The 2020 Minnesota Fishing Opener will have a different feel to it compared to past openers. The COVID-19 pandemic canceled the annual Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener, but that has not changed the excitement for area anglers as they prepare to get out on the lakes chasing after the elusive walleye.
Otter Tail County’s Rural Rebound Initiative Coordinator and the GFO Chair Erik Osberg said he is excited for the opener.
“I don’t know if other people are excited or not. Me and mine are excited. We have been able to fish local and close to home leading up to the opener, so we have been able to fish a lot of panfish lately,” Osberg said. “It’s not that I don’t want to target panfish, but it will be nice to have more options on the ninth.”
Osberg said the opener will be a little subdued due to the cancellation of the Governor’s Opener but was quick to point out that the fish don’t know it was canceled. He thinks there might be less pressure, but it could be busier than past year.
Osberg said he has noticed more people taking walks in his neighborhood, which could potentially lead to more people taking up fishing with many activities being canceled and people wanting to get outside to enjoy the weather. Osberg said he would not be shocked if he saw more activity and pressure on area lakes.
“One of the advantages that we have is that we can fish local, we can stay close to home and still go fishing,” Osberg said. “Hopefully, folks are taking a different approach at the boat landings by staying further apart than they would normally. Yes, it could be just as busy as it has always been.”
Osberg said the people of the Otter Tail County area have an advantage when it comes to the opener. Otter Tail County is home to more than 1,000 lakes, although they are not all fishable, it is an area that provides ample opportunities and a variety of options for anglers.
“What I like about fishing in Otter Tail County is the variety. I would say you have world-class panfishing, whether it is bluegill or crappies, there are large bass, whether it’s largemouth or smallmouth, there are muskies, pike, suckers, catfish and of course, there are walleyes. Otter Tail Lake in and of itself is a walleye factory. The walleyes in that lake reproduce naturally. When the DNR does their egg stripping, milking, and stocking, they are taking walleyes that are running from Otter Tail lake. They have told me that maybe 10 percent of the walleyes run up the river to spawn somewhere else,” Osberg said. “If you are looking for a meal of walleyes, Otter Tail Lake is a great lake. You are not going to catch giants, you might catch a decent one, but a lot of 13-14-inch Otter Tail walleyes and there are a lot of them to be caught. In addition to the public accesses, there are fishing piers. There is a fishing pier in Vergas, a fishing pier in Ottertail and a fishing pier on Rush Lake, not to mention all the rivers and streams. What I love about it, it is not one lake and one species, it can be whatever you want it to be and it’s right in our backyard.”
While the area provides many opportunities for local anglers, it may be a detriment to some local businesses. Area resorts and bait shops rely on the out of town anglers during their busiest season of Memorial Day to Labor Day. Resorts are allowed to open under the executive order that was signed by Governor Tim Walz but they have to follow specific protocol. Osberg said the resort owners he has spoken with are cautiously optimistic but concerned. He said they took the recent executive order as good news.
“This is going to be a tough summer from an economic development standpoint for those resorts, fishing guides and bait shops, who depend on the tourist season to make their hay. Each resort is handling it differently. What I tell folks, who are used to visiting the area, postpone do not cancel. Fall is a great time to go fishing. What we are asking people to do is to postpone, do not cancel. If you don’t want to violate the stay-at-home order and can’t get up here for the opener from outside the area, look at the calendar in September and look at the calendar in October, which can be a really good time to be on the water,” Osberg said. “The resort community, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, is when they make their hay, plus the opener. The spring and the fall we call their shoulder seasons. If we can transfer some of this activity to fall, to their filler seasons, where they are typically less busy, maybe that can help. It’s going to be a challenging summer for resorts and other things.”
When asked what it might look like a year from now, Osberg said the stark reality is there might be less resorts. He said the mom and pop resorts have struggled in the last decade.
“We have less Mom and Pop resorts and less locally owned resorts than we used to. Their time to make hay is Memorial Day to Labor Day,” Osberg said. “Again, the good news is they have not missed out on much right now, some of them have missed out on some, but others weren’t scheduled to be open yet anyways. But the stark reality is there may be less resorts come 2021.”
Osberg advises anglers to stay close to home, fish local and be prepared. He said he does not know if every dock is going to be in but said the DNR has been working hard to get them in ahead of the opener.
“Have a few extra things with you, have a few extra lengths of rope, be prepared to operate a little bit differently at the access,” Osberg said. “You don’t need seven people standing on the dock. You need one person to launch the boat and then you move over to the side. Stay safe, stay local and hopefully everyone catches a bunch of fish.”