Every once in a while we meet people that are different. Just not the regular person a guy meets in their day to day business dealing. I'm talking about the people that when you talk with them, they just stand out as people that truly care about other people. I've met 10 people like this in my life.
It was back in about 2001 I locked through all the locks in the Mpls/St Paul area taking a tour of the Mississippi River. Then I came to Lock and Dam #3. It was about 11 in the morning. I didn't know it at the time, but I was about to meet one of those people that made a difference.
His name was George Mead, US Army Corp of Engineers.
I'm in my fishing boat heading down stream, while waiting for the water to drop in the lock chamber, this white haired lock operator leans over the rail above me and starts talking. He asked about how fishing was and talked about the water levels. Small talk, but until that time no one had talked to me in a lock besides for giving out directions. I remember thinking "well he sure is a friendly guy". I left the lock and didn't think much more about it.
Fast forward a few years and I started my guide service that brought me to the lock around 7 pm and then again sometime between 1 and 3 am. Sure enough, when that white haired guy was working and the time allowed he would come out of his big glass control room and chat. Always having something positive to say. Heck even when a boater did something that wasn't so smart, he could correct them without injuring their self esteem. Once when a boater was giving him a hard time, I heard George say over the radio in a very firm but calm voice "if you would like to argue I would be happy to have the sheriff stop by and you can argue with them". End of that conversation.
Now I'm not knocking any of the other lock operators I've met. Far from it. They do their job well and always have a friendly "HI!" or "Catch Anything?" It was just that George would stop what he was doing to come over to the wall to see us or it might be just a friendly "good night" over the radio but he always made a person feel welcome. Speaking of the radio, he would kid with me about calling the lock to let them know I was coming. He wanted me to call in as Captain Catfish. I did it once or twice. When I went by the lock control room windows, I could see his big white smile and a friendly wave as the lock gates opened.
Although most of us think being a lock operator is all fun and games watching the pretty ladies in their warm weather gear as they passed through the locks, the job does have its dangers.
It was a windy day when a tow was being pulled through the lock by cable. That cable snapped and almost took of George's ankle. When I heard about it I called the local hospital thinking I would get the nurses station and find out how he was doing. To my surprise I was transferred directly into his room and George answered the phone! Turns out I was the first person to talk to him after his surgery although he wasn't in much of a condition to chit chat considering the medication he was on. It took George a good while to heal up and get back to work after that, if that cable would have been higher, well lets just not think about that.
So why am I talking about George Mead? Well today, Friday, November 21, 2014 along with the last barge heading down stream and the Corp unofficially closing the Upper Mississippi for the 2014 navigational season, George closed the lock gates for the last time. Today George Mead, arguably the friendliest lock operator on the Upper Mississippi River retired.
In 17 years I've given out 8 Starfish Awards. This one is engraved #9. What is it? It goes like this...
Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. It look like the boy was dancing along the beach but as he drew closer the old man could see he paused every so often, and he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing lad?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
That friends, is what George Mead did to each person he had contact with..."he made a difference to that person."
Best wishes to you and Sue in your retirement George. The Corp is losing a 'ell of Starfish Tosser. You'll be missed.
Captain Catfish South bound out of Lock #3.
I asked the men's group I am a part of to pray that God would reveal Himself to me and show me His power in a very real way. Here is what happened just four day later.
On December 2, 2006, it was early morning and I pulled the boat down to the river. I was listening to a Christian radio station and they announced the temperature was a chilly 5 degrees with a wind chill of 12 below. Nevertheless, I was eager to get on the water and do some walleye fishing.
I backed the trailer into the water and fired up the boat. Having tied it up to the dock, I turned on the graph to let things warm up while I parked the truck and got my cold weather clothes on.
Walking back down to the boat, I slid most of the way on ice that formed from pulling the trailer out of the water. The graph showed the water temperature was 33.7 degrees, and I thought, "That's cold! It's going to iced up soon."
