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Lakes get the glory, but this year's fishing opener celebrates a river

This year the Governor's Fishing Opener turns its spotlight on the Mississippi.

If there was a "Gone Fishin'" sign big enough to cover the entire state of Minnesota, Saturday would be the time to use it.

People fish for walleye and northern and bass all summer, but there's something about opening day of a new season that makes a whole lot of Minnesotans want to be part of it. About half a million people are expected to put a line in the water during Saturday's opener.

Minnesota has a 70-year tradition of the governor spotlighting the state's fishing industry by visiting a particular lake on the opener.

Oh, sorry, did we say lake? Actually, this year the Governor's Fishing Opener is on the Mississippi River in the St. Cloud area (including Sartell and Sauk Rapids).

It's an easy mistake because the ceremonies are almost always on a lake. As this list shows, the governor's opener started on Lake Mille Lacs and stayed there for 10 years before the event started moving around the state.

It's been on the Mississippi three times before this year. The first one was back in 1973 when Gov. Wendell Anderson fished in the Winona area and famously wound up on the cover of Time magazine.

This one's up on the wilder part of the river

There are hundreds of miles of Mississippi River in Minnesota. But the Father of Waters kind of has a split personality in our state.

The lock and dam system starts at St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis. Everything downstream from there is managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, which dredges the river to keep a nine foot deep shipping channel clear for barge traffic.

Above the Twin Cities, the Mississippi is more like it was in its wilder days. The DNR says in the St. Cloud area the river averages a few hundred yards wide, but only about three feet deep. It's not entirely uncivilized – there are some dams. But there are also sandbars, snags, and some surprises, like pools of deep water.

“Rivers are dynamic and always changing, with different flows and stages,” says Eric Altena, the DNR's fisheries manager for the area. “That can affect your fishing a lot.”

Another bonus about this stretch of the Mississippi: the state's most popular kinds of sport fish live here naturally, without having to be stocked. So even if your "Gone Fishin'" sign is only up for a day, you might come back with a walleye, a northern pike, a smallmouth bass, and maybe even a muskie.

Good luck. All half-million of you.

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