Much-anticipated fish pond ‘opener’ fast approaching with state fair

The DNR fish pond is one of the Minnesota State Fair's most popular attractions. (Minnesota DNR)

For me, the Great Minnesota Get-together always starts a day early.

That’s when the Minnesota DNR stocks its ultra-popular fish pond. This year, that will happen Wednesday, Aug. 23, with the Minnesota State Fair kicking off Thursday, Aug. 24 and running through Labor Day (Monday, Sept. 4).

According to a DNR news release Tuesday, Aug. 22, stocking of the pond will start at around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. Click here for live stocking via the fish cam, and then for live footage throughout the fair.

Visiting the fish pond is always a highlight of the fair. And fittingly, this year’s DNR fair theme is “Wonderful Water.”

On the DNR grounds, it doesn’t get much more wonderful than the 50,000-gallon fish pond. One of the state fair’s most popular attractions, it features about three dozen fish species that can be found in waterways throughout Minnesota. According to the DNR, one of the most popular fish with fairgoers is the paddlefish, and the largest fish in the tank again will be a lake sturgeon – also the largest fish you’ll find in Minnesota waters. Exceeding 50 inches, this particular specimen and state fair veteran was a fit from an angler who harvested it legally from the St. Croix River several years ago, according to the DNR release.

In addition to the fish pond, there are five indoor tanks that show fish in their native Minnesota habitat: trout of southeastern Minnesota; fish of the St. Croix River; and species of central, southern and northern Minnesota lakes.

Last year, stocking of the fish pond started slowly — a muskie was the first fish released into the pond by DNR staffers and had the tank mostly to itself early on. But before long, walleyes, panfish, carp, paddlefish, even little-known gar were everywhere, swimming through clouds of bait fish in the 100-by-50-foot outdoor tank located on the south side of the DNR grounds.

By late morning, fish crowded the tank, with walleyes and a few other species covering the pond floor. Earlier, the first walleyes disappeared into those heavy schools of bait fish, although I never saw a fish pursue any of the minnows — or other fish. They’re no doubt a bit stressed in this new environment, which likely impacts their eating habits. But, for the most part, the DNR has said that the fish are just fine in their temporary home.

During the fair, DNR staffers host “fish pond talks” at a quarter to the hour daily, from 9:45 a.m. to 4 p.m., with visitors crowding around the kidney-shaped tank to learn more about the fish that call Minnesota waters home.

Overall, there’s an almost concert-like feel at the pond, with onlookers stacked a dozen deep, and shorter, smaller attendees climbing on other pond-goers’ shoulders for a better look.

Yes, fish rock in Minnesota.

Music, too, will again be a part of the DNR experience at the fair, with musicians performing daily on the three DNR stages. Educational displays, exhibits and presentations also are scheduled, as usual, on the DNR “campus” at the state fair.

The DNR’s state fair building – celebrating its 83rd year – and surrounding park area are located at the corner of Carnes Avenue and Nelson Street at the fairgrounds, and hours are 9 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. Approximately half-a-million people visit the DNR grounds at the fair each year, according to the agency.

For a full schedule of DNR events and activities, click here.

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