LIGHTNING STRIKE DURING STATE TOURNAMENT PRACTICE
Justin Hill and myself (Daniel Fabiano) had the great opportunity to attend the Minnesota State Fishing Tournament during Labor Day Weekend this 2014 season. Having this opportunity as rookies from “Lakes Area Bassmasters” was not only an eye-opening experience to the ways of structured tournament fishing, but also helped us determine the personalities, drawbacks, regulations, stipulations that are present during your weekend around 200 of the best anglers from the state. Regardless, without getting into too many politics I wanted to share an experience Justin and myself went through on Lake Vermillion the day before the event during practice. We should have listened to other boaters, listened to our guy instinct on the water, and should have headed home when that gut feeling initially hit us.
In a nutshell, we learned what not to do regardless of how little time you have to practice, or how excited you are to get fishing on new waters, always listen to your gut feeling and also think safety before excitement. After a nice long 4-5 hour drive from the Twin Cities, all Justin and I could think about was fishing a new lake, with new structure, with a dense population of small mouth bass. Due to Justin’s work schedule and my traveling schedule we were unable to get up to Lake Vermillion days or a full week prior to the event to practice accordingly. Immediately we saw this as a disadvantage and talked the whole drive up about how we needed to hit the lake hard the moment we arrived at the casino/launch ramp so we could get as many hours on Vermillion before we had to head in for the day. We knew the day following our arrival that all competitors were forbidden to pre-fish, so in our minds we had a very small practice window for one of the biggest bodies of water in the state of Minnesota. The moment we got to the resort we checked in, and noticed that the majority of boats were trailered and parked and that most of the competitors were inside the building either gambling, eating or relaxing. Some other teams noticed how gun-hoe Justin and myself were to get checked in and asked if we were heading out on the water. (Note that it was roughly 1:00pm in the afternoon.) We told them we had no practice so we had to get out immediately. They warned us of a huge storm cell about to cycle over Lake Vermillion and warned us to be careful, safe, dress warm, and to make it as quick as possible. Once we launched and got blazing at cruising speed on Justin’s Triton and we both were overwhelmed with the rock structure, sandy and gravely bottoms, and the incredible scenery all around us. It was more of a visual stimulant then excitement to catch fish at this point. We were so pumped up we didn’t know where to drop and settle the boat to start fishing. After the first three hours, we had ran a good portion of the west side of the lake, Justin was getting frustrated that such an incredible lake wasn’t producing the bites or fish he had anticipated. Justin tends to throw a ton of variety to figure out the bite, where as I stay strong with the lures I decided to tie on to whatever rods I have with me. I ended up landing two small mouth bass both under 2lbs and a 15″ walleye on a weightless senko. The last fish in the boat was a baby muskie that followed and hit a buzz bait from under a dock. Justin was getting the itch to catch a fish and wanted to run to the north end of the lake where a club member had given us advise to find some sizable largemouth. The moment we go into that location, we noticed rolling dark clouds immediately heading our way, and at a very high speed. We told ourselves this was not a good situation considering our drive back to the dock was on the other end of the lake and would easily take us 30-40mins to get back. The area we were now in had some incredible vegetation and structure so we decided we would take 10-15 minutes and if neither of us got a bite we would move back south and hit some spots on the way back before the storm came over us. We were enjoying this spot so much, we ended up staying for 30 minutes which was now too late. The storm was directly over us, and started to drizzle with it getting harder every minute. We pulled up lines, put on some foul weather gear and started our way out of the clouds and into open air. What we didn’t expect was the storm to keep up with us, even going 30-50 miles per hour. The storm progressed so quickly that we had to go through series of rain sheets where neither of us could see in front of the bow of the boat. It was so scary Justin had to take his hand off the throttle and trudge through white-caps in order for us to safely get over waves, and through the rain. However going that slow with such big white-caps and rain also fills up your boat quickly, and you also don’t get far considering your momentum has been killed by the high winds and weight of the rain in the boat. This ride that should have took 35 minutes total to get back, ended up taking 90 minutes. We were 100% soaked from head to toe, colder then hell, had very minimal foul weather gear, and had rain coming down so hard that if it hit your skin it felt like a needle piercing you. The photo above was a still shot taking from a GoPro camera. At the point we just went through an incredible eye of the storm where we almost flipped twice, and Justin had to set the boat down at least ten times to just be able to see in front of him. We got around a main point in the lake where it cleared up for roughly 3 minutes. In the photo you can see the huge black sheet of rain nearly 200 yards ahead of us, and lightning that was captured on camera hitting the water. We needed to go directly through that new eye of the storm in order to get back to the resort. I would be lying to you if I didn’t say Justin and I were fucking scared. This was a new body of water, we couldn’t use our electronics since it was impossible to view the screen, we couldn’t see in front of ourselves, this was a huge new lake that we had no idea about, and to see Justin scared in his own boat, made me even more intimidated by the storm cells we kept having to trudge through. We talked about the position we were in and how we might have to beach the boat and rest until things blew over, but we made some progress in our trip and ended up finally getting back to the resort where a bunch of anglers rushed out to the docks to help us tie up and to remind us how crazy we were to attempt fishing in that kind of weather. At the end of the day, we made it back safe, all our gear was accounted for, we learned the lake a bit and I caught some fish – but that all doesn’t mean shit, if you are not being safe or respecting mother nature. Mother nature is a bitch, and she more power then anyone can imagine. Do not screw around with mother nature and her ways. Stay safe on the waters! Also bring a 2-way radio in case of emergencies, flares and foul weather clothing whenever you go. To end this off, always know the lake you are navigating before launching. Do your homework prior to any tournament and trip to ensure you can find your way back in case there is a failure with cell phones, GPS or any electronic devices you rely on. Having an extra battery pack, or charging cables to a small solar charger is a major plus.