By Chad Koenen
Otter Tail County is gearing up for another shot at the annual Governor’s Fishing Opener. The weekend is an opportunity for host communities to showcase their unique offerings to guests from across the state.
This is the second straight year Otter Tail County was selected as the site of the Governor’s Fishing Opener. Last year’s event was canceled, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The county was chosen once again to host the event, which will center around the more than 1,000 lakes in Otter Tail County and the city of Ottertail.
Otter Tail Lakes County Association Rural Rebound Initiative Coordinator Erik Osberg said that organizers are not 100 percent sure if Governor Tim Walz will be coming to Otter Tail County for the opening day of fishing, but the communication they have received thus far indicate he will be making the trek from St. Paul, Minn.
“Every communication that’s been shared with us indicates he plans on coming up,” he said.
Osberg said last minute things can come up for the governor every year, so they are planning to proceed accordingly. Regardless of whether the governor comes to Otter Tail County for the fishing opener or not, local organizers are planning a number of events for invited guests and dignitaries. Some of the community events had to be put on hold due to restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, but Osberg said the hope is to provide some positive publicity for Otter Tail County as well.
“It’s basically inviting roughly 300 people and trying to show them how to find their Inner Otter,” said Osberg. “The fishing is the center of all of this and we are offering to take them pan fishing on Friday if they want.”
Many of the events are being organized by Otter Tail Lakes Country and its Inner Otter campaign. He said the group also created a self-guided tour book with a list of restaurants, golf courses, placed to go hiking and biking and much more. The hope is the positive publicity will pay dividends in the future for the tourism industry in the area.
“By inviting the media up here it is exposure for the area,” he said. “There is no real way to put a number on that as far as impact goes, but we have 30 different resorts we are putting people in.”
He said these guests will be buying gas, bait and stay at a hotel, while also visiting restaurants and local businesses throughout the weekend.
Thumper Pond in Ottertail will be the center of the activity throughout the weekend, but the individual events will be by invite only.
In order to give the public, the opportunity to feel like they are a part of the 73rd annual Governor’s Fishing Opener, organizers have planned a virtual fishing derby that can take place anywhere throughout the state.
Osberg said the idea of a virtual fishing derby was being developed even before COVID-19, but was taken to a new level due to the pandemic. He said the virtual fishing derby will allow people from across the state to be involved with the opening day of walleye fishing, no matter which of the more than 10,000 lakes they go fishing on this weekend.
“Number one, we wanted to have people be able to participate without volunteering or working. Number two, we wanted to be able to document some of the catches,” he said.
Participants can register for the Governor’s Fishing Opener virtual derby by downloading the Fish Donkey app online. The app is free to download and will allow people to take a picture of their opening day catch to provide a little bragging rights to see what lake provides the biggest catches during the opening day of fishing. There are a number of prizes available that participants will be eligible for if they can haul in a large fish this weekend.
“We wanted to create a little friendly competition. What we are hoping is the next community does it again and then you could have kind of a traveling trophy (for the biggest fish),” said Osberg.
As far as the Governor’s Fishing Opener, Osberg said the hope is to put Otter Tail County on the map as a vacation destination as people look for unique places to visit throughout the year.
The annual walleye fishing opener in Minnesota begins at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday morning.