Select Page


Off in the distance the faint sounds of tornado sirens blared warnings to the town’s residents. The situation wasn’t looking good, and it was even worse for us as we were waist deep in the river with only our kayaks for protection. This wasn’t good, even though the weather didn’t seem that bad, yet.

“Do you hear that,” my buddy Jon screamed over the roar of the river’s water pushing through the rocky shoals?

“Yeah,” I screamed back while looking nervously at the fast moving clouds darkening the sky above us.

Not sure he could hear me, or I could hear him, we both simultaneously raised our arms above our head with our fingers pointed to the sky and started moving them in a circular motion, indicating tornado.

The tornado sirens weren’t the only problems, though. The fishing was finally starting to pick up after a long, slow day.

A dilemma presented itself. Paddle to the take out and enjoy the safety of our truck, or continue to fish and risk being caught on the river in a tornado?

Despite the sounds of the sirens ringing in the distance and darkening clouds looming above, we decided to stay on the river for at least a little while longer. We had already endured one storm system that started with a loud growl, but it didn’t have much bark when it finally reached us. We were hoping this system would do the same, but in the back of our minds I think we both knew it wouldn’t. It wasn’t a thought we verbalized to each other, but we could see the same concerns in each others eyes.

Knowing it wouldn’t be long, I quickly made cast after cast to likely fish holding areas. At times I peered over my shoulder, hoping Jon would still be there. Like a rock, he was. Also fishing quickly, he was having success on a jerkbait, or “slash bait” as he calls them. Within a few casts he landed a nice shoal bass (shoalie) and lost another only feet away.

Photo Credit: Jon Freeman

I was having my own success, landing a beautiful 4 lb tiger-striped shoalie on a shad colored swimbait. I instantly knew it was a nice fish when it inhaled the swimbait as it dropped through the water column. I felt its weight immediately and noticed it had a swagger only big shoalies have. Big shoalies use their bodies and the power of the river’s current to their advantage, putting up a distinctive fight. Thump, thump, thump, it made numerous runs to the bottom of the river where rocks and safety abound. As I reeled in more line, it continued to fight and took to the air on three occasions, trying to shake loose. A classic shoalie battle, it never gave up, making a final run right at the kayak before I was able to reach down and bring it to glory.

Enjoying the rush of adrenaline from landing a nice shoalie, I ignored the lightning in the distance, perhaps stupidly. With the sky darkening even more and wind blowing more forcefully through the tree tops, I kept pushing forward to the next pool.

With the weather growing worse, thoughts of the movie ‘Twister’ kept racing through my mind, my only experience with tornadoes. I remember watching that movie for the first time as a fifteen year old in high school. We drove my buddy Beau’s old 1967 Ford Mustang, no brake lights and all, to the movies where we hoped to run into 1 or 2 cute girls and maybe see a decent movie. While I scanned the crowd for a cutie, I did store one piece of information from that movie. According to a character in the movie, incoming tornadoes make the sound of an incoming train or jet airplane taking off. I never knew it had any truth to it, but for some reason it always stuck with me and I didn’t know why.


Using the same technique I landed the shoalie on, I quickly made fan casts from left to right, working the pool from current seam to current seam. Working the pool over one time without a bite I stopped to reassess it. I knew there were fish here, but where. That’s when I noticed a very small pocket eddy below a small edge with current swooping around its right.

On my next cast I threw my swimbait above the ledge and let the current funnel it into the small eddy. Taking up slack as the swimbait moved along I didn’t feel anything until it neared the tail end of the eddy. That’s when I felt it. In less than a second, a hard thump traveled up my line, down my rod and finally up my forearm where it shook deep within my bones.

“There it is”, I screamed to myself over the roar of the water and weather!

“This is it, this is it” I yelled to Jon!

“Monster shoalie, monster shoalie,” I hollered out against the sound of the roaring water!

My heart started beating forcefully against my chest.

“Monster shoalie, monster shoalie,” I hollered out again!

Pulling hard and using the river’s forceful current, it quickly pulled myself and my Coosa away from the rock I was resting it on. Pulling harder, it pulled me into the heart of the river’s swift current. Now at the mercy of a strong pulling fish and the river’s current, I knew things wouldn’t bode well if I continued to stay in the kayak.

Not far away the pool narrowed, causing the current to double its speed as it toppled over a small, but tricky drop.

Not wanting to take the risk of going over the drop the wrong way or sideways, risking flipping the kayak or even worse, lose the fish, I jumped out. Landing in water waist deep, I continued to fight the fish as I was now holding onto an out of out of control kayak in swift river current, something I didn’t think about before jumping out.

I tried my best to direct the kayak over to a small rock outcrop, but each time I pushed the river pushed back ten times more. Eventually my frenetic pushes caused the kayak to turn horizontal in the current and water started coming over it’s side, pushing my fishing rods and paddle over the side and into the river.

“Great,” I said to myself, “I’m about to lose some gear.”

Monster shoalie aside, the prospect of losing hundreds of dollars worth of equipment didn’t sit well so I quickly reeled in my line to where it was snug against the fighting shoalie, hoping that would hold if off while I recovered my gear. Still firmly holding the rod with my left hand, I grabbed my paddle and rods from the water while they were still within reach and tossed them back into the kayak.

The river started to push harder against me and I was slowly being pushed into deeper water. The water was now chest high and I could feel my PFD’s buoyancy catch. I held on firmly as I bounced off the river bottom, something I’ve learned to do over the years. When water is too deep and too swift to properly walk or wade, short bounces can sometimes propel you in the right direction and hopefully towards shallower water.

