They are going to get the temperatures right this time, really most of the time, but they missed our snow storm today by a scant 4-8 inches, depending on the meteorologist you listen to. Call it climate change or not, these folks with their balloons and satellite imagery still have a hard time with forecasts these days. I am not bashing them. As a novice pilot I have spent a lot of time pouring over charts and data, but am careful to note the locations of various inviting airports along my flight path should their prognostications fall short. When in the air, it is all about wind and clouds for me, not really too complicated. When it doesn’t look good, I don’t fly. It is that simple. Fishing presents another, different weather challenge. The following story illustrates my point.
The exact date is of no consequence. Suffice to say it was sometime in the very late 90’s on an impossibly clear April morning that three good friends and I enjoyed a cup of coffee before launching our boats on Truman Lake. In those days, we were all still gainfully employed and when you took a few days off to fish, usually clustered around a weekend, you went. We were convinced that is why a fellow named W. L. Gore invented Gore-Tex back in 1969. This miracle fabric could repel liquid water and at the same time allow water vapor to pass through. It was during this time that cell phones were evolving with the ability to capture somewhat crude but useful radar images of storm fronts and such. One of our group, Mark Musso of Special Olympics fame, possessed such a phone and we gathered around to look at a loosely formed storm front that was some distance to the west of our location. These radar images were not as sharp as today and the accompanying script did not mention the speed of this squall line. It also failed to mention the expected intensity. With this information in our heads, we launched and began the ride from Berry Bend to one of my crappie haunts, Wright’s Creek. We were not alone, as the crappie were rumored to be biting, resulting in a line to launch our boats. Finally, we were underway, turning west on Truman Lake for the 25 minute boat ride. Being courteous, I throttled back my boat to provide guide service to the second, less powerful boat. I noted the “gathering” clouds to our west and made a mental note to immediately break out the rain suit when we reached our destination.
Wright’s Creek is a long tree filled creek and I was the lead boat, again coursing a route through the trees and such when our entourage gathered boat to boat to discuss the rapidly advancing squall line. Not being meteorologists, we quickly deduced this was not an ordinary spring thunderstorm and a decision was made to get back to the ramp and pull out until things settled down. Truman is filled with dead trees with limbs big enough to easily kill you when they become waterlogged and snap off. With unbelievable lightning just to our west and a freshening breeze kicking up, we retraced our route back to open water and made for the ramp. The front was catching us and I abandoned any gentlemanly instinct and ran, wide open, for the ramp, trusting that Ralph, the driver of the second boat could remember the way back. He told his partner, Mark, that when he saw the rooster tail come up behind my boat that it would be the last time they saw us until and if they made it back to Berry Bend. Our troubles were just beginning.
When we made the wake buoys at Berry Bend, we were one of easily 30 boats who had made the same decision to pull out. Lightning was striking both sides of the bank where the ramp was located, leaving the acrid smell of electricity lingering in the air. It was just a matter of time before one of the boats was struck. I have never seen such intensity in my life, with the issue complicated by driving rain and wind. I managed to get my brother-in-law, Dennis to the courtesy ramp and he ran for the truck, in a lot located straight up the side of steep hill. To suggest there was confusion on the ramp would be an understatement. Folks were panicking, backing into one another and up onto the courtesy dock, creating quite a show. Soon, Ralph heaved into sight, white knuckled, and worked his way to the dock sending Mark for his tow vehicle. He then hunkered down and drifted toward my location, with lightning still flashing all around us. When he came along side, I suggested he get his boat, made of aluminum, away from me as it was surely a lightning rod. We shared a laugh but understood the gravity of our predicament. It was at this point, in the height of the storm, that a fisherman came in, obviously panicked, and ran a beautiful Ranger boat up a rocky bank, before jumping out and running toward the lot. It was that bad.
Finally, the mess on the ramp abated and both of us managed to trailer our boats and make for a little cafe not far from the the launch point. We were wet, cold and still wide eyed from our experience that morning, and enjoyed a big breakfast and copious cups of coffee. The storm front passed, however, the radar indicated there were additional squall lines developing to our west and we put our recent experience to good use. We stopped in to visit our custom jig maker where we waited out the next storm. Later that afternoon, we did venture back out and all caught a number of nice fish. I have a healthy respect for thunderstorms, having lost an uncle many years ago to a lightning strike while standing on his porch after a storm had “passed”. My experience that morning enhanced that respect.
Today’s meteorologists, like Gore-Tex are pretty good, but they can’t stay ahead of Mother Nature, who serves at the hand of the Master. Mother Nature is just one of the tools the Master employs to send a message and on this day, I got the message!