Summer’s Greatest Danger for Fly Fishers

summer's greatest danger

Summer’s greatest danger for fly fishers may be the least obvious one. I typically worry about rattlesnakes, grizzly bears, and drowning when I head for the river on a hot summer day. But summer’s greatest danger for fly fishers is lightning.

It’s a danger that can strike almost without warning — although there are usually some advance signs such as dark skies and a drop in temperature. Here are a few tips I’ve read over the years for staying safe from summer’s greatest danger:

1. Stay alert when a storm is brewing or ending.

According to outdoor writer Keith McCafferty, most lightning strikes occur near the start or the end of afternoon storms.

“This is when positive and negative charges,” he says, “which collide to produce the flash between clouds and the ground, build up the most electricity.”

2. Put down that “lightning rod” (a.k.a., fly rod).

It’s no secret that that a graphite rod serves as an effective conductor of electricity. So put it flat down on the ground —not leaning up against a tree.

While you’re at it, avoid metal fence posts and tall trees.

3. Stay in your vehicle, not outside it

Mark Leberfinger, a staff writer for AccuWeather.com, says the notion that rubber tires protect occupants of a car is a myth. It’s the metal frame on which those tires sit that makes the difference. Lightning charges typically go around the outside of a vehicle (the reason why you want to be inside).

Plus, the metal frame directs lightning to the ground. Keep those windows shut, though. Backhoes and bulldozers with enclosed canopies are safe, too, during thunderstorms. But I’m guessing most fly fishers don’t use heavy equipment as their mode of transportation to the river.

4. Go low and get down.

Are you standing on a ridge? Get down! Take cover in low shrubs — not under tall trees.

Keith McCafferty recommends squatting like a baseball catcher. This gets you low to the ground but with minimal body contact — just your two feet. This works especially well for folks like Yadier Molina, All-star catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals.

However, middle-aged folks can’t do it for too long. Believe me, I’ve tried it. But do it if your skin tingles, your body hair stands up, and your mouth tastes metallic. Those are signs of an impending strike. Don’t get too low, though. By that I mean, avoid damp depressions. These act as conductors for lightning as it travels along the ground.

5. Row to shore

If you’re fly fishing from a drift boat, row to shore at the first sign of a storm. Then move away from the boat and take cover in small shrubs. If you get caught in a storm, stay as low in the boat as possible, keeping your arms and legs inside. Make sure your fly rod is lying flat.

According to the National Weather Service, lightning kills an average of 47 people in the U.S. per year. Hundreds more are severely injured. So don’t worry about being overly cautious.

When a storm approaches, do what you can to stay safe from summer’s greatest danger. The trout will still be there when the storm passes. Make sure that you are too.

S3:E48 Fly Fishing Safely in the Summer

fly fishing

Fly fishing safely is harder than it sounds, For sure, fishing is no extreme sport. Recently, however, while we were fishing in Yellowstone National Park, two fly fishers were attacked by a grizzly – just a drainage system over from us. Besides bears, there are other risks, of course, such as lightning. In this episode, Dave tells a harrowing story about a friend who was struck by lightning and lived to tell about it. But not before her heart stopped.

Listen now to “Fly Fishing Safely in the Summer”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last segment of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoy hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experiences.

What did we miss? What are other important safety concerns when fly fishing in the summer? Tell us your stories of “close calls”!

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The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists

We’ve published a book for regular-Joe-and-Jane fly fishers called The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists: Life is short. Catch more fish.

One person who purchased the book called it “cliffsnotes for fly fishers.”

To switch metaphors, perhaps it’s more like a handful of potato chips. It’s an entire book of lists. The goal is to help you find practical help quickly and in an easily digestible format!

Buy it today on Amazon for only $13.99!

4 Benefits of Fly Fishing with a Buddy

I enjoy solitude when I fly fish. Yet I rarely fly fish alone. I like to fly fish with a buddy, if only because there’s someone to take pics of my big fish (or buffalo bone).

The truth is, it is better to fly fish with a buddy or a brother or a sister or a spouse. In the past year of fly fishing, I have been on the water eighteen days (I know, it doesn’t seem like enough). On every one of those days, I have fished with someone else — either my podcast partner Dave, my brother, my sons, or another close friend.

