Contributed by Thomas Philippi, Wilderness Systems Pro Staff
It was the first tournament scheduled for the new year and we were all raring to get out on the water, catch some bass, talk some trash and win some bragging rights. This is the feeling that permeates every one of our events but the feeling is extra strong at each opener. New kayaks were unveiled, new rod and reel combos were being shown off, secret lures were no longer secret. There seemed to be only one huge problem this morning… Mother Nature did not want to cooperate. The forecast looked iffy all week and just seemed to get worse by the minute the night before. We had elected Ned to be our tournament director for the season, even though he is only 12 years old. Ned’s a genius and a gizmo freak, plus the rest of us didn’t have the common sense to ever call off a tourney no matter what the weather was. Ned was keeping his fingers on the pulse of this weather front all week. He even brought his mini-Doppler radar lakeside to keep a closer watch on any changes. We all gathered around Ned’s gear and quietly listened as he checked all of his sources. Finally, after Skyping with our local TV weatherman, Ned informed us the gale force winds would be missing us by at least 100 yards and we all agreed that was plenty! Game on!
Everybody in the club makes the first tourney of the year. There is something special and electric about the anticipation in the air. Our tourneys are 6 hours long and start at 7:00 am in the early spring. We were all anxiously awaiting the starters whistle by 6:45 am. At the top of the hour we were off, hopped up on adrenaline and caffeine!
Everyone took off north since the ramp was at the south end of this long and narrow lake. Ned had found in his research that early spring winds rarely if ever travel north-south. They almost always travel west to east this time of year, a comforting fact for all of us.
Peeler was a happy fellow this morning. Peeler loves fishing these early T’s because of the lack of strong sunshine and the non-existence of any bugs. He fished with a wild abandon and seemed totally at ease! He didn’t even have his ever present oil slick around his kayak.
Tink was also excited to get started with this season. Tink was much taller than everyone else and dreaded windy days…his body just seemed to work like a sail. Tink has never been an accomplished paddler either. Most bass can tell he is coming from 3 miles away. He is the only member in our club that makes more noise with his paddle than a 300 hp outboard motor. Tink had been working all winter to improve the flexibility of his trunk because someone mentioned this as the cause of his thrashing paddle style. So far it didn’t sound as if it had helped much. I’m pretty sure I could hear bass laughter as we paddled up lake.
As we headed north in a group we were pleasantly surprised to find the conditions comfortable. As Ned promised, the winds were under 20 miles per hour and coming steadily out of the west. Ned took it upon himself to watch over this rag tag group. Since it was not a sunny day, he could not rely on his solar panels to power his battleship of electronics including GPS, I-pad, I-phone, Downscan sonar, Doppler radar, XBox and stereo system. Ned was the quintessential multi-tasker. He was able to purchase a small nuclear power system from his third cousin from Latvia. We all felt we were in capable hands baring a full meltdown.
Since we had “mild” 20 mph winds from the west, we all bunched up along the west side of the lake before we fanned out. High hopes were still present for our day. What’s a little wind among friends? Within 20 minutes we heard a faint rumble that seemed to come from south of us. Hooray! Just like Ned predicted, the worse was gonna miss us by more than 100 yards.
“Our luck is gonna hold out” I shouted to everyone within ear shot. Did I really just say that out loud?
BOOM, CRACK, SIZZLE! The earth shook and the sky lit up with electricity. Suddenly the “mild” 20 mph breeze was gusting up to 75 mph and was coming straight up from the south, an impossibility according to our resident Einstein. We were now up Crap Creek without a paddle! We were all overjoyed, we were gonna have to deal with heavy winds, we were probably gonna get wet and we will be waving long graphite rods in a lightning storm…sounds like a party.
Poor Ned was going mental. He lost most of his gizmos after the second lightning strike which seemed to hit a nearby sign warning about fishing in a lightning storm. I’m not sure what government agency authorized a sign like this be placed in the middle of a lake but they must have some foresight. Puck paddled up to Ned and asked if the storm was gonna miss us. We were pretty much in the middle of said storm when he asked this. Puck is very sensitive to his surroundings.
I screamed that it was every man and child to himself as I bravely spun my kayak south and tried paddling back to the ramp. We all had the same idea but the winds were now really cranking. What are our options? We could paddle against all odds and this wind; maybe one of us would make it and tell the rescuers where they could look for the bodies of the rest of us. Tink thought he’d have a better chance under all the trees along the west bank. I’ve never been a big fan of being under a forest of old big trees in a wind and lightning storm but we were kind of out of options so to the nearest bank we all paddled.
We were able to find a small muddy beach that we all got to wade through before we could get under the canopy provided by the trees. I’m not sure how many shoes were lost but it was more than a dozen. Shovel was strong enough to carry a few kayaks at a time and the rest of us assembled a makeshift shelter. It’s amazing what a few motivated individuals can construct with several kayaks and some fishing braid. Huddling together for warmth and to ignore terror, we rode out the great storm.
That quickly it blew over. Winds died down quickly and the sun even peeked through the clouds. The calm after the storm? Everyone kind of crawled out from under our plastic fortress and began hugging and dancing and made merry. We all survived but realized some of our kayaks may have been sacrificed for the good of us all. Oops.
With determination and elbow grease we attacked the problem of untangling our boats. It was kind of like a big Rubik’s cube. Within an hour and a half we had our kayaks and gear separated and sorted and distributed to us all. Success! We even mannaged to get back through the muck without loosing all of the rest of our footwear. Jersey strong!
We still had over 3 hours to fish and fish we did! Everyone got a five bass limit, a first for this club! It’s really crazy how a little sheer terror can motivate a group to enjoy life.
Another first for the club…a four way tie for first! Tink, Boo, Fulgi and a guest, Wendy, split first place money and bragging rights. Of course Wendy was quickly re-named Windy whether she liked it or not.
We all got to enjoy a few pounds of Boo’s secret recipe, boiled peanuts after this stormy affair. They never tasted better!