I headed up river to a spot which the weekend before had produced some nice fish and plenty of action. I cranked the throttle wide open on the 60 horse and started breaking waves.
Suddenly, the boat hit a submerged log and my body was airborne--I slammed into the freezing water and sank like a rock. Three big strokes later I broke the water's surface and struggled to get a big breath of air, but sank again as I fought to get my big pack boots off.
When I got to the surface my limbs were numb and my face was freezing. My immediate thought was, "Get to the boat!" but it was going wide open in a circle. I tried anyway but the waves the boat were making, along with the wind were just too much. Also, I could very easily be run over by the boat. I turned and glanced towards shore and it hit me, "Oh my gosh, I am going to die in this river over a bunch of stinking walleyes."
For a few moments I considered just breathing in the water and letting myself drown. Then I thought of my three grandkids and I cried out to God, "Please Lord help me make it to shore. Lord, they need their grandpa."
I flipped over to a back float and slowly paddled my way towards shore trying my best to keep my head above water. My body was gasping and shaking due to the cold. I knew I had to get my breathing under control and try to relax. Waves of freezing water were crashing on my face. When I got water in my mouth I swallowed it instead of trying to cough it up. I kept praying over and over again, "Lord, let me make it to shore."
All a sudden I kicked the bottom and turned over and caught sight of two men on shore. They were yelling to me saying, "You can do it! Come on!" I got to about waist deep water and I told them I could not go any farther. My clothes were to heavy and I was overcome with exhaustion and cold. The two fellows ran in and got me up the steps to a waiting squad car with its heat on high.
The wife of one of the men who helped bring me out of the water got in the seat next to me and kept talking until the ambulance arrived. She told me she was making coffee when she heard a boat coming up river. She could not believe someone was out when it was so cold! She got to her dining room window just in time to see me fly out of the boat and hit the water. She screamed to her husband, "Oh no! Someone just flew out of a boat into the water."
She called 911 and the dispatcher told her not to watch because, "In that cold water he will not make it out."
The Pierce County Water Patrol was called to drag for the body and a Hastings, Minnesota ambulance was also called to pick the body up.
She watched anyway while her husband and a neighbor friend ran down to the shore. (At that time of the year there were no boats along the shore because they were all stored for the winter) By the grace of God they were there to pull me out of the water and help me up to the waiting squad car. After a short visit with the lady, the paramedics arrived and walked me up to the back of the ambulance.
They stripped off my wet clothes and wrapped me in a pile of blankets. The paramedics were asking me questions and talking to me and laughing. I was telling them how big my God was and to call my wife to bring me some dry clothes. When I got to the hospital, I was put in an air mattress that had thousands of holes which circulate warm air around the entire body. It's called the Bear Hugger--and it felt great.
After being out of the water and under the Bear Hugger for and hour and a half, they took my core temperature and it was still only 93 degrees. At 93 degrees your organs are supposed to start shutting down. The doctor figured out my core temperature and been somewhere in the 80's when I was helped out of the water.
While laying under the Bear Hugger my daughters, my sons-in-law, and grandchildren came to see me. Tears were flowing. It was hard for me to believe I almost lost my life and the privilege of having an impact on my grandkids' lives. (let alone the rest of my family and friends)
A Pierce County Water Patrol officer showed up to file a report and was amazed that I had survived. He told me that when the call came in stating that a guy flew out of his boat into the water and that he would need to drag for the body he thought,"What in the world is a guy doing fishing on such a cold day anyway." But, when he was on his way to the river he got a call that I had made it to shore and was on my way to the Hastings Hospital.
After I was released from the hospital five hours later, my two sons-in-law and I went back to the river and retrieved the boat.
The next day I could not move. I was sore from head to toe and had a hard time breathing. I ended up back in the emergency room.
A week later I was hospitalized again for further testing. After getting settled into my room a nurse came in and stated, "You're that guy!"
I said, "What?"
