Wednesday, June 26, 2013


    Summer, more than any other season, showcases a remarkable ability to contrast black and white, clear bluebird skies and dark impending doom.  

When the skies turn dark, those in the comfort of their homes find the movie channel and take a nap; but the angler caught on the water has a decision of importance to make:  “pack it in, or stick it out?”

    Many anglers I’ve met may be too stubborn for their own good.  The answer to that question is almost always to stick it out—“…See what happens”—knowing full well the weather may change in an instant—or not.

    I’ve never been particularly swift at recognizing oncoming storms, hurricanes, etc. while on the water.  Polarized sunglasses, the time-freezing cadence of tumbling water, and a supreme focus on the end of my fly line almost always take precedence over and distract me from thunderheads and lightning.  Only when a falling notification from above slaps me on the head do I get around to thinking about things like personal safety and the two mile walk home.

    And it’s this circumstance that, I think, makes anglers so fond of braving wild storms—a case of selective sight.

    Check the forecast for the possibility of weather before leaving the house.  If the probability is high, keep a watchful eye on the sky.

    Even if weather is recognized prior to hopping in the water, I’ve always been a little unrealistically hopeful.  The thought that precedes an outing is enough to get a person excited, and that anticipation is motive to take chances with nature.  This means either being drenched for several long “ten more minutes” intervals before being carried back to the truck by apocalyptic winds, or enduring a short shower and fishing out the afternoon.  I’ve waited under rock ledges and stream banks enough to realize that Mother Nature is a merciless prankster and a habitual gambler, making us outdoorsmen prime playtoys.
    One particular summer I found myself totally immersed in Mother’s dry sense of humor (and by that I mean utterly wet sense of humor). 

    After work one day (a sunny, cloudless day) my brother and I decided to explore with our kayaks the upper reaches of a riverine reservoir.

    Paddling upstream and planning to float-fish back to take-out, we passed up the fishy holes, making mental note of them for the return trip.

    When we reached the point where it was evident no better fishing water lay ahead, we beached, stretched the legs, and fished a rather unpromising riffle.
Photo by Matt Reilly

    With enough light left to thoroughly fish the stretch of river between us and the truck, we shoved off downstream and proceeded to the first hole—a promising elbow, deep, with rocky shelves.

    Now, I’ve described what happened next consistently every time I’ve recounted it, by sound, because a slight bend in the river’s path blocked the view of the sky.

    After several minutes of quiet, I began to notice a growing white noise in what I thought was my subconscious.  Then, maybe an airplane, flying low and quickly getting closer?  But as I expected to see a jet barge into view from behind standing hardwoods, nothing came.

    I positioned my kayak to see past the trees and into the break allowed by the riverbed.  In the sky, a solid sheet of black clouds abutted what could have easily been Bimini’s lucid inshore waters, and was visibly moving in our direction.  Exponential winds and a gushing that resembled a breaching in the Hoover Dam quickly became obvious.  I had a decision to make:  “Stick it out, or paddle?”

    I had apparently already answered the question by the time it flashed through my mind, because I paddled past my brother, still oblivious to the clouds out of sight and asking what was happening.


    Though there was no official timekeeper present, in the half hour that followed I may have qualified for the men’s national canoe slalom team, dodging falling trees and fighting the wind around obstacles.  All the while, an iron curtain of rain engulfed the sky above us.

    By the time we had pulled our wet, debris-littered crafts up on shore, the rain had all but stopped.  The wind was no more, and Mother Nature dangled a rainbow in our faces mockingly after robbing us of an afternoon’s fishing.  If she is indeed a jokester, she had gone too far.

    Though I am normally a proponent of sticking it out, I’ve come to learn that “no matter what” doesn’t fly around Ms. Nature, especially during the summer.  Weather can change in the blink of an eye, and the water is no place to be when it changes for the worse.  So keep an eye on the sky, and have a safe and adventurous summer.

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