GOVERNORS OF MINNESOTA
Governor's Fishing Opener
The Governor's Fishing Opener is held each year to celebrate the opening of the walleye fishing season and to promote tourism in Minnesota. According to the Governor's Fishing Opener web site: "It celebrates the kick off of the summer tourism season. The special partnership [amongst the state's resort industry, media, and public officials] continues today with a promotional focus on a host community as well as recreational opportunities statewide. Fishing is not forgotten, and is clearly still the main promotion of the event."
Most sources credit Governor Luther Youngdahl with holding the first event in 1948; however, there is no evidence that he was at Mille Lacs in May of 1948, much less hosting a fishing party there. Instead, it seems that this date was picked as a result of the confluence of two other factors. First, it was the first time that any newspaper, namely the Minneapolis Tribune, had in-depth statewide coverage of Minnesota's fishing opener with fishing reports, on-site journalists, and photographs. That same year, Conservation Commissioner Chester Wilson approved $300,000—over $2 million in today's dollars—for projects to improve fishing and hunting in the state. Consequently, the combination of the Youngdahl administration's support of outdoor sports and the increased publicity of the walleye opener has given rise to the impression that an event resembling today's Governor's Fishing Opener was held in 1948. In fact, the governor did not even make an official appearance at the opener until 1951, when the Tribune's coverage had grown to be a group of outdoor sports journalists fishing together.
C. Elmer Anderson never attended the Tribune's opener at Lake Mille Lacs during his three-year tenure (1952-54) though he did fish privately back in his hometown of Brainerd, on Gull Lake. Orville Freeman did not make it his first year either, but he did both years after that. In 1958 what would become the Governor's Opener really began to develop. At this point, Lt. Governor Karl Rolvaag took a group of high-ranking officials to Upper Red Lake to open the walleye season, making this the first time the lieutenant governor publicly participated in the opener with other public personalities separate from the Tribune's event. He did so again the next year, and Freeman joined them the year after that. Elmer Andersen adopted the idea in 1961 and held the "First Annual Fisherama" for administration officials and outdoor sports journalists at Leech Lake, moving it away from Upper Red and Mille Lacs Lakes for the first time. He moved the affair to a new location the next year as well, beginning a practice that continues through the present. When Rolvaag became governor in 1963, the media dubbed the event the "Governor's Fishing Party," a reference to the group of people fishing as well as to the activities widely known to take place after the anglers came ashore. The name stuck until Rudy PerpichRudy Perpich expressed disapproval of it during his first term because of the reputation it had earned, and the next governor, Al Quie, agreed. Since then, the event has officially been known as the "Governor's Fishing Opener."
The event has remained relatively unchanged since Andersen's term, though there have been some small alterations. There is more publicity surrounding the event, and the Explore Minnesota Tourism and local chambers of commerce spend more money than they did in the beginning. Also, some of the events in the three-day schedule are now open to the public. Since 1961 the event has developed into a tradition and the governor has only missed it three times, each time in order to attend to urgent matters as the legislative session closed. That sense of tradition has kept the purpose much the same over time.