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Shelby Shares: Fishing opener serious business

BringMeTheNews.com's Don Shelby travels to Waconia for the Governor's Fishing Opener. Sure, it's fun -- but the real angle is that fishing is serious business for the state of Minnesota.
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Don Shelby
?Lake Waconia

New line on all the reels, tackle boxes cleaned for the start of the season, hooks sharpened, leeches, crawlers and minnows in the bait bin.

It has been a long wait for open water anglers, and the walleye season opens officially with Gov. Mark Dayton leading anglers onto Lake Waconia for the annual Governors Fishing Opener.

With all the disagreement in the state over finances, taxes and budgets, why would Minnesota’s governor go fishing??? Because, like dozens of governor’s before him, Mark Dayton knows what fishing means to this state.

A 2007 analysis shows that more than 43,000 jobs depend on our fishing economy. Anglers spend nearly $3 bilion a year on the pursuit of finny critters of all breeds. Direct tax revenues add up to more than $640 million annually.

There are 1.5 million anglers in this state, and they spend money and pay taxes. John Edman, the Director of Explore Minnesota, was on hand at Lola’s, the official gathering spot on Lake Waconia. He reminded us that the traveler and leisure industry in Minnesota accounts for 17 per cent of all sales tax revenue pouring into state coffers. “That’s why governors of 65 years have been celebrating this opener. The industry brings $11 billion to the state and employs 240,000 people.”

Anglers also are willing to pay even more for the privilege of wetting a line.

Outdoor groups supported increasing the costs of a fishing license this year. They were willing to pay more so that more money would go to keeping our lakes well stocked, healthy and well governed. When adjusted for the cost of gasoline for the boat, and the car or truck to get to the lake, lodging and other services, the economic impact on the state of Minnesota exceeds $5 billion.

That’s a lot of Vikings stadiums.

So, let's call the governor’s opener a fiscally responsible act by the head of state. And, because it moves around the state from year to year, it brings attention to those communities serving as host. This year, it is Waconia and its productive 3,000-acre lake.

The governor’s guide this year is a lifetime angler in these parts, and knows the lake well. Though he hasn’t been pre-fishing this year, Travis Frank says he will be on the water as soon as it is legal to do so, just past midnight tonight.

“That’s when the big ones are going to hit, and they’ll be shallow,” he said. The walleye have already spawned, but the big fish come shallow in the evening to feed. So, Frank will instruct the governor to throw shallow running crankbaits during the night hours, and switch to jig and minnow or jig and leech when day breaks, and move out to a little deeper water where the walleyes will stage for the day.

Lt. Governor Yvonne Prettner Solon will be guided by Mark Peters, another longtime guide on Lake Waconia. His pattern is similar, and wondered whether the Lt. Governor knows how to fish. Prettner Solon told me this morning that she raised her kids on a lake, and has caught some hawgs in her life. She is no stranger to the Lindy Rig.

I asked the Lt. Governor the key question: "If you catch an eating-size fish, will you put it back in the water, or take it home to eat it?” She didn’t miss a beat, saying, “Its going home with me, into the skillet. I love my walleye.”? Minnesota once lost its vaunted reputation as a fishing heaven.

Only thirty years ago, the state was considered on the downslide. Angling magazines mocked Minnesota’s lakes and their ability to produce fish. Politicians noted the decline, as did those who had depended on this gentle madness called fishing.

Anglers pushed the government, and government responded with policy, and the policies resulted in better fishing and a return of dollars to the state. Now, only Texas and Florida anglers spend more than Minnesotans.

So, don’t think the governor is taking a day off. As any angler, and any governor, will tell you, the fishing opener is serious business.

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