NANFA-- My Intro to Natives

Mark Otnes (
Sat, 2 Jun 2001 16:47:14 -0500

I was very interested in native fish from about 6th to 9th grade and I
picked up the passion again about four years ago in my late 30's. When I
was young my parents took my sister and I wading and swimming down a stretch
of the Ottertail River in west central Minnesota. The water was clear,
warm, fairly shallow, and full of fish of all shapes sizes and colors. I
was absolutely captivated by the overwhelming beauty of the river. Not just
the fishes, but also the colorful damselflies and dragonflies that
frequented the water. It was an absolutely magical world for me.

The river was close to my grandparents home and I always made a beeline for
it when we came up to visit. I had a butterfly net I used to catch fish and
my goal was to catch the darters that I thought were sculpins. When I
caught one and saw it wasn't a sculpin (it was a Johnny Darter) I got Eddy
and Surber's Northern Fishes from the library and I saw a whole array of
darters described and displayed. At that point I was hooked on darters, and
they remain my favorite fish.

I read more about darters and discovered that there were well over a hundred
species in the country. I assumed at the time all of this diversity just
had to be in Minnesota, but later learned you had to live in Kentucky or
Tennessee to really see darters. I few years back I started to wade in the
streams again, got an aquarium, and got hooked all over again. Three falls
ago I decided I would finally make a trip down to Kentucky and Tennessee by
myself and see just what it was all about. I've never been the same since.
It was all I had hoped it would be and more. There were so many clear
rivers all full of wonderful life; it was stunning.

Minnesota has plenty of beautiful water, but it was scraped clean by the
glaciers, and fish have had to start all over again. There are no endemics
in our waters, and a fish found here is also found in waters hundreds of
miles away. Our waters though beautiful, just don't have the soul that
rivers to the southeast have. I would like to move there someday, but I may
have to wait until I retire. Just visiting the area though does make every
trip special.

I want to thank Casper Cox of Chattanooga for being so friendly, hospitable,
and fun to collect with. I wish I could make it down there more often
buddy. For sure after the convention I'll come down and hopefully I can
swing another trip this year.

Mark Otnes
Fargo ND

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