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.