Royal, IA – Northwest Iowa lost a conservation icon on Friday when longtime fishing guide and outdoor writer Jim McDonnell passed away. Known as The Fishing Professor, the 74-year old outdoorsman spent the past 50 years protecting and promoting the great outdoor opportunities of the Iowa Great Lakes area.
McDonnell died early Friday morning (Jan. 27) at Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City, but true to form, he had spent Thursday morning running his trap line and the afternoon deer hunting.
Considered by many to be the “grandfather” of fishing guides on the Iowa Great Lakes, McDonnell began his guiding career in the late 60s and even at age 74 continued to offer his guiding services daily throughout the open water season and even on the ice during the winter.
Laef Lundbeck of Royal joined McDonnell as a partner in the Iowa Great Lakes Guide Service nearly 13 years ago. “Jim touched the lives of thousands of visitors to the Iowa Great Lakes. It was a privilege to work with him these past years. I have no numbers, but I would guess Mac had at least 10,000 guide trips over his career!”
McDonnell was also part of the Fishing the Midwest Fishing Team (www.fishingthemidwest.com) headed by Bob Jensen. Jensen said this as he reminisced about McDonnell. “Jim McDonnell was an original. He truly enjoyed doing outdoor stuff, with someone or by himself. He was always willing to share his tips for success, and was always interested in learning of others tips for success, whether it be fishing, hunting, trapping, making maple syrup, or just about anything else related to the outdoors. He was very sincere about making our outdoor world a better place, and was also very involved in helping others enjoy the outdoors. My life is better because Mac was a friend and mentor. He is missed.
In 1967, McDonnell established the Iowa Great Lakes Fishing Club (IGLFC), which has had memberships reaching 300 members. Over the years, the IGLFC has provided fishing clinics for area youngsters, provided money for special projects and been instrumental in supporting legislation to protect the Iowa Great Lakes fishery. McDonnell often said, “The IGLFC began many years ago, and has been the watch dog- so to speak-for our fishery. We’ve taken the lead in several issues throughout the years, such as the slot limit for walleyes, protecting the bull rushes on Big Spirit and now supported the new daily panfish limit.”
Greg Drees, the chairman of the Iowa Natural Resource Commission, worked with McDonnell on many key resource projects. “I had the opportunity to work closely with Jim, a man perpetually consumed with the whole of the outdoors, on some important issues affecting the fishing community in Northwest Iowa. He possessed a unique passion for the resources, especially for his beloved Iowa Great Lakes, where he acted out the grandest part of his life, a man for all seasons.”
One of those efforts was tackling the topic of setting panfish limits in the Iowa Great Lakes. McDonnell spearheaded this initiative, at times taking a bulldog approach. He was unrelenting in his belief that this legislation was needed. Drees remembers McDonnell saying that this panfish legislation now “takes the greed out of the equation. What it does is put a value on all panfish.”
Drees then reflected on McDonnell’s final journey. “I suspect he is on a journey now that will dwarf all those wonderful years of sitting in tree stands, hunkering in waterfowl and turkey blinds, fishing undaunted in all conditions and, as was his want, just embracing the natural beauty around him. We will all one day be blessed with that story.”
A Personal note
As an outdoorsman, I knew The Fishing Professor for the past 35 years. We would talk 3-4 times weekly just about the outdoors and what we were doing. No matter what, when Mac would call, he’d always start with “Steveo, so are you out looting and plundering today or actually working?”
As an outdoor editor, I had the privilege of having McDonnell be part of my writing team. At the end of each of his articles, he would always give his readers these words of encouragement. “And do enjoy each sunrise, keep your line tight, and may your aim be straight.” Even more he lived those words each and every day!
The Spencer Daily Reporter has done a photo gallery tribute to Jim McDonnell. It can be viewed at www.spencerdailyreporter.com/gallery/.
Funeral services for Jim McDonnell will be held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31at St. Louis Catholic Church in Royal.
A Catholic Vigil Service will be held at 5 p.m. Monday, at St. Louis Catholic Church in The family will greet friends from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Monday, at the church following the vigil service. Burial will be at Willow Creek Cemetery in Royal.