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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — When it came time to sell Beanie’s at Maui’s Landing — their marina, boat launch and bait shop on the St. Croix River in Lakeland — Gary and Dottie Mau decided to use the tried-and-true method that brought them to Beanie’s in 1991: a handwritten sign tacked to a tree.

Christopher Onken saw the sign on Father’s Day when he and two of his sons rented a 15-foot boat for a fishing expedition.

“We tooled around for an hour, but didn’t catch anything,” Onken said. “I saw the sign as we came back in, and I came back into the bait shop and said, ‘So, is this place for sale?’ They said ‘Yeah,’ handed me a flier, and here we are.”

Onken will close the deal on the marina, boat launch, bait shop, house and cabin Oct. 31.

“I’ve never caught a fish on the St. Croix in about a half-dozen tries, so this is my very expensive way to learn how to catch fish on the St. Croix,” he said.

Standing behind the counter of the bait shop on Wednesday morning, Dottie Mau laughed when she heard about Onken’s bad luck.

“I can’t catch a fish to save my soul,” Mau told him. “I can tell you how to go out and catch a fish and where they are and people will catch fish doing what I tell them, but I can’t catch a single one. I’m hopeless.”

But Mau knows bait. On Wednesday morning, she gave Onken a crash course on the contents of her minnow tank.

“Here’s what we have: Fatheads are used for walleye fishing primarily, OK?” Dottie Mau told him. “Some of the guys will use them for other types of fish — northerns, bass, that kind of thing. Crappie minnows are for crappies and sunfish. A lot of people catch a lot of crappies off our docks. They also go over into the marina over there, and they jig around the boats, and crappies hang there. Also — this is a word of wisdom — the second piling in on the Wisconsin side (of the Interstate 94 bridge) is where the crappies have been for over a hundred years. I’ll show you, c’mere.”

Mau opened the door to the bait shop and looked out over the St. Croix River.

“You’ve got to go all the way down to the bottom of the river and then you bring it up this much,” she said, putting her hands about two feet apart. “And then you jig it.”

The Pioneer Press reports that Onken is the owner and CEO of Zumbro House in Woodbury, which provides group homes and assisted living for people with disabilities and mental illness. He and his wife, Alisa, live in West Lakeland Township and have four young sons: Jack, 7; Luke, 6; Erik, 5; and Kip, 3.

“They’re all really excited about it,” he said. “We’re going to have a lot to do in the summertime now.”

This is how outdoors writer Chris Niskanen described Beanie’s in a Pioneer Press article in April 2010:

“The Beanie’s bait shop is a throwback to shops of yore, where a few dusty stuffed walleyes adorn the walls, along with pictures of anglers possessing large fish and haircuts from the 1980s. Gary and Dottie enjoy the hominess of their operation because it is their home. The living room of their home overlooks the docks and boat ramp.

“In an age where boating and fishing has been super-sized, the Maus represent the quintessential ma-and-pa operation,” Niskanen wrote. “They and their crew of teenagers sell fathead minnows and bags of potato chips, and provide critical boat access to the river that anglers seem to favor.”

Gary Mau said that description is still accurate.

The bait shop sells soft drinks, snacks and frozen food — “just like you would find at a convenience store” — and Beanie’s T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats, he said. Also on the menu: Nightcrawlers, leeches, waxies, crappie minnows, fathead minnows and suckers.

The Maus were living on eight acres in Baytown Township in 1991 when they decided to look for waterfront property. Dottie Mau wanted to live on a lake, but Gary Mau wanted to live on the St. Croix.

“I did not like the fact that most of the Minnesota lakes turn green by the Fourth of July,” he said.

After church on Easter Sunday 1991, the couple and two of their three children were driving along the St. Croix when they saw a handwritten “For Sale” at the top of a hill on the Minnesota side of the river. They drove down the hill and found a boat launch, bait shop, house and cabin, he said.

“At the time, (Dottie’s) parents were basically living in Florida, but they would spend five months every summer in Lake City, but that wasn’t working too good,” he said. “Well, here’s a place, it’s right on the river and the price was right, and there’s a place for (her) folks to stay in the summertime and, oh, by the way, it’s got this little bait shop.”

The previous owner, Mark Miller, showed the Maus his income-tax returns for the business from 1990.

“He had a gross income of $25,000, so not much of anything,” said Gary Mau, who worked in international marketing for United Defense until his retirement in 1995. “Dottie said, ‘Well, I probably could do this,’ and we basically built it up from nothing.”

Miller’s grandfather, William “Beanie” Miller, started a commercial-fishing business on the property in 1918.

“He was using rowboats to put nets out to fish,” Mau said. “What kind of fish? Anything. They just packed it up and shipped it to Chicago, and they thought it was a delicacy.”

When Beanie Miller died in 1936, his son, Luverne “Beans” Miller, took over. It passed on to Mark Miller after Luverne Miller’s death, Mau said.

When the Maus took over in 1991, they added a new launch ramp, docks, underground gas storage and several new rental boats. They now sometimes have more than 100 boat launches a day.

Dock fishing is allowed, but the Maus have strict rules: No drinking, you have to ask permission first and you have to be a customer.

“They have to buy something,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s a lollipop, a candy bar or a dozen worms. They can fish until we close in the evening.”

Gary Mau, 79, and Dottie Mau, 78, who met as students at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, have purchased a condominium in Bayport and are now sorting through “55 years of wedded bliss junk,” he said.

“It is time,” he said. “I’m going to miss the customers. We made a lot of good friends over the years, so that when they come, I spend half of my time out in the parking lot talking to these guys as they launch their boats.”

The couple had two pieces of advice for Onken on Wednesday.

“Be flexible,” Gary Mau said.

“Have fun,” Dottie Mau added.

Onken, who grew up in New York state near Lake Ontario, isn’t planning any major changes to the business other than making some updates at the bait shop and working to address the business’s boat-trailer parking issues. Key staff members will be retained, he said.

“We’ll probably come through and do some refurbishment — maybe repaint, just freshen it up a little bit,” he said. “But it is a bait shop, so we’re not going to put gold leaf anywhere, I don’t think.

“There’s a lot of history there, and I’m kind of a history buff, and I appreciate the historical significance of that operation there and want to respect that and continue that forward for the next generation,” he said.

He admits he’s not much of a fisherman.

“I’m hoping to learn it with my sons,” he said.

After renting fishing boats the past couple of years, he said it’s amazing to suddenly be the owner of an entire fleet.

He’s happy, too, that his sons will have a guaranteed summer job during their school years.

But he said the couple’s youngest sons haven’t really grasped the concept of owning a marina, boat launch and bait shop.

“They think that I bought the whole river,” he said. “So I try to tell them: ‘It’s not the whole river; it’s just that area over there with the boats.'”


Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press,