ON THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER, Minn. -- From Winona north to the Twin Cities and farther north still to its headwaters in Itasca State Park, this river bends like an artery through Minnesota, and is forever in motion.
Whether bracketed by statuesque pines near Brainerd, the bright lights of the Twin Cities or Wabasha's leafy hardwoods, the Mississippi's one constant is beauty, and never more so than at night.
Steering his custom-made bowfishing boat upstream toward St. Paul, Carl Sassen is afloat in the dark, and comfortably so.
Certain as he is that Minnesotans who fish with hooks and lines love their sport, most, he knows, are by now turning on the 10 o'clock news or are already tucked in bed.
Whereas for Sassen, of Lino Lakes, and his fishing partner, Patrick Kirschbaum of Rogers, the night is just beginning.
"We like to shoot ugly fish," Kirschbaum says. "Or, put another way, under-utilized fish."
In Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," the Mississippi represents many things to Huck and his pal Jim. But mostly its wide, muddy expanse is a means of escape, and the river serves that purpose no less now than it did when Twain published his novel in 1884.
Guiding his 20-foot-long craft into water only a couple of feet deep, Sassen cuts its big outboard, grabs a bow and arrow and ambles nimbly to the foredeck. Kirschbaum is already there, and is similarly outfitted.
Clear and still, the night belongs not only to Sassen and Kirschbaum but to the mallards that spring noisily from nearby rushes, the blue heron whose fragile legs support its slender silhouette, and the wheels of distant rail cars that clang up and down the riverway.
The setting recalls young Huck's description of life on the Mississippi.