A tip of the hat goes to Billy Egan, tournament director for the WON Bass U.S. Open bass fishing tournament that took place from Monday to Wednesday at Lake Mead. Egan puts on a good tournament, but he also showed great judgment in canceling the first day when Lake Mead revealed its ugly, windy side.
During the years I worked as a game warden at Lake Mead and Lake Mohave, rescuing boaters after a powerful windstorm was the norm. While local meteorologists always do their best to get the word out beforehand, some boaters simply choose to ignore their warnings.
Keep in mind that most recreational boaters spend fairly little time on the water despite their claims to the contrary. A handful of Saturdays spent on the water each year is not enough to prepare the typical recreational boater for what a place such as Lake Mead can dish out when the winds really start blowing.
On one occasion, as a dark thunderhead built up over the River Mountains, as had been forecast, a man who was boating with his family flagged me down and asked about the weather. I explained that bad things were coming and suggested he work his way toward the marina, where he could ride out the storm. Once the storm had passed, they could return to their recreational pursuits.
When they left, the man chose to travel in a direction opposite to that of the marina. All I could do at that point was shake my head because I knew what was coming.
A short time after our conversation, the storm hit with all its windy fury. As is typical of summer storms, it didn’t last long, but it was long enough. And as my co-workers and I responded to calls for help, we found among several stranded boats the man and his family.
Luckily, they were alive and uninjured, but the man’s family members were shaken by the experience. As we helped them board the patrol boat, we couldn’t help but notice their boat listing to one side where its hull had been ground to pieces on the rocky shoreline.
In contrast to the average recreational boater, competitive bass anglers spend most of their life on the water, fishing in a variety of weather conditions. As Egan evaluated water conditions Monday morning, he easily could have rationalized that his 224 tournament boaters had the experience to safely fish their way through the growing swales. Instead, Egan placed the safety of his anglers first.
“The problems we’re facing today is the wind is going to only increase rather than decrease, with gusts from 30 to 40, maybe 50 miles an hour,” he said in a videotaped statement posted on the WON Bass Facebook page. “We’ve got 224 boaters out here, and not all of them are used to big water, and safety is first and foremost. So with the upcoming weather conditions, with higher wind, it just doesn’t bode well for a safe event.
“We want to make sure we make the right decision. It’s a tough one. In nine years, this is the first time I have ever had to cancel a day, but our anglers and our sponsors mean more to us than one day of fishing.”
The lengthy list of comments to Egan’s Facebook video expressed appreciation for his decision. While they no doubt are appreciated as he looks back on his decision, there is one post that probably means the most. It was from Roz Egan: “Safety first. Tough choice but the right choice, son. Love, Mom.”
And so it was.
Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions are his own. Find him on Facebook at @dougwritesoutdoors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.