After a near-death experience, captain Billy Alstrom and friends Jared Essman, Gage Royer, Chris Jensen and Emily Paige Coffee are happy to be alive.
The Sarasota-based Alstrom travels around the state in search of monster fish, including frequent trips to the east coast of Florida when the fishing is good. Last weekend the young captain made trip with his 24-foot Yellowfin in tow to fish Sebastian Inlet for monster snook. This time, however, the trip came to an abrupt and scary end.
“We were in Jupiter, catching mullet and perch for bait,” Alstrom said. “Perch are hard to catch, and we were getting them pretty good so were focused on that. I could see a storm to our west getting closer.”
As the storm approached, Alstrom recalls the breeze picking up and atmosphere growing colder as dark clouds gathered overhead. What happened next is a nightmare every boater fears.
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“I was in the front of the boat with three others gathering the perch after I just threw the net. My girlfriend remained in the back of the boat. Then it was like a flash or stun grenade went off. Everyone hit the deck. We just heard a crack, saw a flash, and what I would guess it felt like being tased.”
Alstrom looked back toward where his girlfriend, Coffee, was sitting. Alongside Coffee, Alstrom’s Cousins Tackle fishing rod was on fire in one of the leaning post rod holders. It had been struck by lightning, only inches from where she was sitting.
“I think she was OK because she was wearing my rubber lined Grunden’s slicker jacket. That probably saved her.”
The running engine was shut off as the electric surge disabled the boat’s electronics and power, leaving the boat dead in the water. A nearby boater was flagged down, and the group jumped aboard to head to safety. Alstrom’s left his boat anchored in the channel.
“We didn’t want to get struck again, so we got out of there as fast as we could. We couldn’t hear for about 30-minutes after that and were all pretty stunned. It was just a ringing noise and our ears felt similar to needing to be decompressed.”
When the storm passed, Alstrom went back to retrieve his boat, getting towed back to the ramp. The rod showed the power of the lightning strike, and Alstrom described what looked like cotton candy and felt like hair.
“I cannot describe how lucky I feel that no one was hurt. It was one of the scariest moments of my life, and we are all so blessed to be alive.”
The remains of the fishing rod will now live as a reminder of the day. “I’m hanging it on my wall,” Alstrom said.
Source: U.S. Naval Observatory data