Friday, May 28, 2010

Deadliest Catch - The Leech Lake Edition

When we set out last Saturday, we knew that the wind would come up. The forecast called for winds to 25 MPH and a chance for storms. This was wind that was not uncommon for us, and the boat we were in, a 20 foot state-of-the-art Ranger, was built to handle all of that and much more.

Given the SE winds that had blown for the past days, we felt our best chances for catching fish were to head NW to where the wind would have corralled up the bait fish, and subsequently would have invited the walleyes in for the easy feast. The day started slowly with light winds, cloudy skies, and not much luck fishing. We moved around Ottertail Point’s flats to the NW in attempt to find the fish, but luck was scarce. That’s OK, because as it turned out we’d need our luck elsewhere.

Before long, we had been seeing the wind come up, and it soon reached its forecast velocity, so we made the decision to run back to the south side of the lake for more comfortable fishing. We headed out pointed SSW for Stoney Point, with the understanding that the cross waves from the SE would be uncomfortable, but manageable. JT was driving, with JP in the seat next to him. Fuzzy was sitting in the Pauly chair up front. Due to the waves, I stood behind JP and JT and hung onto the backs of their seats.

The ride quickly grew increasingly more uncomfortable, and JT made the decision to jog our route so that we could take the winds in a more manageable head-on fashion. The winds continued to increase well into the 30MPH+ range, but we were slowly making progress. We’d soon be hitting Stoney Point where things should be better as the waves no longer had the entire length of the lake in which to build.

That is when the straight line wind hit, as marked by the X on the map. For information on straight line winds, click here.

All of the sudden we were hit with a wind that was so high that none of us could estimate its impact. Waves soon built to 6-8 feet, and Fuzzy reported that when we were in the trough between waves, all he could see was water; no tress, no horizon. The wind was blowing so hard that it was picking up water at the crest of the waves and blowing it horizontally, making seeing almost impossible. We were taking multiple waves over the bow, and Fuzzy was battered up front. Of course, none of us was wearing a life vest. By the time we felt we needed to have them on, it was way too rough and dangerous to stop and do so. We needed to keep going.

While I knew that we were in no danger of sinking due to being swamped (Ranger is notorious for building their boats to float even when filled completely up to the rails with water), I did fear flipping. The wind was blowing so hard, and our angle when cresting waves such that a strong gust may have been able to catch the front of the boat and toss us. Multiple times in the trip I made mental notes as to how I planned to exit the boat in the event that I felt it being flipped.

Despite getting closer to home, things were getting worse, but JT was impeccable in his piloting; steering appropriately into the waves, and modifying speed up and down to optimize our path. It was damn hard work, especially when you literally can’t see do to the wall of water being blown like needles into your eyes.

We finally arrived at the harbor mouth, and JT aligned the boat and went for it. We slid into safety, and were met by most of the resort which had already come in and were standing on the “widow’s walk” watching the action. We were told that we looked like we had dinner plates for eyes. Here’s a picture of what we looked like.

We subsequently found out that tress had been dropped throughout the area, and billboards and other structures had been damaged. Power had been completely knocked out in Walker, and at the resort. Ultimately, the wind that had hit was reported to be in the 60-85MPH range. The resort itself had lost trees, and here is one example.


I’ve been fishing this lake since I’ve been a little kid, and have been out in terrible wind, thunderstorms, and storms that have spawned tornadoes. In all of that time, I’ve never been scared. This trip, however, scared the hell out of me. From Stoney Point home, I had serious doubts on our ability to get the boat home, and had resigned myself that I would soon be in the water and would need a plan as to how I could best try to get to shore.

While straight line winds are not predictable, we learned a lesson about proximity to home when the wind starts blowing, and about lifejacket use. Thankfully, it was a lesson that did not have to get learned the hard way.


  1. A good lesson hard learned is invaluable - remember the life vests and your prayers of thanks. B


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