Dave Micus, Plum Island Sound

July 11th, 2005

Lightening Rod
By Dave Micus

My schedule has been so hectic lately that I haven't been able to do much fishing, to the point that I don't even have those open wounds at the first joint of each pinkie finger that I usually bear from early June until early November from cinching knots with saltwater-softened hands. I've been fishing maybe just three days per week instead of my usual five to seven during striper season, but before you think, "geez, three days a week is a LOT of fishing" remember that the striper fishery is a six month gig here in northern Massachusetts. Divide three by 2 (one half of a year), and I'm averaging fishing 1.5 days a week per year, barely the sustenance needed for the fly fisher's soul.

This past Saturday I was determined to fish in the morning, but, having worked the night before and due at work in the afternoon, I slept late and spent the rest of the day cursing my lazy ways. I resolved to fish Sunday morning, hoping to get out at 5 am, two hours before high tide, and fish the estuary system in front of my house that fishes well on a flood tide, but having worked late on Saturday, I again overslept. This was only a minor inconvenience, though--a nice thing about the salt is good tides happen twice a day, and, with no commitments, I could fish the evening tide. At least that was the plan.

As I was preparing the gear I could hear a rumbling, faint, like a large truck might make. I wasn't sure what it was but I had my suspicions; the day had been hot and humid and it was likely that the sound was distant thunder. I scanned the horizon, and it was dark with storm clouds, but not close. Always the optimist when it comes to fishing, I counted on the storm passing by my estuarine river and blowing out to sea.

I paddled the kayak to a marsh island, beached the boat, and fished a prominent point where a confluence of currents creates a dead spot-perfect holding water for bait and bass. On the second cast I hook a nice striper that takes line on three successive runs before I bring him to hand and release him. On the very next cast the same thing happens, and again on the next, déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra so elegantly said. I can still hear thunder but there is no lightning, and I think that I might just dodge the storm.

Growing up in the Midwest and having seen many a violent squall, I'm not particularly afraid of thunder storms and have had some great fishing when there is lightning - in the distance. With a six month season I fish when I can, not when I want to, and while I won't leave on a fishing excursion during a thunder storm, I won't cut and run if a storm comes up while I'm fishing. Instead I'll judge the intensity of the storm, its direction of travel, and make a decision based on these and other factors (like, are the fish biting?). This day the storm is in the distance, but I'm now seeing flashes of lightning and I know it is heading my way by the direction of the wind and the decreasing time between seeing the bolt of lightning and hearing the clap of thunder (counted in "Mississippis"). But I still have time, or at least I think so.

Judging the speed of an approaching storm using the Mississippi Method is an inexact science at best, and just as I throw a long cast there is a flash overhead, followed by an explosion of thunder without even one "Mississippi" between the two (maybe just a "Miss..."). "God looks over babies and drunks," my aunt used to say, but I'm old and (at the moment) sober, so I know it's time to quit.

I quickly reel in, intending to hunker down on the marsh bank and keep a low profile, but, as they often will on a reeled in fly, a nice striper hits the streamer, and I find myself playing a fish while holding a 9 foot lightning rod, afraid that both fish and fisherman will be fried. I'm grateful when the bimini is finally at the tip and the taut, 20 lb. fluro is emitting that faint humming noise like a violin string, usually music to my ears but not at the moment. I reach down and lip the bass, slip the barbless hook out of its mouth, and release him just as another bright flash cracks overhead. Now I'm in the middle of an electrical storm, and I make myself shrink so I'm not so obviously the highest point on this flat marsh, and I lay the new Albright on the ground, close but not too close. There are numerous bolts, but it's not as if they are striking the island (or even near by), and I know I'm safe.

When the storm subsides a bit I move back to the water's edge and debate whether to keep fishing, but a glance toward the horizon shows more thunderheads, so I decide to call it a day. While the lightning was intense the rain was sparse, but now the wind kicks up and the rain falls with a purpose. Luckily it's not a long paddle to shore; the waves are white-capped, the swells chaotic (unusual for this protected bay), and it feels a good bit like I'm kayaking through class 3 white water.

Later at home, while watching the news, I see that five people were injured when lightning struck their picnic, and I shake my head and wonder, "who the hell would be foolish enough to be out picnicking in a thunder storm?" ~ Dave

About Dave:

Dave Micus lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He is an avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor. He writes a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats) and teaches a fly fishing course at Boston University.


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