Trial Balloon

An Epic Weekend

Posted at 6:00 AM on May 17, 2010 by Dale Connelly (33 Comments)
Filed under: Poetry


I hope you had a lovely fishing opener weekend, whether it was spent in the heart of the whirlwind on I-94 north of the Twin Cities, or fleeing from the madness in some other direction, like, say, into the dark comfort of a movie theater.

I headed north, and things being what they are with traffic and timing, will return as a live presence in the studio tomorrow. My trip has actually had more to do with golfing than fishing, but I have been thinking about our scaley friends and those who chase them around Minnesota's lakes. It put me in mind of Longfellow's epic poem "Song of Hiawatha", which is made up of over 5300 unrhymed lines that are each 8 syllables long. "Hiawatha" rhythm was modeled after the trochaic tetrameter of another very long poem, the Kalevala of Finland.

Each of these poems can be as tedious as waiting for traffic to clear on the interstate around Albertville on Friday afternoon or Sunday evening. You will be pleased to see that my inspiration is only 7 verses long, though you might still lose interest about halfway through. Not to worry - the ending is inconclusive. The combatants live to fight another day.

By the shores of Didju Catchmee
Where the fishes meet their slaughter
Stood a walleye called Nokomis
Who, of course, was quite enormous.
Covered with a lakey liquid
Dripping from his fins and flippers
Dripping from his scales like diamonds
Dripping into shining puddles

Said Nokomis to me loudly
In a voice so damp and boastful
With a venom underlying
"I have you again eluded!"
"I the fish you came to butcher."
"Took your worm, I did, and then some."
"Took your rod and reel beside it."
"Now your pride is mine forever."

"Nasty fish," said I, repugnant.
"Do not taunt me with your blather."
"Do you think I care a farthing
That your carcass still is swimming?"
"I came here to drink hard liquor
quaffing beers with my good buddies."
I am eating cheese all weekend.
I like nachos more than walleye."

Quite enraged was great Nokomis
By my strange but true admission.
Wheezing through his gills he fixed me
With one frosted glassy eyeball.
"Are you saying you pretended
to be seeking my destruction
and you never meant to catch me
Thus my freedom is your doing?"

"Or would you have killed me gladly
and discarded me to fester
while you dined on corn and lactose
In a campground near Bemidji?"
Carefully I framed my answer
For the walleye called Nokomis
He, the mighty water dweller
He could walk on land, the devil.

"What I meant to say, Nokomis,
is that you have drained my motor
of it's energy to catch you.
You who tore my line asunder
With my rod and reel absconded
You who dove beneath the surface
You who ate the worm to spite me
Bested me with fishly courage."

Hearing this, the fish Nokomis
Stood a little taller, even
Than a fish should stand at lakeside
And with one more glare of loathing
Dove into the churning water
Took his leave of me completely
Once again a slimy victor
On his favorite sporting weekend.

What is your favorite tale about the one that got away?


Comments (33)

Up early this morning to head to Bismarck for a conference. I don't fish much, but the Longfellow poem makes me think about Pipestone, Mn and the song of Hiawatha pageant there every summer. I have lots of relatives there who sometimes were extras for the show-My tall, blond cousins didn't exactly look the part of Chippewa villagers, but they made it work somehow. I am proud to report, by the way, that I made my exercise goals for the past two weeks. Happy Monday Heartlanders!

Posted by Renee | May 17, 2010 6:08 AM


congratulations, Renee!
and congratulations, Dale, on such a feat - wonderful poem and not at all boring! thanks.

i was supposed to be a boy, so as early as i can remember i was going fishing with my Dad. but he never did opener - said that was for amateurs.
we didn't have a boat, and until much later he had a 5 horse evinrude motor. he liked to troll for walleye or northerns. his favorite lake was Bell near Hutchinson. he never caught much, but knew there were great big walleyes in there. so he kept trying. i haven't been fishing since he died (i never liked it much - i liked the summer sausage sandwiches, the Mounds bars, and talking with my Dad :-)
happy day to everyone

Posted by barb in Blackhoof | May 17, 2010 6:16 AM


Good morning all. I'm not much of a fisherman, but my grandfather loved fishing and took my bother and I on fishing trips when were young. We always caught lots of pan fish.

