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The Little Boys' Room

Believe it or not, handling leeches and slimy bottom feeders beats working in newspapers
Jim Walsh

Where Men Hide, by University of Florida English and advertising professor James B. Twitchell, is a funny, warm account of men and their self-made retreats. Along with Esquire photographer Ken Ross, Twitchell pays homage to men's caverns of yore: garages, dugouts, strip clubs, deer camps, bars, home offices. Spider holes where men have historically escaped from the day-to-day promenade of being tough, from being masculine, from being men. It's hard out there for a pimp, etc.

"If you ask men if they spend any time hiding, they usually look at you as if you're nuts," writes Twitchell. "'What, me hide?' But if you ask women whether men hide, they immediately know what you mean."

The men hide in plain sight at Moore's Bait & Tackle shop in Minneapolis. Yet they do so with a decided mischief, born of purposeful talk about the thrill of the chase and the unspoken bliss that goes with getting away with something. For behind the chatter about fishing holes and gear is the shared knowledge that, while the rest of the world's suckers are imprisoned in cubicles and classrooms, they are trolling the rivers or lakes, staring into deep waters and putting a line in. The bait shop is where it all starts.

The fatheads. The leeches. The night crawlers. The one and only Bob Moore.

"I started fishing 20 years ago," says Moore, age 50, who previously worked as a district manager for the circulation department of the Star Tribune. "I grew up in Minneapolis, and when I was a kid, every time we went down to Rochester to visit my grandfather, all we'd do is fish. My wife had been after me for years to open a bait store, because fishing's all I like to do. Dealing with people all day long, I just like to not have to deal with anybody. So it's just me and the fish."

Moore, who sports a baseball cap and a denim shirt advertising his shop, opened Moore's Bait & Tackle in September. It sits across from Gill Brothers funeral home on 58th and Lyndale Avenue South, a long cast away from the Aqua City Motel around the corner. The building itself has been storefront to several failed businesses, most recently a Hostess bread store. Moore discovered the location because he and his wife, Meg, get their hair cut at the salon next door.

These days, the parking lot is filled with anglers of various experience who come at all times of the day. In the last year or a so, three stores—Hayes Tackle Plus on Lake Street, Minnehaha Bait on 46th Street, and Lunkers on 66th—have closed their doors. Save for an odd gas station/garage/mini-bait dealer in Bryn Mawr, Moore's is now the only game in town, and he's doing a brisk business.

"I knew all three of the bait stores in this area had closed down. I live by Lake Nokomis, so I know there's a lot of shore fishermen in the city. And when you consider that they had to go 12 miles to the closest spot, Gander Mountain in Bloomington, I just figured, okay, this is the time."

"This guy delivers service with a smile, he listens to what they need or like, and does his best to accommodate the anglers," testifies Larry Haugh, a strapping boy-man of obvious Scandinavian descent who drives in from his home in Burnsville once or twice a week to hang at the bait shop. "I used to go to Gander Mountain, but he has everything, and I like to support the local stores."

A couple of pock-faced teenagers bust through the door to gather up some minnows and brag about the fact that they've fished every day since the opener. A Mexican family comes in and loads up on three cartons of nightcrawlers. A mom and her kids pile out of a van, run in, and peer into the bullhead tank. An excited phone caller expresses his gratitude to Moore, who can be heard saying, "I'm open six to six on weekdays and five to five on weekends." Then, after a pause, he says, "I caught some small ones up there by the second St. Anthony lock and dam Sunday. High up, by the barges."

Three stoner dudes wearing major- and minor-league baseball T-shirts and hats come in looking for weights, lures, and catfish tips. Moore suggests Hidden Falls or Lake Minnetonka. Lake Harriet or the Minnesota River. One of the guys gawks at the photos of Moore with his prized catfish. On one, his face is corkscrewed into contortions from hoisting a 38-pound flathead.

"See that hog? I got that a couple weeks ago," Moore says, "along with two tens, a twenty-two, a thirty-three. Down on pool three of the Mississippi. Then earlier that evening, just as it was getting dark, we got three walleyes. It was my first time catfishing. They really battle.

"I'm having a good time. I caught my first sturgeon, I caught my first channel cat, I've been on the board with the big boys for the flathead. I'm a lake fisherman, so rivers are still new to me. I'm being introduced to a whole different realm of things. I'm fishing with all my customers, which I didn't really anticipate.

"I used to spend hours just casting, casting, casting, and I wasn't even a live bait person. I just liked to cast. It's busy, but not strenuous. But now my catfisherman customers are teaching me the fine art of putting live bait on the hook and just sitting there until something hits it. And it's all right. We've got lawn chairs and we just wait for the clicker to go off."

The Zen of which, of course, is not just a guy thing. Nor is the bait shop. Sure, there are women here. Kids, too. And after they've all finished browsing and buying, as they head out the door on their way to their secret hiding places—places untouched by the rest of the world's nonsense, places of eternal possibility—Bob Moore sends them off with the same message.

"Go get 'em."

Jim Walsh can be reached at 612.372.3775 or [email protected]

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