Minneapolis, Minnesota – September 2001

Massacre at Dark River

A fish tail without a head

“Stop at the El Toro and ask,”

Those were her mom’s direct orders, and since it was a bar, we were more than happy to oblige. Our mission was to find out any information we could about the upcoming Minnesota Old Time Fiddle Championship. We knew it was the next day, but when and where? After a couple Pabst and some “Mega Touch” (not nearly as good as “Touchmaster”), our mission was accomplished and we headed to the rendezvous point (Lake 14) for the debriefing.

We awoke early the next morning excited as could be, knowing later that same night we’d be listening to the best fiddlers in Minnesota, barring of course those “trick or fancy” fiddlers who apparently would only cause a ruckus at such an event and were not allowed to compete. But until then we would fish, not just the Mother Lake (Lake 14) but a trout stream deep in the backwoods of Northern Minnesota.

We headed to the stream following a second rate highway and turned off on two or three roads that shook our car as we drove over huge rocks and downed trees. We eventually ended up at the end of the road, if that’s what you would call it. Checking to make sure the truck was in one piece, we ventured out to walk the rest of the way. Deeper and deeper into the woods we went. We were searching for the Dark River, aptly named for it’s root beer looking water.

Despite my fishing buddy’s constant reassurances that she knew where we were going, I had my doubts. The sun was high in the sky, we were trekking though wild country with wild animals and I couldn’t help thinking, if something goes wrong or we get lost who would ever find us out here?

Finally, we reached the river. I needed to take a a break from our long trek, so I pondered my plan of action. Was today the day for an inline spinner or maybe my green may fly, and should I use grubs? I decided on the inline spinner and a grub. A dangerous rig, but I felt that I was up for it. Years of training and practice had taught me to be cautious. As I made my first cast I couldn’t help but feel that something wasn’t quite right. The fact that we only had enough food for maybe one small meal also made me nervous. Nonetheless I was here to fish and that’s what I was going to do.

After a few hours of relentless catch and release, I was exhausted. I took a seat and watched my buddy fish, and took note of the rushing rapids just to our left. Water takes no prisoners, I thought to myself as the water pounded down on the rocks and rushed by us. After some liquid refreshment I resumed fishing.

On the first cast I felt a bite, and knew right away that I was in for the fight of my life. Not a second later, I felt the fish on my hook. I knew he would try to use the power of the river to swim away from the slippery rock I was trying desperately to balance on. The fish pulled one way and I pulled the other, just when I thought I had gained some line on it, line would rip from my reel, screaming as it pulled off. The struggle was exhausting but finally I pulled the fish from the water. A look of horror crossed both our faces as my fishing buddy exclaimed, “What is it”?

Unable to answer, I knew that once the fish was out of water it was only a matter of time. I had to work quickly. A second glance revealed that the fish had entirely swallowed my lure. My God, the Horror! As the fish shook violently on the end of my line, driving the treble hook’s barbs further into it’s throat, I looked for my forceps. They were nowhere to be found. I wondered if they were still in my tackle box, which was over 3 feet away. There was no time for that. I turned back to my fish, blood running down my hand as I tried to control the wild fish. I needed to get the hook out!

My fishing buddy handed me her forceps, and I began to attempt to dislodge the hook. The sheer power of the fish overwhelmed me and in a moment of disorientation the fish went for my leg. Leaving dried blood and some fish slime I ended up unscathed.

At this point the fish was on its last leg, and I knew it. My fishing buddy told me to end it all quickly and kill the fish. I couldn’t possibly kill the fish, what had the fish ever done to me? I’m a vegetarian for crying out loud, I violated the code. This was my fault and the fish was paying the price. It was me who had chosen the deadly rig, cast into the wind and waited hopefully for the interest of a fish. I got what I wanted, and now I had to kill for it.

Unwilling to watch the fish die in my hands I reluctantly grabbed my buck knife, and attempted to cut the head off. Seeing that this was not working, I heard my buddy say, “Saw it off!”

This was a horror movie unfolding before my eyes. I couldn’t help it, I sawed. And soon I had a fish head hanging from my line. What the hell was I suppose to do with that?

“Pull the hook out,” she said. I’m not touching that fish head, is what I thought, and instead cut away the remaining fish head with my bloodied buck knife and retrieved my lure. I knew then that the fishing gods may never shine down on me again after this senseless killing. I could no longer fish with a clear conscience. Thank God for the fiddle festival.

Minnesota Old Time Fiddle Championship

Cotton, Minnesota

35 North to 33 to 53 West

Although I thought the fiddle contest would consist of Old Timers with scraggly beards and missing teeth, it was still interesting and somewhat amusing in it’s actual form. Kids to “Senior” Seniors, this fiddle festival showcased a wide range of talent. I think my Old Timers got ruled out with the NOTFA Certified Rule that there would be no trick or fancy fiddling, cross tuning, or string plucking allowed in the contest. Even if you don’t know anything about fiddling (like me) you will have a masters degree by the time the contest is finished.

Held the third weekend in August, it’s worth the trip. There must be a small motel in Cotton, but I didn’t see it. My suggestion would be to drive another 20 miles north on 53 and stay in Virginia. “They have a 24 hour Country Kitchen, in case of emergencies,” my fishing buddy would tell you.

I would tell you to stay away from the Dark River.