I don't have any story of the one that got away from my own fishing trips. However, my Grandfather had a tale about hooking a large stergeon and working hard to keep it on the line. When the fish was tired he tried to wade into the water to grap it, but it got away.

Posted by Jim | May 17, 2010 6:16 AM


Good morning, all.

I can't even think of a metaphorical one that got a way on a Monday morning at 6:30. I've been to work since 5:45, but my brain is having trouble adjusting to the concept of the workweek.

On Saturday I finished my second to the last 20 mile run before Grandma's Marathon in June. Looking forward to the tape (eating and running less) before the race. Hopefully it won't be the one that got away.

Have a great week, everyone.

Posted by elinor | May 17, 2010 6:30 AM


Aww, Dale, you're pulling our legs. The sophistication of discourse from Nokomis goes beyond anything I've heard from the lips of a walleye. I think maybe you made some of that up. Walleyes are always found in schools, you might notice, but they never graduate.

Typical walleye humor: "Roses are red, violets are blue, bullheads stink and so do you."

But thanks! I loved the drama of the poem.

As the editor of a fishing magazine for several years, I saw a lot of stories about the one that got away. The most moving of them was called something like "Big George, a Muskie Man's Muskie."

Big George was a monster muskie that lived in a certain region of the Chippewa Flowage (if I remember correctly). He rarely showed, but when he did it was memorable. Now and then a fisherman would come off the lake looking like he'd just seen the Devil himself, and it would turn out that Big George had hit his lure, jumped all over the lake and broken the line in a show of savagery that left the angler unable to function or even unable to speak.

One day a ferocious wind hit the Flowage, and the author (who ran a resort) knew this apocalyptic weather was just right for catching Big George. He went out, braving high winds and furious whitecaps. And sure enough, he hooked Big George. The battle raged for nearly an hour, but Big George was getting old and couldn't fight like he once had.

Then the fish, beaten, was beside the boat, wearily pumping his massive gills. The guy with the author was new to muskie fishing, and he didn't know how to gaff a fish. He managed to sink the gaff deep in Big George's body . . . and sever the line in the process. The author, who had pursued Big George ardently for a dozen years, saw the huge fish sinking into the depths with the gaff in its tummy.

And that was it. He was so despondent at having killed the best fish in Wisconsin, he never fished muskies again.

Happy Monday, Heartlanders!

Posted by Steve in Saint Paul | May 17, 2010 6:31 AM


Steve -- that is the most tragic fish story! I don't think I'll ever be able to eat muskie again.

Posted by Donna | May 17, 2010 7:04 AM


Greetings! I don't fish but I sure appreciate a good story, Steve! That's a tough act to follow.

The closest thing I have to a fishing story was when we were all kids at my parents cabin in WI. My sisters and I were on the dock, laying down trying to catch crayfish w/hot dog on a string. My little (and only) brother came running down the dock, tripped and fell in water. All us girls just stood there screaming like morons while the son and heir was drowning. My dad came galloping down, dived off dock and plucked Andy out of water. Rumor has it dad was still holding his wet fishing license when he came up with a sputtering little boy.

That was a memorable moment. Our lake was more of a narrow flowage, so it was shallow and mucky -- not a swimming lake. We liked to canoe around mainly and dad and the guys fished.

Posted by Joanne in Big Lake | May 17, 2010 7:17 AM


i don't fish but i've gone fishing
with the guys on guys weekend out
they drink all night and fish all day
guys doing guy stuff all night long
memories of playing cards late
memories of drinking beer too
memories of laughing loudly
doing guy stuff by the water
jokes and limericks abounding
fish get caught but not too many
on opener they take back seat
to the fun and blissful weekend
with the boys of party weekend
boys with puke mashed in their hairdo
boys who simply can't remember
what a good time they were having
in the local bar last evening
dancing with some local mama
the townies knew it was guy stuff
they knew we were tourist boys here
doing what tourist boys will do
until the end of time it seems
until there are no more beers left
smiling at his sick jokes non stop
he is one sick s.o.b.man
thats what makes it so rewarding
where else can we do stuff like that
by the shores of some lake up north
in the moonlight by the water
we will howl and hoot like ninnies
baying loudly at the moonlight
drinking beer and laughing loudly
this is what we call opener
this is what we live for sort of
to be a guy is hard stuff right?
finding meaning where there is none
speaking truth when we know of none
whistling through saltines crumbs fly
chili cook offs and black coffee
sleeping bags need to be turned out
misty aleish recollections
recollections of our weekend
guys do guy stuff by the water
in a tiny local beer joint
in the back seat he lets loud farts
all the way home smiling broadly
smelling like a dead fish wished to
eyes swelled shut from sleep too littlewe roll into our cars on sunday
and drive home with coffee and smiles
remembering what we can not

