Dave Micus, Plum Island Sound

August 30th, 2004

The Storm
By Dave Micus

Though I fish from a kayak almost every day during the striped bass season, I really prefer to use the boat as transportation to get me to places I couldn't otherwise reach. Fishing from a kayak has its limitations; because of its low profile it's difficult to cast any distance, and, opposite of shore fishing where the fish move and you can't, you'll find in the kayak the fish stationary but you're moving with the current. So my preference is to beach the kayak and fish from shore. When the fish move I launch and follow.

And that was this evening's strategy. High tide was 10:08, a storm loomed on the horizon, and I figured that this added up to the bass gorging on baitfish in the bay in front of my house from dusk, 7:36, until the storm drove them deeper. I'd launch and paddle to the marsh island off shore, get out and fish, and time it so I'd be on the water during the frenzy, but home before the tempest. At least that was the plan.

My initial instincts were true. Before I even reached the wide channel I planned to fish I could see terns diving and hear the 'pop' that sounds like a small caliber firearm and is bass slashing bait on the surface. I quickened the pace and came on the largest school of bass feeding that I've seen all year. They were in the middle of the channel, too far a cast from the bank, so I fished from the boat. I was on quickly, landed the fish, paddled back to position, cast, and was on again. It would have been repetitive but fishing never is, the only pause between hooking fish being the time it took to paddle back to the school after being pulled away by the current.

All fly fishers are a bit A.D.D., one of the symptoms being a hyper-focus that precludes the intrusion into consciousness of anything except you and the fish. In the middle of a feeding frenzy I failed to notice that the sky had been all the while fading to black. The bass vanished with the first growl of thunder.

Lightning fractured the heavens and the sky collapsed under the weight of the rain. The route home wasn't very long, maybe 600 yards, but it was across an open bay where, even sitting in a yak, I'd be not only the tallest structure for two square blocks, but the only structure with two lightning rods, a graphite fly rod and a metal paddle. Not taking the chance, I sculled to a point about 75 yards away that my kids had christened 'rock island' because of a pile of very large rocks in an area otherwise barren of stone and is probably the remains of a colonial wharf.

I beached the yak and hunkered down among the large stones, counting the time between seeing a lightning strike--one Mississippi, two Mississippi--and hearing the thunder to determine if the storm was coming closer or moving away. I mined my memory for facts about lightning, things like lightning strikes the earth about 100 times per second, and approximately 80 people die each year in the United States from being struck by lightning, but actually I read those later. The only thing I remembered, other than the counting between flash and sound, was the arcane tidbit that you are more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a shark-a statistic meant to coddle salt water swimmers but not much comfort in my current predicament. (I wonder if anyone has been struck by lightning while being attacked by a shark. What would the odds be?)

But I've always cherished lightning storms, and I can remember as a child sitting on my front porch in Chicago, spellbound by the dramatic squalls so common in the mid-west. My mother, assuming I was scared, told me that storms were "God bowling." "Yea, and we're the pins," my oldest brother added, which, though meant to, didn't frighten me. And I wasn't frightened now; the rain, though a deluge, was refreshing, the lightning a treat, and I had skybox seating to one of nature's more dramatic performances. The gods, as Dylan Thomas said, were thumping the clouds. I stayed for the entire show, but headed for home before the encore.

Out of habit I trolled a fly behind the yak, and, about 200 yards from shore, I had a tremendous hit that instantly snapped the leader at the knot. This is 20lb fluorocarbon that I had replace the day before, tied with a Bimmini, rated at 100% line strength, and it would take a very large fish to break off that quickly. I reeled in to rerig, hoping to catch a classmate, but a stray bolt of lightning suggested a wiser course. Once home I put on warm, dry clothes and a pot of coffee, then moved to the porch and watched as the storm blew out to sea. ~ 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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