I have been a fishing guide for over 35 years, fishing the Miss for over a half-century and out there discovering her grandeur for even longer than that. The Mississippi is truly a force of nature which refuses to bend–at least permanently–to the will of man. Any mistakes out there must be paid for immediately. Sometimes in full. The Immortal River is as dangerous as it is beautiful, even more so right now when the River is at low summer pool levels.

Modern electronics are amazing, but they still don’t come close to real eyeballs. The best way to learn where fish may be hiding during high water is to get out there and look right now for structure like rock piles and deadfalls. But be mindful of where you’re going. Shoals and deadfalls are encounted quickly. Staubs which weren’t even worth considering when the River was a foot higher can tear up your prop in a short second.

Apologies. I just got off on a tangent. If you’ve shared the boat with me you know a fishing trip is a series of stories and tangents, which are a back door way to learn more about the River…and make you a better fisherman.

When you’re guiding on the River, vigilance must be 360 degrees and ever constant. The difficulty doubles with each client added. Three clients are twice as tough as two, even if they have a decent fishing skill set. Ironically, it is easier to guide 3 who have never picked up a rod than 3 who have learned habits which need to be unlearned to catch fish.

I had exactly this three person novice situation last week.  It was both challenging and truly rewarding. Two of the three clients, Eyal and Becca, had never even held a fishin’ pole before. Melissa had held a cane pole as a little girl, but never a long rod with a reel attached.

We started with a little casting practice at a mid-River spot not far from the launch which sometimes holds a fish or two. Melissa hooked 4 walleyes, Becca hooked 3 and Eyal caught a 24″ pike in the first 20 minutes before they even learned how to hold the rod and make a cast.

I’ve been conducting ‘batting practice’ at this spot for 20 years. Can’t remember ever hooking up with more than a couple of fish. Seven walleyes and a pike?!? Anything is possible on the Mississippi!

Of course, i didn’t have a camera…so this has all the makings of a fish story. But Melissa is a card carrying Rabbi, Eyal is her husband and Becca is very active in their temple. So now this has the makings of a joke about rabbis, priests and pastors walking into a bar. There weren’t any priests or pastors present, but we were fishing a bar. And this story is the truth, not the truth as I see it or variations of a joke.

Melissa and her crew are on the River for a project they call “Setting the Table”.  They have interviewed over 300 persons along both sides of the River so far about political leanings, opposing views and the alarming polarization of our American experience. The whole thing will come together in a couple of town hall meetings, followed by a meal next week.

This kind of weight weighs very heavy on the shoulders of Rabbi Melissa, who needed a little extra coaching on mastering a spinning rod–even though she boated more walleyes than anybody. I was watching her and the other two like a hawk waiting for problems, netting fish, untangling lines and forever controlling the boat to keep them in the game.

With a couple of walleyes in the box–and me frankly wearing down–we agreed to try entirely different experience: panfishing. This meant changing both location and presentation, and another round of teaching while controlling the boat and all that comes with it.

The first bluegill Rabbi Melissa hooked was an honest 9″ gill. Too big to get your hand around. Eyal caught a crappie, Becca caught another gill and Melissa was tussling with another 9-incher within a couple of minutes. Once again, no camera in the boat. No time to get the camera, anyway.  The Rabbi was on a roll, the God-wink of her success made me smile…and for a second I thought about swapping my guide’s hat for a yamulke.

After about a dozen fish, all three novice anglers had a pretty good handle on panfishing with the 10′ Crappie Commander rods with one of my Perchanator flies tipped with a tiny pinch of crawler.

I glanced at Melissa, then did a double take. I didn’t see a Rabbi carrying the weight of the entire world. I saw a little 10-year-old girl who was focused and concentrating, watching the rod tip for the slightest hint of a bite. Melissa was totally enveloped, engaged and excited in fishing.

Caught myself smiling in a twisted grin so wide it hurt. This is what guiding is all about! Keep your rod up and your line tight ’til next time.

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