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After 2 years of planning, anglers fish Otter Tail Lake during the 2021 Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener

After more than two years of planning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, anglers set out on Otter Tail Lake to fish the 2021 Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener on May 15, 2021. Though some of the public events operated at a reduced capacity, dozens of volunteers were still excited to donate their time and be a part of an annual tradition, one event organizer said.

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Ben Collette of St. Paul, a boat host for the 2021 Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener, fishes with one hand while steering his boat via remote control on Otter Tail Lake on Saturday, May 15, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)
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Within five minutes of dipping his line into Otter Tail Lake, Ben Collette, a boat host for the 2021 Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener, made his first catch of the year — a small northern pike.

"It's just excitement, it's nice to get bit for the first time," said Collette. "That was my first bite of the season in Minnesota."

Fishing began at 12:01 a.m., on Saturday, May 15, at the 2021 Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener on Otter Tail Lake. Even though Gov. Tim Walz wasn't in attendance for the event's opening ceremony on Saturday, the fishing opener has always been bigger than one person, said Val Martin, an event planning committee member.

"The Governor's Fishing Opener is really, even though we want the governor to be here, it's more about showcasing our community and all the great things happening here," said Martin.

Martin is the city clerk, and treasurer, for the city of Battle Lake in Otter Tail County. She is also the director of economic development for the city.

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Wadena-Deer Creek senior Emma Bushinger sings the national anthem during the opening ceremony of the 2021 Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener on the shores of Otter Tail Lake on May 15, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

The opening ceremony began with the presentation of the colors performed by the honor guard from American Legion Post 30 from Fergus Falls, followed by the singing of the national anthem by Wadena-Deer Creek senior Emma Bushinger . Then, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Sarah Strommen gave the crowd the bad news about the governor not being able to attend the day's events.

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Sarah Strommen, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, speaks during the opening ceremony on the shore of Ottertail Lake during the 2021 Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener on May 15, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

"Unfortunately, Governor Walz is not going to be with us at this event this morning," said Strommen. "He was called away to the Capitol in the midst of legislative negotiations, but I did want to say on his behalf that he was here yesterday ... he got up very early this morning and went fishing ... he caught something, so it's not a zero then."

She also jokingly said that state agencies, like hers, depend on their budgets from the legislature, so they were going to give the governor "a pass" in hopes he will be able to help secure funding for their department.

Walz fished during the early morning hours on Saturday, catching a perch, before heading back to the Twin Cities to continue budget negotiations with state legislators, according to an event official.

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"Fishing brings Minnesotans together, it brings tourism to our communities, and it puts a spotlight on the outdoor opportunities Minnesota has to offer," said Walz, in a release statement. "I’m grateful to our Otter Tail County hosts, especially my guide and lifelong fisherman, Eric Koep, for putting together an incredible event that officially kicked off summer in Minnesota."

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Ben Collette of St. Paul, a boat host for the 2021 Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener, pulled a small northern pike out of Otter Tail Lake on the morning of Saturday, May 15, 2021. Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Planning for the Otter Tail County event began more than two years ago after the location was announced at the conclusion of the 2019 Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener. Many of the local volunteers were just excited to donate their time at an event they hold close to their hearts, said Martin.

Volunteers helped with media row activities on Friday, putting up signage and putting together the packages for all of the event attendees.

"It takes a lot of volunteers to get it done," she said. "Of course, it's my first time being involved in a governor's fishing opener, but I never realized that it was more than the governor fishing until I got involved in it."

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Multimedia News Lead Reporter
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