There may be no other state that relies on the economic power of fishing as much as Minnesota. That’s just one reason why the spectacle of the annual fishing opener involves the Governor and other dignitaries.

Imagine the Governor of your state walking down the dock bundled up against 35-degree cold. Despite the fact that the clock is about to strike midnight, the Governor is going fishing. The entire area, both docks and boats on the water, is crowded with media. Radio reporters, TV show hosts, and writers of all makes and models are there to cover the event. In fact, during the 2014 Minnesota Governor’s fishing opener celebration, more than 250 media members attended.

Communities around the area get in on the fun. The entire main street of Nisswa became a family fun zone for the weekend as a free picnic and other events drew large crowds.
Communities around the area get in on the fun. The entire main street of Nisswa became a family fun zone for the weekend as a free picnic and other events drew large crowds.

In a state that is known for its 14,000 lakes, fishing, and resorts—not to mention the economic impact that angling has—any governor who is connected with his or her electorate goes fishing on the second weekend in May, no matter what challenges the weather may pose. Clearly, some governors over the years have been more enthusiastic about it than others, but they go. In 2013, the event was held in the Park Rapids area where the cold, late spring had most of the area lakes still locked in ice. But some small lakes were found to be ice-free, and the event came off without a hitch. Fish were caught and the governor paid his dues to the people of the state who value the natural resources.

Communities vie for an opportunity to host this prized event by submitting proposals touting their facilities and fishing opportunities. The event is held in various places throughout the state, but a handful of venues have what it takes to get the opportunity more than once. The 2014 opener was held in the Brainerd Lakes region, which has held it five times in the 67-year history of the event.

The Brainerd Lakes area really rolled out the red carpet, setting a standard that other communities will try to meet or beat in the coming years. The headquarters for the 2014 event was the historic Grandview Lodge on Gull Lake, which will celebrate 100 years of business in 2016. Many of the Lodge’s original buildings remain, adding to the historical feel of the place. Yet spas, heated pools (indoor and outdoor), seven restaurants to choose from, and a nationally-recognized golf course add to the modern appeal.

Many other resorts and golf courses took part as well, treating media and dignitaries to the fine dining and other events available in the Brainerd area. I participated in a few of the events, such as a race car driving experience at the Brainerd International Raceway, shooting everything from an AR-15 rifle to a .22 pistol at the Mills indoor range, and a progressive dinner that took in fine dining at upscale restaurants and more of the historical resorts that make Gull Lake famous.

On Friday, the town of Nisswa on the north end of the Gull Chain offered an event for the entire family that included a free sports show and picnic on main street, which fed more than 5,000 people. The eventful day in the small town of Nisswa was topped off with a fireworks display at sunset.

Lieutenant Governor Yvonne Prettner Solon got into the action early with this nice walleye she caught at 1:00 in the morning, only one hour into the 2014 walleye season.
Lieutenant Governor Yvonne Prettner Solon got into the action early with this nice walleye she caught at 1:00 in the morning, only one hour into the 2014 walleye season.

Of course, all this begs some questions about the fishing. For some it’s a tradition to go out when the season opens, and most opt to fight the crowds at the boat ramps in the mornings. That included the 125 or so local volunteer guides who sign up to take media, celebrities, sponsor representatives, and politicians out for a day of fishing.

Many of the professional guides set aside this day to fish for free in order to showcase their area to the world. A selection committee chooses the guides who will fish with the governor and lieutenant governor. This year, longtime Nisswa guide Ray Gildow was given the opportunity to lead Governor Mark Dayton and his party. Some walleyes came into their boat, but none of them found their way onto Dayton’s line. Guide Toby Kvalevog put Lieutenant Governor Yvonne Prettner Solon on the walleyes. She caught a big one at 1:00 a.m. and another one shortly thereafter.

I drew Chuck Nelson, former publisher of In-Fisherman Magazine, to be my guide. He took me out for a few hours in the early morning before I had to be off to another commitment. Despite not catching any fish, I saw the sun come up over Gull Lake and had good conversation with a newfound friend.

At the banquet on Saturday night, the announcement was made who won the fishing lottery for 2015. The Lake Vermillion area will host the 2015 Governor’s Fishing Opener on May 9. No doubt they will pull out all the stops to showcase Minnesota’s fishing heritage to the world. I plan to be a part of it. In fact, I won’t miss it!

Follow Bernie’s bowhunting adventures on his blog, bowhuntingroad.com.

Images courtesy Bernie Barringer

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