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Brian Klawitter

Lakeland, Minn.

The Lock Operator and The Starfish

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. 

George Mead

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. 


George and Sue Mead Red Wing, MN

George and Sue Mead Red Wing, MN



Sturgeon Fishing On The St Croix- In The Metro Areas Backyard

The Father/Daughter team that was to fishing with me last night had a 90 mile drive to the St Croix. When I saw the white caps in the afternoon (winds gusting to 34 mph) I checked the weather for the night. Winds 10 to 20 mph, T-Storms with possible heavy rain. Not sounding like a good night to be out on the water.

I left a message for Mike but it was too late, he was on his way and we would fish until well, the lightening removed us from the river. To my surprise when arriving to the launch, the Ol' Croix was almost flat. Just a noticeable breeze but the dark clouds still looked like they could kick us off the river at any time.

While motoring to our first location we took a moment to go through the safety check list. "Everyone needs to watch for approaching boats" was repeated a few times. Urinal, bucket and tp locations along with the locations of towels. Life jackets and throwable locations and a few other safety items were covered. By the way, we normally are wearing the PFD's at all times but I was looking for some photo and needed them taken without the vests being worn.

Once the anchor was set I gave a little instruction on how to bring in a sturgeon, where they should stand, where I would be with the net and finally, where I would place the fish in the boat. Knowing these things ahead of time helps because once the Sturgeon Dance starts, it's not over until it's over and it can get a little wild when the fish is leading!  I set the Sturgeon Traps. Cut bait and crawlers on Team Catfish Double Action hooks has been the ticket lately. 


I don't think it was hirty minutes before the tap tap tap of a sturgeon filled the boat with electric anticipation. So much so that while Samantha was fighting what turned out to be a 52 inch Lake Sturgeon, no one really noticed the short down pour of rain and the distant lightening. By the time Sam had the fish close enough for me to net the rain was over with and the waters still flat. Perfect.

This was Sam's first Sturgeon. A person just has to witness the event to appreciate what the first large sturgeon does to a person. When the fish is release back to the Healing Waters of the St Croix River and everyone's settled back down, there's one person that will still have a smile on their face and the tell tail twinkle in the eye of the first good sturgeon dance. That friends, is priceless!


Mike had a number of channel cats caught all pushing the digital scale just past the 7 pound mark. They are a very good fighting fish at that size using the heavy(er) rods needed for Sturgeon. I believe Mike ended up being deemed the "Catfish Queen" by the end of the night.  He did get a chance to feel the pull of a Laker although the fish wrapped it's tail around the line and that reduces it's fighting ability.  I call a Mulligan.

Notice the yellow tag towards the tail

Next up was Nicole Michel.  This was not her largest or even first Lake Sturgeon but it was her first tagged fish. The tag number F 39791 is on it's way to the MN DNR for the history of this fish and I'll post it in this thread once the info comes back.
Please take a moment to jot down the numbers of any tagged fish and send them into the MN DNR . They like the length, girth, weight and approximate location of the catch along with the bait that was used.  If the fish is not going to be harvested, please leave the tag in the fish. This will allow more history to be collected in the future.

Here's the website.
MN DNR Tagged Fish Reporting

I was very happy, actually elated that no bets were made this time out with Nicole. I wasn't up to eating any minnows. If you haven't seen her on  Minnesota Bound, the episode airs tonight (Saturday, September 20th) at 6:30pm on KARE 11 where Nicole makes a bet with Host Travis Frank.  It's worth a watch.




Many folks I've taken out over the years are appreciative to the fish. Many will say "thank you" as the fish splashes them in the face, happily swimming away to be caught again. I'll just say there is no one that enjoys and respects a fish of any species more then Nicole Michel. You can follow more adventures of Nicole at

Although the weather was threatening, it was a beautiful night on the St Croix River. There was a fantastic warm breeze that made the fishing just that much better! 

See you on the water!

Brian Klawitter

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