On Saturday, May 14, the sun will rise at Leech Lake at 5:48 a.m. It will have been up for 12 minutes at the start of the fishing season.
By some accounts, the Minnesota Fishing Opener is a joyful experience, kicking off the summer season with a burst of good camaraderie and a vigorous celebration of the state’s natural resources. Our own research is certainly anecdotal and less positive.
When you’re sitting in an aluminum boat at sunrise, your teeth chattering, the wind gnawing at your Gore-Tex and the fish ignoring you, opening up can be a test of endurance. You can stop believing in a higher power. You can stop believing in fish. If you know any secrets, you might be ready to tell all if someone promises to get you out of the water and into a friendlier environment for human life.
Multiply that boat by a factor of 50 or 70, and you start getting closer to the armada that in a typical year sees the Governor’s Fishery open. Somewhere in this fleet, probably in a sheltered bay assisted by professional guides, is the Governor. Also plying these waters are media types, civic leaders, outfitters, and others whose livelihoods are tied to tourism.
It’s no exaggeration to say that everyone in the state shares in the benefits of Minnesota’s tourism economy. Explore Minnesota, the state’s tourism agency, reports that $1 billion enters the state treasury just from sales tax on recreation and hospitality spending.
It’s in a normal year. It’s been a while since we’ve had one. State tourism officials estimate the pandemic has cost the industry $12 billion. The Governor’s Fishing Opening was canceled in 2020 and scaled back in 2021. Perhaps that’s why people seem so invested in this year’s opening. He must catch up with those who fled.
The problem is that a successful Governor’s Fishing Opener is not something organized on the fly. It is a feat of public-private partnership. Communities compete for the honor of serving as host. The boats must be assembled. Volunteers need to organize themselves. The whole process takes over a year, and the coronavirus hasn’t allowed for that kind of notice.
This year’s opening, therefore, made some compromises. There will be no flotilla. Instead, there will be a panel discussion, press briefing and a “Take a Mom Fishing” weekend. Governor Tim Walz plans to go fishing somewhere on the Leech Lake Reservation on May 14, but the exact body of water, at the time of this writing, has not been disclosed.
Walz could argue that other business is more pressing than the opening of the fishery. But the state’s tourism economy is in dire need of a boost. And for a sizable segment of the population of Minnesota, the opening of the peach is a cultural institution, a ritual and a sacred tradition. Smart politicians see an opportunity in these bait buckets – and every governor since 1948 has recognized it.
This appears to us as an unforced error.
And speaking of mistakes, while we mix up our sports metaphors, we’re hoping President Joe Biden steps out into a stadium soon to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. Every president since William Howard Taft has done it, with the sole exception of Donald Trump. If Biden is worried about the prowess of his arm, he shouldn’t be: Just as a governor in Minnesota doesn’t need to catch a fish, a president doesn’t need to throw a strike. The goal is to be a good athlete, to show off.
Plans are already underway for a 2023 opening. Nothing against moms, or fishing, or weekends, but “Take a Mom Fishing Weekend” seems awash in old-fashioned stereotypes. There are moms who are already fishing (and one who acts as a DNR commissioner). There are dads who don’t fish. There are families with two moms or no moms, two dads or no dads, and the governor’s fishing opening is not the time to make sure none of them feel left out. . It’s an idea that may not be a keeper.
We recommend a return to the traditional format, with a host community, an in-person governor, more fun and fewer round tables.