By Nick Simonson
We buzzed along the inside of the breakline, my buddy Kevin and I, watching the rhythmic ticking of the tips of the trolling rods strung out alongside his Alumacraft, with a second eye toward the graph behind the console he was manning for the blips and arcs which symbolized the post-spawn walleyes lurking below. In the blue-green waters of the Missouri River, our firetiger crankbaits bumped and scraped along the beige bottom as things got shallower, and then swung back to their pulsing cadence as the bottom gave way to a deeper water column. On those lips and humps under the blue skies of the post frontal day, Kevin’s rod would double over with the weight of a fish, and the first one, a spawned out 20 inch walleye, came in with a bit of excitement.
As I learn the bends and straightaways of the complex river and its numerous subtleties under his tutelage, I am aware that the fastest action will not always be mine, simply due to my inexperience, though I have had a few opportunities where he has deferred to me as the student to do the catching along the drifting bars and shifting points of the water flowing south from our upstream homes. These moments allow him to try something different, or simply encourage me to connect with the water.
Our trolling efforts on this day however, were not such a session. With each pass along the series of bars, humps and points, it was the inside rod that popped and provided an easy turn and spin by my mentor. While my rod stayed steady, the chances did allow for me to flex my skills as a netman, except for those walleyes which could be easily swung in over the transom of the boat. Whether it was a keeper for the livewell, or some ambitious young fish that found its mark on the trebles of his offered crankbait, Kevin got the call and the bent rod with each trip upstream.
Anyone worth their salt in the outdoors has been there before. You take a young person or someone new on the water or in the field, and the fish seem to be slightly off from where they are expected or the birds get up in your range, while your guest doesn’t get a shot. That doesn’t mean the outing isn’t productive, but you just feel bad that things didn’t set up for the visitor to experience the opportunity as you hoped. Thankfully, these days my outings are less about the shooting and the catching and more about being in the moment, alive and outdoors, and this trip also gave me a chance to experience such an outing from the other side of the mirror and find joy in the success I contributed to in a marginal way, but there was a greater takeaway as well.
While it has been a while since I was the guest on any such outing up until this season, I harbored no frustration at the fate that had befallen my lonely #5 Shad Rap. In the limited action on my side of the boat, I found myself rapt in the stories my host shared with me about deer hunting the river bottoms around us and days of endless spring walleyes on the flow long before it became popular and the five boats trolling the stretch along with us would have been all he had seen in a day three decades ago. In our handful of adventures this season, not one of the tales had been repeated and all of them expanded my horizons on the fishing and hunting opportunities lurking around each bend and in amongst the willow stands and towering cottonwoods on shore. Deer, turkeys and pheasants and bountiful gold fish and large northern pike filled the space in the boat and the time between hits on the bright lures behind us, until his rod would jump again and we’d turn to the stern to see what came up.
Where I am so often the one teaching, sharing, and guiding in my efforts in the outdoors, it’s good to be back on the other side, learning, watching and following. It serves as a reminder that no matter how much you know (or think you know) there is always more to learn. Through that process of getting the information to not only be successful on my own in new efforts somewhere down the road, it will also assist me in being a better mentor as well…in our outdoors.
Featured Photo: While the walleyes were taking to crankbaits, they weren’t necessarily the author’s on a recent river fishing trip. Simonson Photo.