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Lightning Reactions

Mark Bowler experiences fishing in the midst of a summer storm.

Fishing with nine feet of carbon-fibre lightning conductor...not the best idea!
Fishing with nine feet of carbon-fibre lightning conductor...not the best idea!

Conditions seemed perfect for a night's sea trouting: overcast and warm after a balm summer's day. I started a little earlier than normal in the streamy pool and saw three fish splash as I worked through it. Even more promising – fish were running. I'd felt a few spots of rain and, as it grew darker, I began to hear rolls of distant thunder. As I reached the tail of the streamy pool, I could distinguish lightning on the horizon. I began to count the seconds between the flashes and the thunder… 48, 49, 50… At five seconds per mile for sound to travel the storm was ten miles away. Probably out over the sea. I waded out of the pool and walked back to the car, the lightning intensifying, lighting up the distant clouds. Back at the car, I paused to watch the light-show, counting the seconds constantly. The southern sky was so charged with electricity the clouds flickered like a faulty kitchen strip-light.

I tried to take a photograph, but it's more difficult than you think, even though a flash-bulb of lightning was triggering every couple of seconds. I reckoned there were now two storms, one heading off to my right and one to my left. Counting seconds was now a bit difficult; it was not easy to distinguish one lightning bolt from its corresponding thunder-clap, but I figured the storm was veering away from me. I couldn't be certain, though.

Ok, what I'd do was fish the tail of the pool closest to me. If fish were running, they might pause there, and if the storm came towards me I could easily get to the car. Besides, I could also test my theory that fish don't take in thundery conditions. Sounded like a good plan.

However, what hadn't figured into my calculation was, second cast, hooking a hefty fish on my top dropper. Typically, as the fish surged away, I became aware that the storm had changed tack, and was now heading straight towards me. Suddenly, I became acutely aware that I was standing on a high bank with nine feet of carbon-fibre lightning conductor in my hand. Not such a good plan, now, eh?

Dilemma. Land a good fish and possibly fry, or lose a good fish. I have never played a fish with my rod tip so low to the water, and I have never played a fish so roughly and quickly. It's surprising what you can do when faced with a potentially life-threatening situation. I was counting the seconds feverishly now. I didn't need a torch either, as the almost continuous lightning bolts were bouncing off the clouds and throwing enough light to illuminate the fish and my landing net. Three miles… two miles…definitely getting too close for comfort. I threw my rod on the ground and ran with the fish in the net back to my car.

A quick photo – a good, wild brownie – as the first rain drops began to fall, then down the bank to release the fish, and I sank into the driver's seat of my car as the storm loomed and blasted directly overhead. It was at this point that I realised my other two rods – one with a Sunk Lure, one with big wet flies – were in the car-racks, sticking up like two large aerials. Now, I'd always thought that because the car is insulated by the rubber tyres it is perfectly safe in an electrical storm, but I was never that good at physics, and I discovered afterwards that, in theory, I was wrong. It is the metal chassis of the car that conducts away a lightning strike. Apparently, the metal structure of the car acts like a Faraday cage and – so long as you don't have the windows open, and don't touch the sides of the car, you'll be fine in the event of a strike (although I'd rather forgo the Faraday cage experience).

Thankful that I was still uncooked, as the storm started to work its way up river, and my second-count clocked up the storm as to two miles distant, I jumped out of the car, threw the two rods from the rack onto the ground and jumped back into my vehicular, Faraday-cage sanctuary.

It was only about then that I realised that I'd just caught my best wild trout of the season so far.

So, in conclusion: yes, fish do still feed in a thunderstorm and, no, I won't be testing the theory again. I suggest you don't either.

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