Posted by tim | May 17, 2010 7:30 AM


No fishing for me (nor days spent with summer sausage sandwiches and Mounds bars, let alone fishing in storms for muskies). The only "ones that got away" are things hardly worth regretting (like boyfriends who turned out to be not quite as fabulous as they seemed - so good riddance to bad fish).

Congratulations Renee on the exercise goals - and Elinor I hope Grandma's is a success.

Anna

Posted by Anna | May 17, 2010 7:41 AM


It wouldn't be good for me to go to the fishing opener, because whenever I go fishing the fish usually stop biting. My Dad was not too interested in fishing because he spent too many long hours in the fishing boat with my Grandfather who would stay out late on the water in hopes of catching a few more fish.

I did go on a nice fishing outing with my Dad when he was retired and we were staying at a resort. Dad piloted the boat and we pulled in a nice bunch of pan fish just like we always did when my Grandfather took us fishing when I was a boy.

Posted by Jim | May 17, 2010 7:42 AM


Oh and Happy Syttende Mai all!

Posted by Anna | May 17, 2010 7:43 AM


manga tusen takk anna

Posted by tim | May 17, 2010 7:50 AM


my dad too was a non fisherman, he would go out with the boys on a guys weekend and catch nothing. even in a boat where they were reeling them in. he told of switching poles with other guys who were hot because they felt sorry for him. he would catch nothing using their hot pole and they would magically begin reeling them in on his previously dormant rod.
he moved to leach lake to retire i bought him fishing gear and figured he would finally get time to enjoy it. he never did but he sure liked leach and the lake life.

Posted by tim | May 17, 2010 7:55 AM


Thanks for the epic poem Dale! It's great :) I have meant to read the Kalevala many times, but never have. I did go see a play based on the Kalevala last year. The acting wasn't the greatest (small local theater), but it was very interesting getting to know some of the tales in the Kalevala. My parents have a translated copy, but I've only leafed through it. As part of my heritage, I really should try to read it someday. I guess you could call that my "one that got away," :) At least so far, haha. I have eaten at the Kaleva Cafe in Hancock, MI ;) haha

Posted by Alanna in MI | May 17, 2010 8:13 AM


My dad wasn't much of a fisherman either, tim, but he LOVED to be out on the boat, or around the campfire with the guys for fishing trips. I don't think the fish mattered. It was the fellowship. I get it now. Fresh walleye on a campfire are unbelievable, but friends make the world go around.

Posted by Mike Pengra | May 17, 2010 8:21 AM


I'm a city girl.. actually grew up in a city much larger than the Twin Cities... so I don't have even one teensy fishing anecdote. And no metaphorical "got-aways" either.

But it was an epic gardening weekend at our house... even the teenager enjoyed being outside and I got some serious yardwork out of her (without whining or my having to nag.) Seriously epic!

