March 13th, 2000

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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Go Fishing and Get Back Home Alive

By Don Cianca

One ZAP! and a life can come to a quick end, at the very least, a life can be altered dramatically. It is safe to say we have all heard of someone being killed or involved in some freak accident while out enjoying a day of fishing. This article deals with the possible dangers when using our graphite flyrods.

Power lines have delivered inexpensive energy to our homes and busineses throughout the twentieth centruy. Once the electricity has been been generated, it travels over power tansmission and distribution lines seeking an easy path to ground. Once the electricity reaches our homes and we put it to work, we turn a switch that allows that electricity to get to ground, but we make it work for us first. It turns the motors in our appliances, luminates our homes and places of work, and does countless functions which make our lives easier.

We know how Ben Franklin flew a kite in a storm, touched a key on the kite string and felt a tickle. (He didn't know how lucky he was!) If that string had been made of a conducting material, old Ben would have been fried by the discharge of lightning traveling down the line (and through him) on it's way to ground.

A graphite flyrod contains materials which are conductive. (see the simplified diagram above.) If a graphite rod was placed between a source of power and a path to ground, the power would travel through the rod and get to the ground. Add a fisherman at the end of the rod, and it would travel through the fisherman too.

Recently, I heard of a fisherman who was traveling along a stream and had to pass through a grove of willows. He held his 9 foot graphite flyrod well above his head as he worked his way through the dense willows. He was unaware that he was passing under a power line. A 6 foot tall person, extending a hand upward can reach approximately 7 1/2 feet. Add a 9 foot graphite rod and that totals 16 1/2 feet. The National Electric Safety Code requires that a power line of from zero to 750 volts can be no closer to a body of water than 15 feet. From 750 to 22,000 volts, no closer than 17 feet. There can be times, perhaps through vandalism or because of undetected storm damage, when a line might even be lower. It was not determined whether the rod touched the line or it cam close enough to draw the current. Never the less, the fisherman was found dead.

In addition to the graphite in a flyrod, sinking lines contain conductive materials which add to their density. Add some surface dirt, water, and even a 5-foot tall fisherman can be zapped with a backcast that strikes an energized power line. The safe approach is always to "Look up" know where you are when around power lines.

A few years ago while fishing on the lower Beaverhead River, I had a learning experience while fishing and trying to beat a storm. It was obvious the storm was moving in my direction and I had already been fishing for a few hours. I had one last spot I wanted to try before heading back to the safety of my truck. The wind had picked up and casting was now more difficult. My pointing finger had migrated above the cork handle and was pushing on the graphite butt (admittedly, not the perfect grip.) I noticed a strange sensation traveling from my finger along my arm. At first, I though I was feeling the effect of fishing too long. Suddenly I realized what was happening! HEY STUPID! YOU HAVE A GRAPHITE ROD IN YOUR HANDS, THERE IS LIGHTNING IN THE AREA, YOU'RE ABOUT TO BE ZAPPED!

Although the pick up was only some 100 yards away, it seemed like miles. I didn't run, but walked calmly (well I tried to) until I reached the pick up and the safety of its metal cage. The storm blew over in a few minutes and I watched several earth shaking lightning strikes in the area from the safety of my metal womb.

Don't push your luck when you are out fishing. Keep your graphite flyrod in a horizontal position when under power lines, and be aware of where power lines are when casting. During lightning storms, get off the water and find shelter, preferably inside a car or truck. If you are caught in the middle of a field, crouch down and minimize your vertical profile - not with your graphite rod in your hand. Don't stand under a tree! Go fishing and get back home alive. ~ Don Cianca (aka Uncle Don)

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