The American eel is a beautiful thing to behold, according to Tom Dickson, author of Fishing for Buffalo, which has been called America's only comprehensive book on angling for rough fish. Dickson, who lives in St. Paul, is one of the few, true experts when it comes to the gar, the carp, and the American eel. He tells us that this devilish evader is "the opposite of salmon, who live in the sea and go upstream to spawn. The American eel lives in the river, but to spawn they go down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico and float out along the Gulf Stream to the Sargasso Sea." Once there, the spawned-out females die and the young ones, after hanging out for a year or so, slowly float back along the Gulf Stream and work their way up the Mississippi's 24 lock-and-dam systems (they can even crawl up the face of a dam). For some reason known only to the hatchlings, they tend to settle in the ponds and streams found between Taylor's Falls and Hudson, starting in September. American eels are three or four feet long, with a milky pale stomach and a gray head and, well, "gills and stuff," our man Dickson writes. "But they don't have scales. They look more like a snake than a fish." Yanked by surprise from the water, they've got a nasty habit of wrapping their slithering little bodies around your arm. Think Cleopatra. Think decadent fashion. Think dinner.


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