Posted by sherrilee | May 17, 2010 8:26 AM


Morning all! A friend of mine, a non-fisher person known as Miss Debbie because she was reared in the south, worked for an engineering company which won the contract to construct a section of four-lane highway just north of the metro. One of the many aspects of Miss Debbie's job was to meet the public and listen to the various concerns of the folks living close to the construction site.
At one memorable public meeting, which was attended by the construction company's legal representatives from New York, citizen after citizen stood to express concerns about 'd'opener', and how road construction was going to be a horrible barricade to 'd'opener', and 'd'opener' traffic was going to slow down to a trickle, etc.
As people were speaking Miss Debbie watched the faces of the lawyers from NY, which were growing more and more concerned about what they were hearing. Miss Debbie began listening to the whispered conversations of the lawyers, and realized that she was witnessing panic rising from the misunderstanding of the word, 'd'opener'. The legal guys were wondering what kind of dope trade was being done in the small towns of the Midwest, and did their company want to be considered as aiding and abetting criminal activity by building a four-lane highway which would eventually help speed the criminal activity!
At that point Miss Debbie addressed the meeting to explain that 'd'opener' should be translated as 'the fishing opener' and had to do with the spring ritual of thousands of Minnesotans driving north in their vehicles to begin the very legal walleye fishing season.
The lawyers relaxed, the citizenry at the meeting laughed, and Miss Debbie had a fish-tale to tell about 'd'opener'.

Posted by Teri in Zimmerman | May 17, 2010 8:29 AM


Uffda, Dale, I'm laughing already at Didju Catchme..
And tim, well done!

I was just a little girl child
when a visit from my Grandpa
got my dad to rent a rowboat
and go out upon the water
that was call-ed Storm Lake, Iowa,
in the hope of catching fishes.
Don't recall now if we caught them
but will forever remember
sitting in that boat on water
with my dad and my own Grandpa.
(Little Sister must have stayed home
with the Mama and the Grandma
Making this jaunt all the sweeter.)

Posted by Barbara in Robbinsdale | May 17, 2010 8:34 AM


thanks mike, my dad got his camaraderie on the golf course. his golf stag would have been this weekend (after mothers day) . his stories were the same as fishing stories except driving a golf cart and no shore fries.
guys, cards , stories and laughs.
he loved to stop in for a coffee or a beer. the visit was the nectar of life

Posted by tim | May 17, 2010 8:36 AM


Met friends at Emma Krumbee's this weekend, man and his wife. He was the naturalist at Gooseberry Park for 32 years, there known as Smokey the Bear, a great birder. Smokey used to tell peole all small warblers and sparrows they would point out were "Confusing Fall Warblers." Great memories and comparing of body deterioration.
One That Did Not Get Away Story
Talking to them and comparing stories about our children made me think this way: They were teling us about church that morning, the sermon in particular, which was on priorities. The priest said he was talking to a young man with three small children who bragged about playing softball four nights a week. A man needs a night out and a weekend with the boys as does a woman. BUT!! Would have wished to have fished more, and if my wife had worked in Duluth in a full-time good paying job, we would have a better income right now. But the two that did not get away from us were our son and daughter.

Posted by Clyde | May 17, 2010 8:40 AM


Way to go Renee, excpet of ocurse for the part about having to go to Bismarck.:-)
Do you remember that we were asking Dale for a chance to tell aunt stories? Think it came up over Mother's Day. Anyway, a heads-up to those who wanted that topic--have your aunt stories ready for tomorrow.

Posted by Clyde | May 17, 2010 8:58 AM


Fun stuff everybody!

I used to fish in the creek when I was a kid; caught suckers-- or so I'm told that's what they were.

Not much interest in fishing once I got older..

My other connection to fishing is the local 'Water Retention Structure' that formed a lake -- sorry, a "Reservoir"-- that was *supposed* to be closed to fishing-- until the trespassing ice fisherman found fish in there-- and then it became a free for all. And we, the Townboard, fought it for as long as it was reasonable to fight it... and then it got opened and it got fished out in a year or two. We did get it closed in October and April every year for bird Migration.
I suppose if I fished more I would have viewed this differently.
But I don't.
And didn't.


Posted by Benannonymous... | May 17, 2010 9:01 AM


Did you notice how the fishing stories today were not about fish but about family, friends, memories? I worked with a bunch of men who would have answered Dale's question with long fishing stories. This set of stories was nice to read as opposed to their long lunch time tales.

Posted by clyde | May 17, 2010 9:13 AM


Funny post, Bennnnnnn.

Posted by Clyde | May 17, 2010 9:26 AM


Clyde,
The guys who deer hunt at our place in the fall; I've limited their hunting stories to one minute. I told them 'It's not personal, it's that I just don't care'...

