Fishing host Dave Peterson guides Tribune columnist Dick Herfindahl at the Governor’s Opener on Gull Lake — Provided
Fishing host Dave Peterson guides Tribune columnist Dick Herfindahl at the Governor’s Opener on Gull Lake — Provided

Area goes all out for the governor’s opener

Published 6:00am Sunday, May 18, 2014

Column: Woods & Water by Dick Herfindahl

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the 67th annual Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener in the Nisswa and Brainerd lakes area. The community really went all out this year to showcase their area to the media and visitors for this weekend event. The opener was headquartered out of Grand View Lodge on Gull Lake — and they did a super job — but unfortunately, they couldn’t find Governor Dayton a walleye.

I have always been impressed by the community supper, which was on Friday evening. It was a free event that brought together not only media folks but families from the surrounding communities who are there to take it all in. I overheard one fellow saying to his wife, “I didn’t know dat dis event vas dis big.” A young father with three little kids was heard saying, “I can’t believe this is all free.” Vendors passed out all sorts of free gifts to visitors. I am always impressed by the number of volunteers who are the ones who make the weekend such a success. The process of hosting this event is not an easy task, and it all starts at least a year ahead of time. This year, there were not only many event organizers from the community, but more than 400 volunteers who gave their time to make this a very successful event.

Fishing generates an estimated $2.4 billion in direct retail sales annually in Minnesota, supporting 35,000 jobs statewide. It is estimated that this weekend’s event will have brought in about $2 million in revenue to the Brainerd Lakes area, which has the two of the largest chain of lakes in the Midwest with the Whitefish and Gull lake chain of lakes. There are over 500 lakes in the area to pick from when choosing a vacation. No matter what your outdoors preference, this area has it all. Not only does it offer a great area for summer vacation, it has great hunting and summer fishing tournaments and hosts the largest ice fishing contest in the world — the Brainerd Jaycee’s $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravaganza — which is held in January on Gull Lake and benefits the Camp Confidence Learning Center on Gull Lake. The Department of Natural Resources stocks 2.8 million walleye annually in Gull Lake and has been home to some of the state’s most famous anglers; one such fisherman is Dan Eigen of the Nisswa-based Walleyedan’s Guide Service, who was actually fishing with family on the morning of the opener.

“The Brainerd Lakes Area is loaded with lakes that are full of many different species of fish, and the area is also loaded with many talented fishermen and women,” Eigen said. “Because of the lakes and landscape, the area attracts people with a passion for the outdoors.”

Before he was an area resident, Eigen came up on family vacations each summer. He said his favorite hangout spot was Marv Koep’s bait shop in Nisswa.

“I believe Marv Koep and his family were very instrumental for putting this area on the map and for spawning so many awesome fishermen and women from Al and Ron Lindner, Gary Roach and the many fishing guides, to Nick Adams and the Lindy-Little Joe Tackle Company, Babe Winkleman, Lindner Media, In-Fisherman and loads of other people and companies that contribute to the fishing mecca that we are blessed to live right in the middle of,” Eigen said.

I once again met up with Jeff Anderson, a radio announcer and friend from Watertown, S.D., who I fished with at this event for many years. After attending the community picnic, we paired up with our fishing host for Saturday’s event. This year, we were paired with Dave Peterson who has been a resident of this area his whole life and is an avid hunter, fisherman and outdoorsman who was right there to volunteer his time putting up with two media guys for most of a day, which couldn’t have been an easy task.

He also said that he volunteers to help with the Ice Fishing Extravaganza each year. This past year they drilled 17,000 holes in about five hours. That’s a lot of drilling!

We didn’t exactly hammer the fish this trip and with the late ice-out the walleyes were actually spawning in many lakes. I managed to catch a few small pike, which kept the dreaded skunk away, but I don’t think Dave was impressed with my ability to catch that particular species. He did all he could to get Jeff a fish and eventually hooked a crappie and gave Jeff the rod and told him to reel. I wonder if he thought that fishing with us was like hosting a take-a-kid fishing event.

He told of how he grew up loving to fish and hunt and attributed that to his dad, who he said was also his best friend. He said he was so fish-crazy as a kid that one day after a rain he ran home and got his fishing pole and began casting in the ditch that was filling up with rainwater. He said he took some good natured ribbing from folks but took it all in stride. Dave said that as a kid he did yard work for cabin owners. From time-to-time they would ask him where the fish were biting. That led to him to take them fishing, which in turn led to him to become a fishing guide. He eventually had to get a real job, but he still has a guide service called Anglers Advantage Guide Services and does some guiding when time allows.

After spending most of a day with him, I could tell that he is a true outdoorsman in every sense of the word. Besides fishing, he loves to hunt almost any species. He bow hunts deer and also hunts bear, pheasant and turkey. Dave also raises and trains his own labradors, and he said that hunting waterfowl is probably his favorite sport. Dave said that one of his most memorable experiences was a trip to Alaska a few years ago, and a return trip is definitely on his wishlist for the near future.

It didn’t take long to know that Dave is a true outdoorsman and that he is also concerned about the future of the outdoors when it comes to our youth. In the past, he invited groups of area youth to his land to experience deer hunting for the first time. I was glad to meet a person who is genuinely concerned about the future of our outdoors heritage and is doing his part to help. Getting more of the youth outdoors and away from the electronic media world that we find ourselves becoming slaves to is a big step towards preserving our outdoors heritage.

Until next time, remember that no matter how much things change we will always have the memories. This is indeed a great area of our state, and I can’t think of a better place to start making new memories that will last a lifetime.

Please remember to keep our troops in your thoughts and prayers because they are the reason we are able to enjoy all the freedoms that we have today.

Dick Herfindahl’s column appears in the Tribune each Sunday.