Fighting the current with each bound I slowly made way towards the rock outcrop. But this was no easy task, especially with a hard fighting fish on the line. Knowing with each bounce more slack line would develop and the chances of losing this big fish would increase, it crossed my mind whether the kayak would be alright if I just let it go.

“Would it stop safely in the rocks below,” I asked myself?

“Would it stay upright,” I continued?

I didn’t want to lose this fish, but I really couldn’t afford to lose any gear so I pressed on, fighting kayak, current and fish.

Once I secured my Coosa on top of the rock outcrop I turned back towards the shoalie and reeled in the slack line, expecting the fish to have used that opportunity to shake loose. As the line tightened I could feel the fish again.

“It’s still there,” I screamed!

Reengaging the fight, I thought to myself, this one isn’t getting away, not after everything that has happened so far.

“Thump, thump, thump,” I felt as I pulled the line tighter! “Thump, thump, thump!”

Heart beating faster as I was again standing in water chest high, working the shoalie from left to right, right to left, trying to tire it with every turn of the reel. It started getting closer and that’s when it came up for the first time showing its silvery side. Silvery side? Silvery side? That’s when I realized that I hadn’t been fighting a monster shoalie, but a striper.

“A striper?” I hollered out loud.

I continued, “Since when do stripers fight like shoalies?”

“Are you kidding me,” I hollered again as I reached down with my right hand and swooped it up by the belly.

Holding it in my hand as I was trying to catch my breath I instantly reflected back on the fight. Shoalie, or no shoalie, it was still a glorious battle. A battle worth writing about. A smile slowly overcame my momentary disappointment as I whispered to myself, “that was top 10, easy, regardless of it being a striper and not a shoalie.”

It wasn’t the size of the striper that made it so memorable as I have caught larger fish, it was the battle itself. Under dark skies, the sun shined through, burning the moment forever in memory.

“Top 10,” I repeated again while gasping for more air.


After releasing the striper I looked up to see Jon still working the same pool.

“Awesome,” I thought because I wanted to keep fishing, too. Maybe the weather will hold off. Or maybe it will go around us. Maybe the fishing will pick up even more. I know he was thinking the same, I could see it in the way he was fishing.

We had been fishing all day, but weren’t having much success. Up until the skies darkened, we had only landed one fish between us. A 4lb largemouth that I landed, but it wasn’t what we were fishing for. I know, who complains about catching 4lb largemouths, but we were chasing monster shoalies and a monster shoalie it wasn’t.

Photo Credit: Jon Freeman

We were hoping the darkening skies would finally bring us those monster shoalies. Sometimes a change in the weather will turn on, or turn off the fishing. The fishing had been off, so we thought there was only one direction for it to go and that was, on!

But, off in the distance darker clouds and more frequent lightning slowly started to brew. Still not close enough to be a threat, but it wasn’t good either. There was something different about this system. I continued to make cast after cast, but I spent more time looking up at the increasingly darkening sky.

I noticed this system was moving faster than the others. The lightning became even more frequent and the thunder that followed grew louder. Within a moments notice, the system was on the verge of being on us.

Looking up, I said to myself, “uh oh.” I decided it might be that time, but I wanted to see what Jon thought first. I placed my rod down in my kayak and paddled a short distance over to where Jon was.

“What do you think,” I asked? “I don’t think this one is going to be pretty.”

“The fishing has turned on,” Jon responded.

“Yeah. I hate to leave. I’ve been hoping this one would blow over too, but I just don’t know. I don’t do lightning,” I said while looking at the dark clouds starting to circle above.

“Me, neither, ” he said.

Contemplating what to do, neither one of us wanted to do what we both knew we needed to do. Neither one of us wanted to take the lead and be the first to leave. There was still a few hours of daylight left and the potential of an epic few hours of fishing started to cross our minds. Within the last 30 minutes the fishing activity had increased 1000% and was increasing by the second.

Unsure what to do, Jon made another cast.

“This pool looks good,” he said.

“It sure does,” I responded as I reached down and picked up my rod to make a cast.

That’s when we started to hear it. The jet airplane directly above us, ready for take off.

“You hear that,” Jon screamed?

“How can I not! This ain’t good,” I screamed back!

Upon hearing that sound the movie Twister snapped back in my mind. I knew exactly what was happening and it wasn’t good.That was the sound when a tornado nears. The sound quickly brought an eery end to our day of fishing. There was no question what to do next. There was no questioning whether the storm would go around us or quickly blow over. It was going to come down right ON TOP OF US! We couldn’t hear ourselves think, much less communicate. But, communication wasn’t necessary.

No longer were we on the fence about what to do next. There was only one thing to do. Get the heck out of there! We both started paddling as fast as we could to the take out. My arms started burning, but there was no stopping. I often looked back at Jon, who was behind me, and saw that the system was now directly above where we had been fishing.

What do I do if it starts to come down? What about Jon? He’s slowing. Come on, Jon. Paddle, man. Paddle.

I rounded the corner of the island at the take out and hit the bank. I looked back for Jon. He should be rounding it soon.

Where’s he at? Where’s he at, I kept thinking to myself? Seconds, feeling like hours, passed. Where’s he at?

Finally, like a ray of sunshine, I saw the bow of his yellow kayak start to round the island.

We made it out and the system never dropped, but it’s not a sound either of us will forget anytime soon.


Dorothy was right. There’s no place like home.

This was one of the first times I was actually happy to be off the river early and headed home. The weather became too unpredictable and too risky with storms coming and going, swirling in every direction, and taking off from the runway. No fish is worth dying over, even to me. The weather continued to be unpredictable on our way home and we capped off the day by facing entirely different weather conditions even though we don’t live too far from one another.

Jon faced hail….

Photo Credit: Jon Freeman

…but life was good for me.

Visit for more adventurous fishing stories!