Chesapeake Outdoors

Vol. 8, No. 25
June 22-28, 2000
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When Mother Nature says head to port, pull up the anchor and get going

Last week, Karl Roscher and I were reminded of the raw power that thunderstorms pack when fishing for rockfish off Love Point. We made the five-mile run to the fishing grounds under clear skies, but the moisture in the air was palatable. Karl and I both have lived in Chesapeake Country long enough to sense an oncoming thunderstorm, so we kept a keen eye to the sky and took seriously the National Weather Service report warning of severe thunderstorms in the area.

We anchored in 23 feet of water and let the last of the flood carry freshly ground chum to hungry stripers that finned less than 50 feet behind the boat. In less than two hours, we caught our limit, including a fat croaker. The circle hook did its trick, as those fish that we released were all lip-hooked. Meanwhile, the westward skies grew more ominous by the minute.

Fishing slacked and lightning strikes illuminated the western sky. It was time to go, and we thought we had a good jump on the storm, based on the rough calculation that we all have grown up with: see the lightning flash, count the seconds until you hear the thunder. Divide this number by five. That number is the approximate distance of the lightning in miles. Ten miles away.

I floored VooDoo Cat toward Sandy Point lighthouse, but within minutes visibility was reduced to less than 100 yards. Fortunately, my Global Positioning System navigation unit guided us toward the entrance to Sandy Point’s boat ramp. We were about a half-mile from the channel entrance and thought we had skirted the brunt of the storm. How wrong we were.

The world exploded in a ferocious display of energy. Rain pelted us, a wind sheer pushed us off course and lightning strikes scared the daylights out of us. Once we were inside Mezik Pond, a crack of unearthly power jarred the fillings out of my mouth. Man, was I glad to feel the stable dock under my feet.

Chesapeake Country gets its fair share of powerful summer storms. Overall, lightning strikes our planet an estimated 100 times per second — or 8.6 million times a day. The U.S. alone receives as many as 20 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes per year from perhaps 100,000 thunderstorms.

Lightning is a spark that can reach more than five miles in length, attain a temperature of 50,000° F and contain more than 100 million electrical volts. Cloud-to-ground lightning is usually caused when a negative charge at the base of a cloud is attracted to the positive charge at the earth’s surface. A powerful surge of electricity descends to the ground, carrying a current made up of millions of electrons.

That bright flash we see is a return stroke. For years I thought that lightning always strikes the tallest object. Not true. In fact, lightning strikes the best conductor on the ground, not necessarily the tallest object. Sadly, sometimes the best conductor is a human being. Other false myths include the adage that lightning never strikes the same place twice. Wrong again. The Empire State Building is struck by lightning many times every year.

I’m glad for the refresher course on the power of lightning and awed by the swiftness with which thunderstorms can develop and move across the water. My scientific fascination with storms, however, is probably better satisfied on shore.

Fish Are Biting

Rick from Rick’s Marine (301/872-4355) near Point Lookout says spot and croaker are thick, with a good variety of species, including bluefish, flounder and even a tautog. Rockfish are in good numbers at Buoy 68 and 72 (just off the Middle Grounds). Closer to home, Capt. Buddy Harrison from Chesapeake House on Tilghman Island (410/886-2121) says his fleet is fishing the Hill for rockfish and the mouth of the Choptank for both rock and croaker. Poplar Island and south of Thomas Point have flounder. White perch are everywhere.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly