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Riege: Saying Goodbye to the Fishing Professor

The evening of January 27th we received an email from Tom and Sue Brown informing us of the loss of a great sportsman, a tireless conservationist, teacher, coach, friend and fishing companion who touch many lives both in the fishing industry and in the classroom.

The legendary Jim McDonnell “The Fishing Professor”, died Friday, January 27th, and was laid to rest January 31st in Royal, IA. He will be sorely missed by his fellow outdoorsmen and women, but his booming voice and his steadfast conservation ethic will surely endure.

Jim and I worked in a promotional company for many years called Pro-Mo’s. We both were teachers and we both owned and operated a guide service. Jim primarily guided on the Iowa Great Lakes.

Jim was known for many years as the “Fishing Professor” for his extensive knowledge of nationwide fishing and for his newspaper column and radio spots. In the last eight years, Jim and his wife Almeda, Tom and Sue Brown and Ginny and I made our annual trip to a fly-in camp in Canada.

The trips weren’t as much about catching fish, but we always caught fish, as it was a rekindling of our friendship and a chance for us to catch up on our lives and share stories and memories. Jim was a master of a good story. With his deep “radio voice” he could hold you in suspense for the entire evening. He also liked to sit on the dock and reflect on the day as the setting sun sank below the horizon. He would pontificate with words of wisdom, and then laugh. His laughter was as contagious as his smile.

Few knew that Jim was inducted into the Trapping Hall of Fame. In 1972 he was awarded the Girl’s Basketball Advisory Coach of the year. In March he was looking forward to his induction to the Girl’s Iowa High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame.

Jim McDonnell retired from teaching and coaching almost 20 years ago, but he never stopped teaching. His classroom was the outdoors or his boat. His lesson plans were written in the day’s catch or what he harvested with his clients or friends. Jim was always involved with conferencing whether it be on a seminar stage, or in a newspaper article. He was always there for his students in the boat showing them how to perfect a knot or land a trophy fish.

I don’t know the author of this poem, but I thought I would share it with you.

Fisherman’s Prayer

God grant that I may fish until my dying day.

And when I come to my last cast,

I’ll then most humbly pray.

When in the Lord’s safe landing net,

I’m peacefully asleep.

That in His mercy I’ll be judged,

As good enough to keep.

You don’t have the opportunity to meet people like Jim very often. He will be deeply missed, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends who, like us, are just as devastated at the loss of such a great man. We have a hollow space that only he can fill. Somewhere between the distant promise in the call of the geese and the sudden flare of setting wings… between the point and the flush… and in the darkening moments between the end of the day and the start of tomorrow, we say goodbye to a true friend and mentor.