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Dave Wood's Book Report, July 15, 2009

A reprint of a 1990 book just re-done by the University of Minnesota Press makes me feel very good. Very good indeed.

See, when I was growing up only rich people went fishing for game fish in the Great Lakes, the not-so-great lakes and trout streams like the Brule.

Those of us poor people who were nearly landlocked had to settle for the muddy little stream that flowed through our towns.

My river was the Trempealeau, where municipalities, cheese factories, creameries and slaughterhouses had been dumping raw sewage, whey, cow guts into it for decades.

Carp liked this stew of a river and so did we kids. All summer long we fished for carp and redhorse and mudcats, who ate up our own excrement and even our baits if we were lucky.

But that's not too romantic. There's no hint of Izaak Walton's "Compleat Angler" in the portraits of us in bib overalls fishing with cane poles and heavy green fish line and sinkers that weighed more than we did as we angled for carp as big nuclear submarines, in the millrace below Bar-Non Feeds and, yes, where the city sewer came out below our house, burbling up blood from the packing plant and even more unmentionable stuff.

Why do I finally feel good about myself after all these years? Because this new old book exonerated me and my pals. It's "Fishing for Buffalo: A Guide to the Pursuit and Cuisine of Carp, Suckers, Eelpout, Gar, and Other Rough Fish ($18.95, paper) by Rob Buffler a Canadian wildlife director and Tom Dickson, editor of Montana Outdoors magazine.

Buffler and Dickson are avid rough fishermen, who tell us that a carp is more difficult to land than a walleye, that a carp if properly prepared can be very delicious. They tell us how these fish came to the U.S. (European immigrants demanded carp), they give us recipes for things like redhorse bouillabaisse and they fill their book with amazing photos of giant sturgeon and eelpout.

I've known for years that the ugly eelpout is good eating because the polka band I played in always attended Ron Schara's Eelpout festival on Mille Lacs, where he stuffed us with pickled eelpout, batter fried eelpout, broiled eelpout and challenged us to differentiate it from walleye.

Ron even let an eelpout wrap around his wrist while he sang to it ("Help Me Make it Through the Night.")

So hats off to the University of Minnesota for republishing this very interesting book which brought back lots of old memories.

"War on the Run: The Epic Story of Robert Rogers and the Conquest of America's First Frontier," by John F. Ross (Bantam, $30) will make 21st century warriors stand up and take notice.

Ross, executive editor of American Heritage magazine, written a scholarly treatise on Rogers, who was immortalized by Spencer Tracy in the 1940 film "Northwest Passage."

Ross says that the Tracy film didn't quite get it right, but speaks highly of Rogers, whom he claims created the special forces units we hear of today, more than 250 years ago.

Ross also avers that it was Rogers' commando techniques that later helped the American rebels with the war for our independence.

And speaking of "War on the Run," we have on our desk a fascinating new historical fiction from our region.

It's "Retribution: A Novel," by Dean Urdahl (Beaver's Pond, Press, $14.95). Urdahl, a retired middle school teacher and member of Minnesota's House of Representatives, obviously knows his history.

"Retribution" is a fictionalized account of the 1862 Indian War, a terrible blot on the history of Minnesota.

Urdahl doesn't take sides, and doesn't invent atrocities to jazz up his book. All the battle scenes are authentic and use names of the dead and dying.

Urdahl's also very good with dialogue. He can do 19th century. He can do Scandinavian. But what might you expect from an author with a name like Urdahl?

Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone him at (715) 426-9554.