Why is a fishing partner such a big deal? Here are four benefits of fly fishing with a buddy or someone else.

Safety

This is at top of the list for a reason. Your life might depend on it.

Four years ago, my sons I and hiked into a high mountain lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail took us up the side of a waterfall. On our way back from fly fishing the lake, we came across a hiker who had broken her ankle. She was in a group, and one of them had hiked out to find a park ranger. By the time we made it down the waterfall, we heard and saw the helicopter that came to rescue her.

The buddy system results in a timely rescue.

A couple weeks ago, I slipped at the edge of a small stream I was fishing and fell forward in some shallow water. The only casualty was a cracked fly box. But I reflected later on how I could have hit my head on a nearby boulder and passed out. If I had been alone, that could have been disastrous even in shallow water. I was glad that my podcast partner, Dave, was only thirty yards away. It was a win-win situation.

Since I wasn’t hurt, he got a good laugh. But had I been hurt, he was there to help.

Dave and I regularly fish in grizzly bear country, so having two fly fishers — each armed with bear spray — is critical. Sometimes a bear can attack you so fast that there is no time to unleash the contents of your canister. But a friend can. One of my bow-hunting partners saved the life of his friend a few years when a grizzly attacked faster than his friend could get to his bear spray. Then, he was able to help his friend back to their SUV before the bear returned and before his friend bled to death. The recovery required a couple surgeries. But the attack might have led to death if my friend’s friend had been hunting alone.

Problem-Solving

Another benefit of fly fishing with a buddy is having another brain.

Recently, Dave and I were fishing for fall browns in the Gardner River in Yellowstone National Park. We took turns drifting our nymphs through the same run. We were catching fish, but Dave pointed out to me that I was missing some strikes. He suggested that the almost imperceptible hesitation of my strike indicator was a subtle strike. So I started setting the hook every time my strike indicator made a slight bump. Every time, taking Dave’s suggestion resulted in hooking a fish.

Later in the day, I returned the favor on another run that I had fished a couple days before. After watching Dave’s casts, I suggested that he cast about 10 feet further upstream so the nymphs he was using would be deeper when they reached the hot zone. It worked. Sometimes it takes a friend to spot the obvious or not-so-obvious solution to those times when the fish are not biting.

Sharing the Joy

There’s something satisfying about sharing the moment with someone else. When Dave and I catch fish, we whoop it up together. I can honestly say I enjoy watching Dave catch big trout (okay, as long as I’m catching them too!). Then there are the hilarious moments. I was glad Dave witnessed the 20-inch buffalo bone (the picture above) I landed when we fished the Gardner together!

Like any other joy in life, fly fishing is meant to be shared. This goes beyond catching trout, though. It extends to seeing the sun flood a beautiful meadow, watching a couple of wolves saunter along the bank of the Yellowstone River, or hearing the piercing bugle of a bull elk on a September morning.

Remembering

As much as I try to slow down in the moment and take in the experience, I find that I forget certain aspects of a day on the river. That’s why I force myself to share dinner at the end of the day with my fly fishing buddies. Well, okay, I really don’t have to force myself to do this! Dinner is the capstone of a great day. Often, the dinner conversation I have with Dave or my brother or one of my sons will remind me of moments or experiences I had forgotten.

Sometimes, even years later, I’ll be talking about a certain trip with one of them, and they will remind me of some moment or experience that had vanished from my memory.

As a wise writer once said, “Two is better than one. . . . if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. . . . Though they may be overpowered, two can defend themselves” (Eccl. 4:9-10, 12). While that applies to all of live, it certainly relates directly to your next fly fishing adventure.

Episode 46: One Magical Day on the River

fly fishing guides

Ever have a magical day on the river? Of course you have. But such days tend to be less common than we imagine. In this episode, we recount a magical day on the river that we know will never be repeated. Three of us fly fished a stretch of water on a warm August day when the trout feasted on hoppers and the runs seemed endless. May the memory never dim.

Listen to Episode 46: One Magical Day on the River

We’ve recently introduced a feature to our podcast – “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.”

At the end of each episode, we read a few of the comments from the blog or from Facebook. We appreciate your advice, wisdom, and experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

Do you have a day on the river to remember? We’d love to hear your stories.

Also, don’t forget to visit Casting Across, a blog we mention in the podcast.

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