My 36th Governor’s Fishing Opener

courtesy of Trish Ejnik Photography • The Willmar Lakes Planning Committee was determined to rid Spicer’s Green Lake of 25 inches of late-staying ice ahead of the 2018 Governor’s Fishing Opener on May 12.

courtesy of Harry Jebens • Left, Sybil Smith’s May 12 fishing companion Rod Schulter with a largemouth bass, one of the group’s two “lucky” catches — guide John Christianson assisted.

courtesy of Minnesota Department of Tourism • Gov. Mark Dayton caught three largemouth bass during the 2018 Governor’s Fishing Opener on May 12.

courtesy of Sybil Smith • Harry Jebens, Sybil Smith’s other fishing companion and winner of the governor’s banquet centerpice.

Sybil Smith, contributing writer

It was just a few weeks before the 2018 Governor’s Fishing Opener on Green Lake in Spicer when the Willmar Lakes Planning Committee came together with determination and equipment to rid the lake of 25 inches of ice in time for the big day. 

And it worked — there was not even an ice cube in sight when our boat was launched by our guide, John Christianson, on the morning of May 12. 

Located about two hours west of the Twin Cities, the Willmar Lakes Area is a premier central Minnesota vacation destination with more than 360 lakes, including Green Lake, the area’s largest, clearest and greenest lake. 

The area boasts numerous recreational activities, including fishing, boating, hiking and biking, plus dozens of parks, sandy beaches, fishing piers and boat accesses.

The Governor’s Fishing Opener has been a tradition in Minnesota since 1948. The event is designed to promote the development of Minnesota’s recreation industry, and in recent years, it has served as an iconic kickoff celebration for the summer tourism season. 

The host community has an opportunity to highlight local fishing and other travel activities, attractions and points of interest. Media from throughout the Midwest region attends the event, resulting in significant publicity for the host community and Minnesota. 

My fishing partners, Harry Jebens of Brooklyn Park and Rod Schulter, who came down from Valley City, North Dakota, and I started out early with not a single hit. 

It seemed the walleyes weren’t too happy because the water temperature of 49 degrees was significantly below their preferred temperature range of 55 to 70 degrees. 

They must have also heard that one of their favorite snacks, shiner minnows, would be in short supply due to the late thaw and the winterkill status of many of the northern ponds where the bait is harvested. 

A second special walleye bait, leeches, were also in very limited supply due to the late ice out. During the winter, leeches hibernate in the mud as it freezes. In the spring the mud thaws, the leeches come out, grow up, and are trapped for bait, but soon enough this year. 


Here’s the catch

Much annoyed, the walleyes went back to bed and sent out the largemouth bass to fill the void. And they did. Gov. Mark Dayton caught three and our boat caught two. Lucky catches, but we had to release the fish because the official Minnesota largemouth bass opener isn’t until May 30.

I get invited to this event because I author fishing guides and maps and teach fishing classes in community education schools across the Twin Cities. I am also expected to bring visibility to the host community by highlighting the fishing and other recreational opportunities in that area. 

Tourism is a $15 billion industry in Minnesota, and a key sector of the state’s economy. The leisure and hospitality industry — a major provider of tourism services — employs more than 265,000 workers, representing 11 percent of Minnesota’s private sector employment. Leisure and hospitality also generate 18 percent of the state’s sales tax revenues. Minnesota welcomes over 70 million domestic and international travelers annually.

Fishing is a treasured tradition in Minnesota and one of the largest parts of our tourism economy. It generates an estimated $2.4 billion in direct retail sales, ranking Minnesota third in the nation for angler expenditures. 

For more information about fishing and other attractions in the Willmar Lakes Area visit or call 800-845-8747. Order a free copy of the 2018 Willmar Lakes Area Visitors Guide featuring information and ideas on what not to miss on your trip to the area.

The 2019 Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener will be hosted by Albert Lea on Fountain Lake, one of the largest lakes in the Albert Lea area. The lake is 521 acres and approximately 14 feet deep at its deepest point. Anglers can expect to catch a variety of fish including largemouth bass, northern pike, walleye, crappie, catfish sunfish, and yellow perch.

Located about 75 minutes south of the metro, the Albert Lea area includes 13 lakes, many offering fishing, boating, kayaking and canoeing. There’s also breathtaking wildlife and beauty along Blazing Star Bike Trail, while Myre Big Island State Park and Shell Rock River State Water Trail provide additional recreation. There are also city and county parks with picnic grounds, fishing piers and boat ramps. 

— Sybil Smith is author of the “Twin Cities Fishing Guide” (4th Edition), “Brainerd-Mille Lacs Fishing Guide,” and “Twin Cities Shore Fishing Maps” (East and West). She is presently working on a book called “Never Go FISHLESS From Shore Again.”

Smith is also owner of Smith House Publishing Consultants, Smith House Press, and FINS Publications. Sybil has taught hundreds of authors to successfully publish their own books. She is past president of the Midwest Publisher’s Independent Association (MIPA) and has been in the publishing industry for over 35 years. She can be reached at 651-490-9408 or

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