The Fishing Professor Jim McDonnell with a West Lake Okoboji walleye 

Another open-water fishing season is in the books: It was a nice season. Caught good numbers of fish most days, and had a great time every day. I got to fish with old friends and new friends. It’s at this time of year that I like to reflect on those days of fishing, but I also can’t help thinking of the friends I didn’t get to fish with this year. Sometimes there just aren’t enough days to get together with the friends that you’d like to fish with, but sometimes you can’t fish with those friends because they’re not around anymore, at least physically. They’re always around in our memories. Three of those friends that I always think of in these reflective moments are Jim McDonnell, “Toad” Smith, and Patrick Sheahan. Mac and Toad called the Iowa Great Lakes in northwest Iowa home, Patrick lived on the border of Wisconsin and Michigan near Land O’Lakes Wisconsin. All three were wonderful people who lived for their families and friends and the outdoors.

My last fishing trip with Mac is a fond memory. We were on Storm Lake in western Iowa chasing and catching walleyes. At the time, planer board fishing was kind of new to that area, but Mac was a pioneer in fishing techniques and wanted to give boards a try. Other anglers in the area where we were fishing couldn’t figure out what we were doing with those yellow things on our line way out to the side of the boat. And, while we caught fish and they didn’t, Mac gave anyone who asked a quick seminar on what we were doing and why. He always took the time to teach others how to enjoy their outdoor experience even more. Mac died a few years ago after a day of hunting, ice-fishing, and checking traps.

Toad Smith’s given name was Otis, but if you called him Otis, he thought you were angry with him. However, it was next to impossible to be angry with Toad. Toad’s health was not really good his last few years: He couldn’t work, but he sure could be outside. The last time we fished together we were on Rainy Lake catching crappies. Toad liked to catch anything: Crappies, carp, catfish, he didn’t care, and I appreciated that. We had much in common that way.

Toad died on the way to deer camp. There had been a snowstorm the day before. On the way to deer camp, Toad and his hunting partner saw two rooster pheasants and decided to see if they could harvest them for supper. Toad walked back to where they saw the pheasants. Both roosters took flight: Toad shot once and both fell. Toad picked up the birds, was walking back to the truck, and collapsed. Toad would have thought that type of departure was pretty cool.

Patrick Sheahan was a fishing explorer: He was constantly trying to locate new bodies of water to add to his guiding exploits. If you told Patrick that you wanted to catch walleyes, he would go into this trance-like state for a few seconds. He’d consider weather conditions, season, time of day, and other factors that most anglers wouldn’t think of. Then we’d go to that body of water and usually have outstanding success. Patrick died in a snowmobile accident while returning home from an ice-fishing trip.

Note how Mac, Toad, and Patrick departed. They would all agree that theirs was not a bad way to go for someone whose, much, not all, but much of their life revolved around the outdoors. They would also remind us to cherish every day that we spend with a family member or friend because “you just never know”.

PHOTO CAPTION-The Fishing Professor Jim McDonnell with a West Lake Okoboji walleye.

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By Bob Jensen

Northland Fishing Tackle (

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