Posted by Ben | May 17, 2010 9:30 AM


A favorite faculty room moment, and I do not have many because I did not go there much: 30 years ago at a Monday lunch hour a coach and outdoorsman came into faculty room and surveyed his options. He could sit with the women, sit with four of us guys who were not much as outdoorsmen or that much into sports, or sit alone.
He chose us in part I am sure because I had been one of his asst. coaches for awhile. So he sat down. We were exchanging recipes. He sat there for along time not sure how to take this. Then he went and sat alone.

Posted by Clyde | May 17, 2010 9:40 AM


Steve, that story reminded me a bit of The Old Man and the Sea...

Teri - fun story that I'll have to pass on...

Garrison has sung on PHC this parody of the Homage March from Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite:

"Sons of Knute we are marching to freedom
Looking for our friends, hoping to meet ‘em
Saturday morning, we’re in our glory
We’re up at five o’clock for northerns."

I'll post the rest of it if I can locate... it's a hoot, as we say here in the north.


Posted by Barbara in Robbinsdale | May 17, 2010 9:41 AM


30 years ago when my ex-brother worked for Goodyear, they opened a small plant in eastern Tennessee on the edge of the backwoods mountain country. The plan was to find cheap nonunion labor, which they did. Came the first Monday morning and all of the Northern managers came in to find the plant empty. Not one of the local employees showed up. It took then a couple of hours to find out it was deer hunting season. When they told the employees they could get ahold of that they were supposed to be at work or lose their jobs, they quit. In the end Goodyerar just shut down for the the hunting season and did not fire anyone. Can't fight local culture.

Posted by clyde | May 17, 2010 10:02 AM


I read an interview with the wife of a European classical music conductor who was stationed in some South Dakota town directing a local symphony for a year. The interviewer asked this cultured woman what had been her biggest surprise about the classical music scene in South Dakota.

"Hunting," she said without pause. "My husband and I had no idea we would have to schedule orchestra performances around hunting seasons."

Good story Clyde. A friend once said it snowed 11 inches at Walker, MN, and they held school. But they knew better than to expect students to show up on the first Monday or Tuesday of deer season.

Barbara: nice comment. It is like that. Or imagine that Ahab actually kills Moby Dick, what does he do with the rest of his life?

Posted by Steve in Saint Paul | May 17, 2010 10:48 AM


Great local culture stories...

OK, here's Garrison's Sons of Knute: Homage March

Sons of Knute we are marching to freedom
Looking for our friends, hoping to meet ‘em
Saturday morning, we’re in our glory
We’re up at five o’clock for northerns.

In the Land of Lakes, dear Minnesota
Push the boat from shore, start up the motor
Life don’t concern us, we got a thermos
And a bucket full of minnows.

Boy, the fog is thick, where is your compass?
Better talk real loud so nobody bump us.
Oscar and Elmer, Edgar and Hjalmer,
Heading out to catch the big ones.

Here’s the spot right here, this is the one dey
Said was pretty hot, week ago Sunday.
I’m gonna try her, hand me the pliers,
Hand me down that box of fish hooks.

Are you sure this is where they said we should try for?
Ja, right off the point according to Iver.
Hey, look at my bobber, could be a whopper.
I think you got a bite. I think so.

Life is sweet, nobody talking,
Here in a boat gently rocking.
Steam coming off a cup o’ hot java,
And guys that we have known forever.

Posted by Barbara in Robbinsdale | May 17, 2010 11:14 AM


Moby Dick and Huck Finn--neither can be ended.
Am an trying to kills God and a boy drifting to hell. No endings can work for either of those.

Posted by clyde | May 17, 2010 11:26 AM


Starbucks Coffee takes its name from the character in Moby Dick. Which means they passed on Ahab's Coffee or Ishmael's or Peleg's or Queequeg's or, my favorite, Coffin's Coffee.

Posted by Clyde | May 17, 2010 11:56 AM


My mind is all over the place today, but we need a name for it:
1. That stuff that gets sent around on emails until some times some people receive it ten times or more, that must consume a great deal of bandwidth with all of the levels of > that can be in them. What is a word for that: cyberchaf, ecrap, electronic bunnies, e-bbs, huh?
2. That period of time between when they say "we found something on a test and we should get it checked right away" and the appointment 9 weeks later?

Posted by Clyde | May 17, 2010 12:35 PM


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