Senate committee cool to earlier Minnesota fishing opener

St. Paul — During the early part of the Easter legislative break, Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen was gung-ho about a May 5 fishing opener this year – a week earlier than the May 12 scheduled opener.

By the time Monday rolled around, though, he’d taken a decidedly different tone, going so far as to call himself a flip-flopper.

“I was very open to this thing two weeks ago,” Ingebrigtsen said. “I’ve definitely changed my mind. I’ll be strongly against it on the Senate floor (Tuesday), if it comes up.”

The idea of an earlier opener certainly isn’t dead – the House approved the provision during an April 3 floor session – but neither Ingebrigtsen nor anyone who serves on the Environment Committee spoke up in support of the idea during an information hearing Monday morning. There was no vote taken.

The House passed legislation including the early opener just after a March that included record-setting temperatures. On the same day the Senate held its hearing, 10 inches or more of snow fell in some northern parts of the state.

And that followed an extended time during which temperatures, for the most part, were cool.

“Overall, biologically speaking, when this first was brought up, we didn’t have a lot of concerns,” said Bob Meier, DNR legislative affairs director.

The primary concerns were of the economic and social variety, he said.

But there now are increased biological concerns because the cooler weather has slowed what at one time appeared to be an early walleye spawn.

“Where we are with our egg takes is approaching a normal year,” Dirk Peterson, DNR Fisheries chief, said.

Monday marked the first time there’s been a committee hearing at the Legislature about the proposed earlier opener this year. (It was approved in the House as a floor amendment.)

Tom Neustrom, a fishing guide in northern Minnesota for more than 33 years, testified against the idea.

“I would say 90 percent of the guides in my area … are against the early opener,” he said. Opening the season early also is “against tradition,” said Neustrom, who asked, “Why mess with something we don’t need to?”

Sens. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, and Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, also spoke against the idea.

“It is too late,” Saxhaug said.

Indeed, representatives of state resort associations said timing is everything. Joel Carlson, of the Congress of Minnesota Resorts, told the committee a decision is needed as soon as possible.

“Let the people know,” he said. “That uncertainty is probably creating more confusion for resorts than anything.”

Said Tony Kwilas, of Hospitality Minnesota: Some resorts “are struggling right now to (be ready for) the May 12 opener.”

Neither Carlson nor Kwilas expressed outright opposition to the proposal. Of the members of his association, Carlson said, “We are decidedly mixed (about the early opener). There is division among resorters themselves.”

Governor’s Opener

The annual Governor’s Fishing Opener, scheduled this year for Lake Waconia, will be held May 12 whether lawmakers move ahead with an earlier opener or not.

John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota Tourism, told the committee there wouldn’t be time to change the event.

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