Ashes on the River

Ashes on the River

It is fitting and proper that my ashes will be scattered on the Immortal Mississippi when the Great Rainmaker calls me home. After a lifetime on this water i have learned that her inner secrets will remain hidden until I see the Creator face to face.  Until then I can only go to the River like any other living creature, relating to ambient conditions while trying to fit into the grand scheme of things.

Essentially, I’m just one more toothy predator–lacking scales and fishing from an aluminum platform which tries to kiss the River without being too intrusive. I learned the concept of ‘pre-fishing’ is a waste of time many years ago. Better to come to the River, plug in and let conditions take you where experience says the fish will be. If the first hunch comes up empty, you reconfigure and proceed.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve found considerable success in backwater areas where there is at least 2′ of visibility. Spots like this are tougher to find when the River is in flood stage–like it will be again in about 3 days–because areas which loaded from downstream pushing clearer water to the upper end now have water actively flowing through the trees, bringing color and current which have an adverse impact on fish behavior. All this means is that you need to look a little harder to find the fish in an ecosystem which grows exponentially with every inch of River rise.

Over the past few days I’ve seen smallmouth come out of weeds and wood and caught walleyes up to 27″ in less than 3 f.o.w. on chatterbaits. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom.  But conventional wisdom does not apply on the Immortal River.  The Miss makes the rules, which are absolute and understood only by the Miss.

Sometimes the fish just don’t want to bite–or even strike at passing ‘trigger’ baits, simply because the River says they don’t have to. I understand this but have trouble conveying it to some folks who simply haven’t reached this point of intimacy with the Immortal River. I believe trying to bring others to this point of understanding is the most important work I can do as a fishing guide. As this happen, fish get caught. But fish are just a bonus. It is growth as a fisherman which clients will have for the rest of their days.

Back to ashes. Our time here is known only to the Creator. This fact becomes increasingly lucid with each passing day spent out there on some of God’s very best work. Thursday afternoon my old friend Jesse and new friend James were flying down the River in Jesse’s water rocket Ranger boat. James lives in Alabama, where he is editor of Bassmaster magazine. Until Wednesday he had not been on the Immortal River north of Memphis. We were winding through a side channel known locally as ‘dead man’s cut’. When we were almost at a major side-channel called Minnesota slough we saw a boat at an unusual place for a boat under these conditions and slowed down. In the boat were two sullen fisherman and a local law enforcement officer. Floating face down in the weeds just a couple feet from the boat was a body.

The LEO said more help was assembling at Visager’s landing, several twists, turns and islands from the tragedy. We went back to the boat ramp and led a boat carrying a body bag to the scene.

The Mississippi is as unforgiving as it is Grand. All mistakes must be paid for immediately. Sometimes in full. I found out later that the body used to hold the life of a 29-year-old man who went in 18 miles upstream, 10 days before. The River brought him through the dam at Genoa where gates were wide open because the River is at ‘action stage’ past the first major running slough on the west side of the River above Twin Island, two the second running slough which snakes past Goose lake and into Minnesota slough, where it came to rest less than 100 yards from the confluence.

Why did the body take this path? The course is known only to the River. Someday my ashes may wind up in this exact same spot. Or not. The River is truly a force of nature which is forever changing. Encountering a body is always troubling. I have seen many in a career as a professional firefighter and several more on the River and elsewhere. The corpse is just a corpse. The soul has departed. A human soul is not like the River’s soul–though both are living creatures.

Life is the journey we humans take which is a perpetual study in trying to figure things out. tight lines.





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