My wife wastes no time hustling grandchildren into safe shelter at the first signs of any electrical storm activity in our area. Here in Denver, this is a well justified response. Last May a dangerous lightning storm accompanied with roaring thunder and heavy rain rolled through the city, forcing hundreds of concert goers at Red Rock to rush to indoor shelter. Just a few weeks ago another intense lightning storm delayed a fireworks show at Coors Field and scored a direct hit on the Channel 9 radio building. In fact, Colorado has the third highest rate of lightning strikes in the nation, with 17 fatalities recorded between 2005 and 2014. I am planning another South Platte River fly fishing trip near Denver Colorado this weekend, and it is time to brush up on lightning safety procedures before heading out.
The most effective way to deal with lightning and thunderstorms is to avoid them entirely, paying attention to weather forecasts. However, Colorado fly fishermen and women know this is not possible. Storms here can appear quickly, often cresting over mountain peaks without warning. I follow the recommended rule of thumb to judge how quickly I have to take shelter. If the time between a lightning flash and resulting thunder is 30 seconds or less, this means the storm is only 6 miles or less away and I have to take immediate precautions.
I know that if I am wading or fishing from the bank, the first step is to move away from the water. My fishing rod should be placed flat on the ground. I could get some shelter by moving into brush or very short trees. The idea is to make myself the smallest structure in the area. For example, I could move into a ditch or lower area, or crouch on the balls of my feet to minimize contact with the ground.
A Minturn Anglers guide gave me good advice if a lightning storm catches me on the water in a drift boat. I would try to shelter under a bridge if one is nearby but avoiding any contact with the structure. If no such shelter is available, I would anchor away from any trees, place my rods flat in the boat, and sit on the bottom of the boat.
I love fly fishing and spend as much time on the water as possible. However, I want to be alive to come back so I plan to follow these simple safety precautions whenever I am caught in one of our spectacular lighting storms.