Salute to fishing guide Jerry Walthall

I’ve often wondered why anyone would want to be a fishing guide, especially a bass fishing guide. It’s a tough job where clients have high expectations of the guide himself. The guide should be able to put you on fish consistently. But there’s more to being a fishing guide than just being able to put customers on fish. He or she needs an attractive personality because there will be many days that it will come in handy.

Some guides go above and beyond to make a fishing trip complete and enjoyable. They bait hooks, take fish off hooks and, the worst part, clean all the fish. But occasionally, they entertain. Some can sing, some can do tricks, and some can tell jokes. Some are great story tellers and like sharing their experiences from previous guide trips while making fun of some of their clients.

For several years, I took trips to Beavers Bend State Park just north of Broken Bow, Oklahoma. Each year I would hire a guide by the name of Jerry Walthall. Now Jerry was an old soul, probably in his late 70s, who was a Vietnam war veteran. He had a wealth of knowledge and knew Lake Broken Bow well. But my last trip with Jerry would be one I’ll never forget.

We met at the boat ramp, loaded the boat, and headed north up the lake. Jerry’s boat was not a high dollar luxury boat. It was an old 21-foot Ranger boat with a 250 Evinrude motor on the back. The seats had seen better days as all of them had duct tape holding them together. To say the boat had been used is an understatement. But don’t be fooled by an overused boat or an old man who moved slowly from console to the front deck. This man knew how to catch fish.

On every trip I made with Jerry, we always made a long run up into the river portion of the lake. Jerry seemed to be the most comfortable and knowledgeable on this end of the lake. I’ve said before that there’s never been an angler in the boat with me that I did not learn something from. Jerry was no exception as we began talking fish catching strategies for the day.

I think one reason Jerry and I got along so well is that we both loved fishing a Zoom trickworm. But a few years earlier, I would be the one to introduce him to the trickworm color black emerald. From that day on, Jerry always made sure we had a few packs of black emerald trickworms in the boat as we headed out.

But on my last outing with Jerry, he did something that I had never seen before and will never forget. As we settled in and Jerry lowered the trolling motor, we both started fishing. Now the scenery on Lake Broken Bow can be breathtaking, especially in the fall. But on this particular morning, it was cold with a low hanging fog just above the water.

After a couple of fish catches by both of us, Jerry told me to please hand him the next small fish I caught. Only minutes went by when I caught a ten-inch fish. Jerry saw the fish and said that was the perfect size. I said to him, “The perfect size for what?” As he took possession of the small bass, he told me to watch the tree line on the other side of the bay.

It was at this point Jerry started to whistle, as if calling his favorite dog, when out of nowhere an eagle came flying off the treetops down to the water level about hundred yards behind the boat. The eagle was soaring just above the water with a purpose and appeared to know exactly what he was looking for. As the eagle approached the back of the boat, he flew within a couple feet and snatched that bass right out of Jerry’s hand! It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen on any fishing trip. I asked Jerry why he had never shown me that before? It was so cool seeing the majestic eagle swoop down off the trees and take a fish out of Jerry’s hand like some kind of circus act.

This would be my last trip with Jerry Walthall. He died during the Covid pandemic. I miss my friend Jerry and the trips we took. We always had great outings no matter how many fish we caught. We both told stories, but his were more interesting. After all he was a Vietnam war veteran but did not like talking about his experiences in the war. I respected him for that as I could tell it had a lasting impact on him, and not in a good way.

To Jerry and all the war veterans out there, thank you for your service and thank you for allowing folks like me to get to enjoy the freedoms of this great country.

‘Til next time, good luck, good fishing and don’t forget to set the hook. You never know when you might catch that fish of a lifetime.

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