Why did Walz scrap the traditional governor’s fishing opener?

Governor Tim Walz’s fishing opener has always been a public relations bonanza for the state’s top elected official, particularly in an election year. It’s one of the few must-cover media events of the year with TV cameras galore and reporters on the hook tweeting and posting on the guv’s luck or lack thereof.

It’s typically a highly competitive process between cities to land the prestigious event which offers an invaluable opportunity to showcase the community. The media attention from tourism and outdoor journalists that flock to the event from around the country and beyond benefits the entire state.

The Albert Lea Tribune’s recap of the 2019 opener with Gov. Walz conveys what a big deal the event has become since 1948.

As hundreds of fisherman and spectators from around the area gathered at the park, many community leaders joined Walz, including Mayor Vern Rasmussen Jr., Shell Rock Watershed District Administrator Andy Henschel and Executive Director of the Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau Susie Petersen on the stage to praise all the work Albert Lea has done to make the event happen.

“We couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Walz said. “The Visitors Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce, well done on the weather, well done on pretty much everything we’ve seen over the last few days. It is the kickoff of summer. A chance to showcase what makes Minnesota so unique and what makes this such a great state.”

So it came as something of a bombshell when the governor’s office essentially scrapped the traditional fishing opener this year in favor of canned media opportunities, fishing roundtables and Walz wetting a line potentially at an undisclosed Leech Lake Reservation location. Just as surprising was the reason given for the “new-look” opener, namely, a supposed lack of interest among host communities, according to the Star Tribune.

Unable to drum up grassroots interest for a community-based opener with traditional fanfare, the governor’s office, Explore Minnesota and the Department of Natural Resources have planned three separate events preceding the May 14 opener.

…This year, it’s possible that the governor’s exact whereabouts will not be pre-disclosed. The news release said Walz and Jackson will be accompanied by fishing guides Tom Neustrom and Rory Haaland.

Evidently, Grand Rapids and Winona were in the running to host the opener this year. But Explore Minnesota told the Star Tribune that the pandemic outbreak made it harder than usual to plan the event.

Yet the state senator from Grand Rapids hints that there may be another reason behind the governor’s abrupt decision to downgrade the kickoff of the state’s multi-billion-dollar fishing and tourist seasons.

“It’s terrible to see the Walz Administration pivot away from the tremendous tradition of the Governor’s fishing opener. Governor Walz got booed last year and suddenly the administration says the even held since 1948 needs to change,” Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids posted on his Facebook page.

COVID didn’t prevent Walz from holding a traditional opener last year in Fergus Falls or media outlets like Forum News from covering the dozens of protesters that showed up to express their displeasure with his policies.

In response to the planned appearance of Gov. Tim Walz at the Governor’s Fishing Opener in Otter Tail County, a group gathered to voice their unhappiness with the Minnesota governor.

A group of about 60 protesters gathered outside the Detroit Lakes Pavilion on Saturday, May 15, with plans to caravan through Becker and Otter Tail counties to Thumper Pond on Otter Tail Lake, where most of the Governor’s Fishing Opener activity was taking place.

About 65 trucks, cars, and motorcycles flying gigantic American flags passed Thumper Pond Resort where Walz had spent the night, then continued, lights on and horns blaring, into the old part of Ottertail.

Explore Minnesota and the DNR attempt to put the best face on it, but the 2022 governor’s fishing opener already looks like the one that got away.

“Each year, the Governor’s Fishing Opener is a unique event, and this year will be no exception. What continues each year is the passion and enthusiasm Minnesotans have for this great tradition and pastime. In fact, we’ve seen even more people discover the joy of fishing and we want to continue that momentum,” said DNR commissioner Sarah Strommen.