She said, "You're that guy that went swimming in the river!" She then gave me a big hug and said,"I cannot wait to get home to tell my husband. He was one of the paramedics that picked you up that day. He said they got a call to pick up the body of a fisherman that had gone in the river. But, when they got there the guy was alive and laughing and telling them how big his God was." She then went on to say, "tonight when I get home I am going to tell him, "You may have picked him up but I am his nurse!"
I had about every test done that's possible . My file is a case study at the hospital and many of the doctors around the hospital stopped by to say "Hi!" They were amazed that with a core temperature in the 80's no damage was done to any organs and that I never lost consciousness.
According to the world I should not have survived. On March 6, 1968, nine elite Marines trained as water survival instructors at the Marine Corp Physical Fitness Academy, capsized while paddling a war canoe across the Potomac River. They wore sweat suits and they had seat cushions but no life jackets. The temperature was 36 degrees Fahrenheit. None of these men were able to swim the 100 yards to shore. This is the bluntest of messages for all of us.
Doctors stand amazed and just say I'm one lucky guy to be alive!
Yes, I am but it's not luck. God spared my life once again. He is the reason I am alive today. He showed me His power in a very real way. Friend, God wants a personal relationship with you.
River Dan's Guide Service (651) 503-6624
This weekend River Dan will be holding his 7th Annual "It's Great To Be Alive" party for his family and friends.
By the looks of the fish cleaning house at Everts Fishing Resort, a person would think it's the well known March walleye or November sauger bite. Folks from all over the Midwest are hearing about and wanting to cash in on the hard fighting action!
Don't have a boat? There's shore fishing in Red Wing and near Everts Resort. The fishing is fantastic from the head of Lake Pepin all the way up to the dam. That's 11 miles of cat fishing paradise!
Here's a quick "how to" if you haven't tried channel cat fishing yet. Grab your heaviest walleye rod or better yet a medium weight bass rod. Add a 2 or 3 oz "no roll sinker, a sinker bumper, a swivel, about 8 inches of leader made out of your fishing line that's 10 pound test or better and finish off your terminal tackle with a Team Catfish 6/0 Dead Red treble hook. I pinch down the barbs on the treble for easy hook removal.
My bait of choice this summer has been Sudden Impact fiber bait. With the small fibers mixed into this bait it stays on the hook much better and longer then regular stink bait in these warmer waters. Find a good current seam and make your cast. Many have been catching fish in the 5 to 8 pound range within feet of shore making this a perfect shore fishing bite.
Do not leave your rod unattended! Many many rod/reels have been lost to the river by channel cat anglers that say "I'll keep an eye on it!" These guys mean business. They are hard fighting fish that would rather take your rod for a swim then meet the likes of you!
How do the Mississippi River channel cats taste? I've had people that tried channel cat for the first time tell me "they taste better than walleye!" Prepared correctly, there's a slight sweetness to the taste that might make you a closet cat fishing person! Ol' Pete a cat fisherman from way back taught me his way of cleaning them that I'll guarantee you'll have a very hard time telling the difference between a cat or a walleye at the very least.
Filet the cat just as you would a walleye starting behind the rib cage cutting along the backbone. Flip the filet over and filet off the skin. Now clean off any red meat that was near the skin along with the lateral line. Place your filets in a pan covering them with water and hold over night in the refrigerator. The following day, clean off any yellow that appears. This is fat. Chunk up and coat with your favorite fish coating and pan or deep fry. If you like fish, you'll love channel cat prepared this way!
I do recommend using selective harvest. My choice has been to Catch-Photo-Release channels over 8 pounds and under 3 pounds. But I'll leave that choice up to you.
If your kids have out grown bluegill fishing but still need the action of sunfish, catfish is the perfect fish to target. Relatively fast action, a fight that makes many walleye angler say "I've got the state record walleye on!" only to find out it's a 3 pound channel cat.
Right now is the best time to dial in on some of the years best action!
Over the next few months I'll be spotlighting interesting and different pieces written by some of our areas top guides along with other people of interest.
Today, Capt Turk Gierke of the Croixsippi Guide Service.
