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Welcome to the summertime lightning capital of the country!

By Capt. GEORGE TUNISON - | Jul 22, 2022

Welcome to Southwest Florida, the summertime lighting capitol of the U.S.A. NOAA estimates that the average lightning strike contains around 30 million volts!

If becoming stranded by mechanical issues or ignoring common sense to decide to stay a little longer to try and catch “just one more” may have gotten your crew in serious lightning trouble, here’s a common sense tip from St. Croix, one of the world’s best rod makers: never use a graphite fishing rod in an electrical storm. Graphite rod blanks contain carbon fibers, which are conductors of electricity.

If a storm is heading your way but still a mile or two away, you can still be a lightning target, so prepare quickly and leave. If you can’t run, then seek shelter inside a cabin, head or any compartment that will house you. If no shelter is available, then get as low in the open boat as possible and away from towers and fishing rods which by now should be lying flat in the boat as far away from you as possible. Take down antennas, outriggers and bimini tops as well, if time and conditions permit.

Insurance companies say that your odds of your boat being struck are about one in 1,000 nationwide, but in Florida, the odds are greater. Sailboats and trawlers with tall masts are, of course, the biggest targets, but any craft including personal watercrafts sitting on the water’s surface can be hit.

Can a lightning strike possibly cause your boat to sink? Yes! When lightning strikes it immediately looks for a ground to travel to, in this case the water. Sometimes it may exit through the engine or prop or through a metal thru-hull fitting, blowing it out completely. Worst case actually blowing a hole through the fiberglass hull. Any boat struck by lightning should have a complete hull inspection which may mean removing the boat from the water for a closer look at the hull and fittings.

“In a properly bonded system that follows American Boat & Yacht Council standards, the strike should follow a low-resistance path to a boat’s keel or an installed grounding plate, though few boats are equipped this way from the factory.”

Small boats can be protected with a portable lightning strike device. This would consist of a mast of sufficient height to provide a “cone of protection” connected by a flexible copper cable to a submerged ground plate of at least one square foot.

Back in port you’re still not lightning safe, especially in a marina packed with boats with lots of towers and antennas begging to be struck. Get out of the boat and off the docks and seek safe shelter.

Again, let common sense prevail. Check the forecast before leaving. Here in Southwest Florida, get out early and return early. Remember, staying to “catch just one more” with a storm approaching is risky business.

For those of us who love challenging the silver king on artificial lures and flies, the long eel like Hogy or the much smaller baitfish profile DOA BaitBuster swimbait-style lures are hot sellers and reliable tarpon producers year after year. Move over BaitBuster as there’s a new kid in town named HerculeZ!

ZMAN’s 5-inch-long, 5/8-ounce swimbait is a winner and also looked good to the two recent tarpon I’ve taken with it — one caught at night the other in early morning. Built using an internal harness then molded into a realistic fish shape using their durable ElaZtech material, this pre-packaged swimbait comes equipped with a super sharp Mustad Ultra Point 7/0 hook.

There’s also a strong attachment point on the lure’s belly if you want to add a split ring and treble or stinger hook for a big snook, or for bottom jigging (treble hooks are not recommended for tarpon). This lure retails in most stores for $10 and is a worthy addition to any tarpon box.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or captgeorget3@aol.com.