers years ago I was fishing on Old Hickory Lake when the sky suddenly began to darken and thunder started to rumble off in the distance.

My fishing buddy suggested we head to the shore, but we were catching schooling white bass and I didn’t want to leave. I predicted the storm would go around us.

Even when flashes of lightning began to flicker, they were a long away off and didn’t seem like much of a concern.

Suddenly a bolt flashed across the lake and electricity bounced my feet off the bottom of the aluminum boat. I wasn’t hurt – it was like the tingling shock when you touch an electric fence – but the jolt was enough to send us racing to the bank.

We were lucky. According to a recent report, lightning kills more people involved in fishing than in any other activity.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that since 2006 64% of all people killed by lightning were participating in outdoors activities, with the majority of them being fishermen.

Twenty-six fishermen were killed by lightning, compared to eight golfers killed during the same period.

Based on fatalities, fishing was the most dangerous activity during a lightning storm, followed by camping, boating, soccer and golf.

Other lighting-related deaths occurred during such outdoors activities as swimming, walking, riding and picnicking.

It’s easy to understand why fishermen are especially vulnerable to lightning strikes. They are out on an open, exposed area, surrounded by metal objects.

Storms can blow up quickly and unexpectedly, especially in the summer, catching boaters out on the water. Their only option to try to escape the storm is to race back to the shore or dock, and on larger lakes that can involve a long ride – all the while vulnerable to a lightning bolt.

Also, when a storm is brewing there are changes in the barometric pressure which often produce a burst of activity among game and fish species. Most fishermen have experienced instances in which fish went into a frenzy just before a storm.

That was the case that day on Old Hickory. We’d been fishing for hours without catching anything, the suddenly, just as the storm began to blow in, the white bass went wild. We were catching fish on every cast.

When slow fishing suddenly becomes hot, it’s hard to pull up and leave. It’s tempting to hope that the storm will by-pass your area, or that it will consist of only rain and wind and can be ridden out.

But in the summer, when there’s rain and wind there’s also a chance of lightning. Waiting around to ride it out is risky.

I know veteran fishermen who will fish through sleet and snow and icy winds, but who race to the dock at the first distant flicker of lightning.

I’m one of them, having been lucky enough to survive one near miss.

They say lightning never strikes twice in the same place, but I’m not going to stay on the water during another storm to see if that’s true.

When it comes to lightning, one strike and you’re out.

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