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BRAD DOKKEN: ‘Once again, we cheat death’

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outdoors Grand Forks, 58203
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

Four of us were on the river catfishing the other night when we saw the dark clouds forming to the south, and the conversation inevitably turned to close encounters of the thunderstorm kind.

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Fortunately, the radar on my buddy’s smartphone showed we were in the clear, and the dark clouds quickly moved east and away from the area we were fishing.

Anyone who fishes or spends time on the water inevitably encounters a thunderstorm, and if they’re lucky, they live to tell the story and laugh about it later.

Thunderstorms — and lightning especially — are not to be taken lightly.

Sometimes you get caught, though, despite the best intentions. It’s happened to me many times, and I’ve been scared on every occasion.

I’ve heard more than one story from anglers who’ve been caught too close to lightning and watched as their fishing line seemed to drift through the air, held aloft by static electricity, when they tried to cast, or felt the tingle of electricity pulsate through the base of their fishing rods.

That’s never happened to me — hopefully never does — but there’ve been some, shall we say, “memorable,” moments just the same.

One of the scariest occurred last summer, when a friend and I got caught several miles from the boat ramp on the Red River near Lockport, Man. We were within a mile of the St. Andrews Lock and Dam — one of the area’s most popular catfish spots — when we saw the black clouds rumbling over the high banks of the river.

By that time, it was too late to do anything but decide whether to hunker down or high-tail it back to the ramp some eight miles away.

We opted for the latter.

My friend’s 60-horse Merc is one speedy outboard, but it wasn’t fast enough to outrun the storm bearing down on us. We soon were caught in a torrential downpour interrupted by frequent flashes of bright light and thunder loud enough to overpower the sound of the outboard.

Had it not been for the thunder, I might have thought my life was flashing before my eyes.

The storm had passed by the time we approached the bridge downstream in Selkirk, Man., and the park’s boat ramp just beyond it.

We considered ourselves fortunate, and it reminded me of the remark a bush pilot made several years ago as he taxied his DeHavilland Beaver to the dock of a remote outpost lake north of Red Lake, Ont., at the front end of a weeklong fly-in fishing trip.

“Once again, we cheat death,” he said. It’s a line I’ve repeated many times since.

The moral of the story, I guess, is to be alert and on the lookout for thunderstorms that can fire up quickly this time of year. And if you’re caught outdoors and away from a safe location, follow the National Weather Service’s guidelines and avoid open fields, hilltops or ridge tops. Stay away from isolated trees or other tall objects, and if you’re in a forest, stay near lower trees.

The NWS also advises staying away from water, wet items and metal objects because “water and metal are excellent conductors of electricity.”

In that context, we definitely cheated death last summer.

Once again.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1148; or send e-mail to bdokken@gfherald.com.

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Grand Forks Herald (701) 780-1123 customer support
Brad Dokken is editor of the Herald's Northland Outdoors section and also works as a copy editor and page designer. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 
(701) 780-1148
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