Few walleyes but plenty of fish on the opener

Published 2:49 pm Saturday, May 21, 2011

This past weekend I was once again invited to take part in the Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener which started a new era with Mark Dayton.

The governor, like a lot of us, did manage to catch a northern on his first official opener. The governor ventured out at midnight on Lake Pokegama in Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids is a beautiful city located in northeast Minnesota, just 3 hours or 180 miles north of the Twin Cities. Grand Rapids is close enough to be convenient, but just far enough away to provide you with a real escape. With more than 1,200 area lakes and one million acres of public and industrial forestland, the Grand Rapids area is a well-known destination for families, groups and business travelers.

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Grand Rapids has 13,900 residents, and during the peak of the tourist season it serves as a service center and regional hub of commerce to more than 43,000 people daily and tens of thousands of visitors annually.

The community of Grand Rapids did an excellent job of letting the media know about their great community. Hosting an event like this is a big undertaking and there were more than 300 volunteers and 70 sponsors working together to make this happen. The idea of this event is to promote tourism in the host area and they did a great job of doing that. Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in Minnesota and it definitely plays a big part in the Grand Rapids economy.

Each year when I attend the opener I am always excited about learning about the area that will be hosting the event. This year I was way ahead of the game because I have been coming to this area since my uncle Ben took me to Big Sand Lake as a kid. I fell in love with the Grand Rapids area right away and when I finished serving my country in 1969 I was determined to renew my relationship with this great area of the state.

My family and I have vacationed in this area ever since and have not missed a year that I can recall. We eventually purchased some land north of Grand Rapids and we are now able to enjoy hunting and fishing in this great part of the state. I don’t believe that there is another area of the state that can offer as much as Grand Rapids in terms of things to do. There are numerous forest service campsites that dot area lakes. Some are on remote little lakes and others on larger lakes. There are also National Forest campgrounds with campsites for RVs as well as tenters. These sites are available at a minimal fee and although semi-rustic, they offer public water and toilet facilities.

If you want to experience some great scenery take scenic Highway 38 north out of Grand Rapids. It has many lakes along the way and if you take that drive in the fall the colors will amaze you.

Each year I choose to fish with a local host, and although this year I already had a few favorite area fishing lakes I still wanted to learn more. This is where fishing with someone who lives here and knows and loves the area can really teach you a lot.

My friend, Jeff Anderson from Watertown S.D., and I were lucky enough to have Dave Johnson as our fishing host and guide. I could tell right away that Dave loved the area and was serious about putting us on some fish. After talking to him for just a short while I could tell he was an avid outdoorsman and that Grand Rapids was someplace he was proud to call home.

Dave said that he usually brings his chocolate lab along fishing but he opted to leave his No. 1 fishing buddy home for the day. He said he takes his lab with him when he fishes Lake Winnibigoshish, which is a little northwest of Grand Rapids and is Dave’s favorite walleye haunt. He told me to call him sometime I’m up in the area and he’d take me to Winnie walleye fishing. I may just have to take him up on that.

Dave moved to Grand Rapids on a permanent basis after retiring from 30 years in the construction business in St. Paul. He had hunted and fished the area most of his life and like a lot of us felt that it was the best area in the state for a sportsman. Dave likes to hunt grouse and deer and when it comes to fishing; walleyes are the name of the game. He works part-time for one of the marine dealers in town and also for North Homes Juvenile Center monitoring troubled teens. He said it can, at times, be a thankless job but whenever you are able to make a difference it is a very rewarding experience.

On this day we fished Lake Pokegama which I’d never fished before and was really excited about trying. To show you what a perfect host he was Dave gave up his opening day of fishing to strictly run the boat and try to put his two guests on some fish. We fished that big lake from one end to the other in less than ideal weather conditions in search of the wily walleye. Alas, there were no walleye caught from our boat but I did manage to boat two small northern, which Dave called “snot rockets,” a 27-inch northern, one perch and a dandy 18-inch smallmouth bass. I felt sorry for my friend Jeff because on this day he only managed to catch the dreaded skunk.

I have been attending these openers since 1995 and I have to say that I’ve never enjoyed spending a day in the boat more than I did with Dave. Both Jeff and I agreed that even with the bad weather he made this one of the most enjoyable openers we had attended. If the community of Grand Rapids were looking for an ambassador Dave would be my pick. I know that Jeff took some good Grand Rapids memories with him back to South Dakota and I luckily didn’t have to wait long before wetting a line again. I headed north to our cabin for two additional days of fishing and enjoying more of the outdoors in the “great” Grand Rapids area.

Until next time, let’s do a little camping and fishing because it’s a great time to get out and enjoy the great Minnesota outdoors!

Remember our brothers and sisters who are proudly serving our country so that we can keep enjoying the freedoms that we have today.

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