History of the Governor's Fishing Opener

Most sources credit Gov. 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. 1948 was the year the Minneapolis Tribune became the first newspaper to offer in-depth statewide coverage of Minnesota's fishing opener with fishing reports, on-site journalists, and photographs. It was also the year that Conservation Commissioner Chester Wilson approved $300,000 (over $2 million in today's dollars) for projects to improve fishing and hunting in the state. In truth, Gov. Youngdahl did not make an official appearance at the opener until 1951, when the Tribune's coverage had grown into a group fishing trip for outdoor sports journalists.

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 in his hometown of Brainerd, on Gull Lake. Orville Freeman did not make it his first year either, but he did attend the next two. In 1958 what would become the Governor's Opener truly began to develop, when Lt. Gov. Karl Rolvaag took a group of high-ranking officials to Upper Red Lake to open the walleye season. This was the first time a lieutenant governor publicly participated in the opener with other notables 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 sly reference to the rowdy activities widely known to take place after the anglers came ashore. The name stuck until Rudy Perpich expressed concern during his first term over the bad reputation the event had earned. The next governor, Al Quie, agreed. Since then, the it has officially been known as the "Governor's Fishing Opener."

The event has remained mostly unaltered since Elmer Andersen's term. A few changes include ever growing publicity and expenses, paid for by state and local tourism associations, and the opening of some events in the three-day schedule to the public.