Wintertime Fishing On The Open Water
Walleye Tactics, Safety And More
By: Turk Gierke
After the snow hits the ground, other motorists may give you strange looks when you drive down the road with a boat in tow. It is clear that angling has taken place after seeing the rigged-up fishing poles, balled-up used line and empty chuckwagon sandwich wrappers taking wing and circling in a wind where the dual console and walk through windshield meet.
Anglers may not know this, but most days a good bite happens on the Mississippi River all winter long and into early spring. This leaf-fallen, snow-covered, walleye and sauger scene may sound intimidating, especially on a river known to flood, flow fast and harbor people called river rats. However, when it is all said and done, it is not that different from summer-time angling.
In the 1930s the U.S. Corps of Engineers built locks and dams on the Mississippi River to create a navigational channel for barge traffic. As the locks allow commerce, conversely the dams restrict the natural migration of walleye and sauger, and act as a winter holding-ground for these fish.
There are numerous productive and trend-setting techniques on the Mississippi River for catching walleye in shallow water, casting hair jigs, jig and plastics, and blade baits. However, for newfound river anglers learning about coldwater walleye - vertical jigging - by drifting within sight of the dam outflow is the place to start.
The drift must be controlled and go naturally with the river flow. To make this happen, slowly backtroll a tiller motor into current or slowly forward troll a bowmount electric into the current. Before fishing starts, practice and learn boat control, and most importantly learn to slowly crawl forward, hover in place and gradually move with the water downstream.
Once boat control is achieved and repeatable, then you can begin to fish. The best starting technique and most popular is vertical jigging. The key is to keep the lure straight up and down. A five-sixteenths or three-eighths-ounce jig will do the job in the slower winter river current when fishing in depths from 18 to 25 feet of water. Later in the year as snow melts, heavier jigs are needed to accomplish vertical jigging, lighter ones are sufficient during the winter.
Attempt to keep the lure two to 10 inches off the bottom. The jig has reached the bottom when there is slack in the line. Keep the jig off the bottom. But how? Read the graph and adjust the depth, use feel and watch the line. Bright colored lines help enormously in seeing if the line is slack or tight, and of course watching the retrieve and lure drop on any cast can help as well.
When you start your drift, note where you are on the shoreline, and then slowly slide down stream. Note depths and locations where fish are holding and work those areas thoroughly. Repeat productive drift passes. Because of the firstclass fishery on the Mississippi, it is surprising how many fish can be caught even on an angler’s first river winter outing.
Experiment with color - chartreuse, black and orange are common jig head colors, also try tricolor jigs. Plastic tails can add a twist to the presentation and are highly effective and also widely used. Large fatheads and smaller shiners (if you can get them) are productive, and stinger hooks may be in order if the bites do not result in hooked-up fish.
There are times to be off the water, namely in the rising spring floodwaters, but follow a few simple steps for a safe open-water winter fishing experience.
The first step, as always, is to wear a proper fitting lifejacket. The second is to fish with a partner. River fishing in the winter is conducted when the water temperature is just above freezing, so safety is especially important.
Another step is understanding the navigation on the Upper Mississippi. When heading upstream (into the flow) keep the red nun buoy on the right hand (starboard) side of the boat, and when heading upstream, keep the green can buoy on the left hand (port) side. These buoys mark the main channel and will keep boats from running a ground and/or prevent prop and lower end damage.
Secondly, because of dangerous, deceptive currents, it is against the law to approach a dam closer than 150 feet from the downstream side. And it is also illegal to be within 600 feet of any dam while traveling upstream.
This next piece of advice is common sense: Stay away from all barges that are under way; they start operations once Lake Pepin thaws. The barges have a blind spot directly in front, and the towboat propellers throw a lot of water. Be aware of where and when these barges turn, and make sure to be on the inside bend side of a turning barge.
Another helpful tip: Do not anchor in an ice flow. It is possible for flowing ice sheets, to become hung up on a boat’s anchor rope. If the anchor does not give way and the ice sheet is large enough, the force of the moving ice can drag a roped boat’s bow underwater.
