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Sam Cook / Forum Communications Co., Published April 04 2012

Views are mixed as to whether or not moving up Minnesota fishing opener is a good idea

DULUTH, Minn. – Legislators are proposing to move the Minnesota fishing opener a week earlier because it would look good in moms’ eyes. But the measure might have at least as much to do with walleyes.

A legislative proposal passed in the Minnesota House on Tuesday would move Minnesota’s fishing opener from May 12 to May 5 this year. The proposal is touted by legislators as a way to minimize conflicts between Mother’s Day, May 13 this year, and the opening weekend of fishing. The change would apply only to this year.

While most anglers probably would welcome getting on the water a week earlier, especially after an early ice-out and unseasonably warm weather, reaction in the tourism industry is mixed.

“The only positive I see is that it would give one more week of possible revenue,” said Gail Heig, owner of Bowen Lodge on Lake Winnibigoshish north of Deer River. “The negatives are too numerous to count.”

But some fishing guides and bait dealers would welcome an earlier opener. They say walleye spawning would be finished, and fishing might be better with the earlier opener.

The so-called “mom’s amendment” was sponsored in the House by Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake. Sen. Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he would offer a similar amendment in the Senate. Dill’s amendment was attached to the House Omnibus Game and Fish Bill, a collection of other provisions.

“I was kind of shocked to see the House passed that,” said Jack Shriver of Shriver’s Bait in Walker, near the shores of Leech Lake. “Sometimes you wonder what those legislators are thinking. I’d love to have a jump-start on my business, but I’m hoping that two so-so weekends isn’t worse than one big one.”

Heig attended a meeting of Lake Winnibigoshish resort owners on Tuesday and said all seven resorts represented opposed the idea of an earlier opener, she said.

“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous,” Heig said. “It’s a logistical and scheduling nightmare.”

Resort guests often plan their opening weekend vacations well in advance, and many want to stay in the same cabin on that weekend every year. Moving the opener around creates problems for resort owners trying to keep all their customers happy, Heig said.

The Mother’s Day angle doesn’t play well, either, she said. Mother’s Day, which falls on the Sunday of opening weekend about half the time, isn’t a major issue in most families, Heig said.

“We have a lot of mothers that fish,” she said. “I fish. I don’t mind spending the opener with 200 men. And a lot of women don’t mind that their husbands go fishing that weekend.”

Ed Tausk of Vermilion Dam Lodge on Lake Vermilion said opening weekend isn’t a big draw for most resorts on that lake.

“We’ll take the business,” Tausk said. “We’ll take any additional business. But we aren’t anticipating much of a change.”

Linda Fryer, executive director of the Ely Chamber of Commerce, wonders what a change in the opener would mean for future years.

“I’d hate to see it changed every year based on the weather,” Fryer said.

The Governor’s Fishing Opener, an annual event aimed at increasing tourism in communities around the state, already is scheduled for May 10-12 in Waconia, Minn. Those dates will not change.

Cook writes for the Duluth News Tribune