Gov. Mark Dayton caught his first walleye at 12:25 a.m., according to Jason Durham on his Facebook page.
The Governor addressed Park Rapids Friday afternoon at the community picnic downtown and said he hoped he wouldn't disgrace the state by not catching a fish. He didn't disappoint. He is set to launch on Fish Hook River again this morning at 8 a.m.
Last night's community picnic brought thousands of people to town for food, entertainment and fireworks. It was a success by any measure.
As of Friday, it appears the Park Rapids’ Governor’s Fishing Opener will be one for the record books.
Frozen water, for the most part, remains on the four lakes comprising the Fish Hook chain.
“There’s ice,” area Fisheries supervisor Doug Kingsley quipped after a survey. “Lots of it.”
Ice is receding on the Fish Hook chain’s shorelines, “but not enough to fish” Saturday, May 11, the opening day for inland walleye, northern pike and lake trout.
Gov. Mark Dayton arrived Friday afternoon and addressed the Park Rapids community.
He joked about his past luck with fishing.
“I only hope I don’t disgrace the state of Minnesota and not catch a fish,” he said.
Congressman Rick Nolan was also in Park Rapids Friday and praised the community for kicking off the tourism season in style.
Lakes’ inlets and outlets have open water, “but they won’t accommodate” numbers of boats, he said.
Several of the Crow Wing lakes have open water – Third, Fourth, Fifth and Seventh, with Eighth a possibility for the opener, he said. Blueberry and Twin lakes are open, as are Stony and Spirit Lake by Menahga.
Ice has receded on the east end of Belle Taine, but if the forecasted northwest wind arrives, it could drive the ice eastward.
The Fish Hook River is open, “but it’s not the best for walleye,” Kingsley said. Northerns, however, may cooperate.
While ice on lakes for the opener in recent years may be an anomaly, it’s not unprecedented. Kingsley said Bill Guegel, a former Fisheries supervisor, recalls ice fishing as a kid on Lower Bottle May 20.
“People will find open water,” Kingsley said. “It may not be good walleye water, but at least we can wet a line.
“And we’ll make up for it,” he predicts of the season ahead. This has been a good year for taking walleye eggs, he reports. “It’s later than usual, but the last several days, a big number of eggs have been taken.”
Eggs taken to a hatchery have a higher hatch rate than those in the wild, he explained. The fish are raised to fingerlings to stock lakes without good natural reproduction rates.
Despite conditions – forecasters calling for a cool front moving in today – Explore Minnesota director John Edman reminded fishing hosts that the opener is “part of our tradition, our heritage. Nobody does it with this level of enthusiasm,” he said of Minnesotans “celebrating the outdoors.
Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon commended the hosts as “incredible troopers and ambassadors. I know hundreds, thousands of hours went into this,” she told the 100-plus fishing hosts.
“I’m ready to set my hook,” she said. “This is my third opener and I’ve not caught a walleye yet. I want to beat the governor.
“The game is on!”
Park Rapids area lakes will not be alone in this bit of frosty notoriety.
For the first time in 60-plus years, many of Minnesota’s notable fishing lakes will be inaccessible on the opener.
Leech, Lake of the Woods, Winnibigoshish, Vermilion, Red and likely Mille Lacs are among thousands of lakes in the northern third of the state where ice will make fishing either impossible or highly irregular for the state's most popular outdoor recreation day.
Many anglers might just skip the opener. Earlier this week 160,000 licenses had been purchased. The average by that time for the previous 12 years is more than 291,000.