Clothing And Launching
Deer hunting attire from the hat down to the boots is a similar amount of clothing you will need to make your winter fishing quest. Just do not wear a jacket that is too bulky, as arms must be allowed to move and function.
Though the river flows and remains open for much of the winter, the temperature cut-off point for many anglers is 20 degrees or colder. Fishing in colder weather than that can be futile as line freezes on eyelets. I use Limit Creek LCS69MLF walleye rods for winter fishing because the eyelets are designed slightly larger in order to make winter fishing easier.
Even though water flows in the main channel, the water near the ramp may be frozen, especially if the temperature is below 20 degrees for an extended period. Also, ramp pavement can be iced over, and then sand and salt, as well as the four-wheel drive component, are needed.
Ramps located in bays and other places where there is low flow are iced-in for the season. Without a doubt, Everts Resort near Red Wing, Minn. has the best-kept winter ramps on the entire Mississippi River, plus a great bait-and-tackle shop.
Do not put water in the livewell, as complications with equipment will likely occur. Instead, keep fish in the well or cooler without water; trust me they will not spoil! When fishing is over, you must allow water to drain out of the motor by placing it in a vertical position (trim the motor all the way down) for a few minutes, then raise to travel. Some anglers also turn over the engine for a brief moment to expel water from the motor, however, this practice is becoming rare.
As always, the lower unit must be freshly lubed and inspected periodically for signs of water in the lube.
From Lock and Dam No. 1 in Minneapolis to No. 8 south of Brownsville, Minn., anglers turn heads towing water-dripping boats in the height of winter. Fishing the river some days is like shooting them in a barrel; it can be that good. Lifetime catches of 100 walleye and sauger a day have occurred for many river anglers, creating a cure for winter blues, and a warm and fuzzy feeling about this coldwater winter fishery.
Turk Gierke is a multi-species guide on the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers. Turk can be contacted at 1-800-929-1801 firstname.lastname@example.org
for more information.
Over the last year and a half, the Corp of Engineers have been working on a $650,000 "feasability" study to place a fish passageway through Lock and Dam #3 near Red Wing, MN. According to the Corps website a goal was to have one in place by 2025 at the Hasting Lock and Dam also.
Until just recently the cost along with other information was listed on the Corps website. As of this morning my links to those web pages listed them as "unavailable".
The cost to build this passageway was felt to be prohibitive on the WI side of the river. $22. million according to the Corps website.
End of story right?
According to the latest stakeholders email, alternative areas are being concidered. While the Corps, The Natures Conservansy and the WI DNR push for building this fish "super highway", MN is going into high gear to put up road blocks.
I think we all agree that we can not stop them, but do we have to keep tossing money into the river to help them along? After all, we don't hear complaining about the fishing on our 80 miles of the Mississippi.
Subject: LD 3 Fish Passage Definite Project Report Status (UNCLASSIFIED)
Sent: Friday, July 15, 2011 2:48 PM
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED Caveats: NONE LD 3 Fish Passage Stakeholders, I apologize for the lack of communication of where we are with the above project. We have been looking at alternative fish way channels that are less expensive that the current channel thru the Wisconsin embankments. 1. As you know the current Preliminary Draft Report showed an increase in Project Cost for just the fish way channel which is now in excess of $19M. Most of the cost is associated with imported cofferdam fill/removal and the channel borrow removal as well. 2. The in-house team has been looking at two other possible less expensive fish way channel locations on the lock side thru the island. One uses the Auxiliary lock chamber (as suggested by Value Engineering team) and a second channel alternative is located between the auxiliary lock and the dam. Cost estimates are being generated to see if these two alternative channels are less expensive than the Wisconsin embankment channel to construct and still meet the original goals and objectives. 3. Costs should be complete in about two weeks. Tom Novak Tel: 651.290.5524 Cell: 612.201.6390 Fax: 651.290.5258 eMail: email@example.com