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Governor's opener promotes tourism; but 2008 event included solemn reflections on National Guard soldiers, rape-murder victim Dru Sjodin

For 60 years, the Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener has been all about fun, and extolling the state's natural bounty.

Lakes are certainly bountiful. As far as fish...less bountiful, it sometimes seems--especially on the opener.

While Gov. Tim Pawlenty did catch a walleye, it was landed barely in time.

Both the governor and U.S. Senator Nick Coleman landed Minnesota 's state fish within a half hour of the time they were scheduled to return to the docks for shore lunch. This, after being skunked all morning.

The governor caught a 17-incher, on Pelican Lake, but that's not what he'll eat.

"I guess I'm eating humble pie," the Republican governor said early Saturday afternoon after returning to Breezy Point Resort and a morning of fishing. In the annual competition between Pawlenty and Lt. Gov. Molnau, it was Molnau who again bested the governor. While both caught only one fish, it was Molnau who got hers first and was larger.

Sen. Coleman beats governor in walleye size category

The governor also took a beating from Sen. Coleman, who brought in a bigger, 22 incher--thus winning a bet between the two Republicans.

"Actually, mine was probably 21-and-three-quarter inches," laughed Coleman. The Senator really lucked out: He netted his only fish at 11:26 a.m.--minutes before heading back for the opener festivities on shore.

Pawlenty caught his walleye about 11:05 a.m. while Molnau got hers about 8:30 a.m. on a day with mid-40 temperatures and an afternoon soaked with rain.

First Lady Mary Pawlenty, didn't fare much better, suffering from a heavy cold. But both hailed the gray day as still a good day for the fishing opening,which is the traditional start of the tourism season in Minnesota. "Any day on the lake is a good day," Gov. Pawlenty said.

"We did manage to get a very nice walleye, the first walleye," Molnau said of her 19-inch walleye. She said her daughter, Megan, caught a northern and a walleye nearly the same length as her mother's, and her granddaughter "had a great time ... and named every minnow she fished with."

As the governor ushered the horde of media reporters and several hundred guest anglers to the walleye shore lunch, he quipped that "if it were up to the fish that we caught, it would be a few of us getting any fish to eat."

Opener also had solemn tributes to National Guard, Dru Sjodin

The weekend wasn't entirely fun and fishing.

Minnesota National Guardsman, one of them a double amputee and several others recovering from battle wounds, were invited. They were honored at a dedication of a veterans memorial in the Pequot Lakes park, and again at the governor's opener banquet.

"We owe them everything we can give them," said Pawlenty of the veterans. "Fishing is is important--but this is more important."

A pink rose bush was planted by the governor in "Dru's Garden." The Pequot Lakes garden is a memorial to the Pequot graduate Dru Sjodin, who was raped and murdered by paroled criminal sexual conduct. The incident occurred six years ago, when she was a student at University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

Opener celebrates tourism in Minnesota lake country

The 2008 Governor's Opener was held in the neighboring communities of Pequot Lake and Breezy Point. The two communities have a great history of working together to promote their area.

Breezy Point Resort has a grand tradition of hosting past Governor's Openers including Governor Harold LeVander in 1970, Governor Rudy Perpich in 1989 and Governor Jesse Ventura in 2001.

"It's a great time to have the Opener in the Pequot Lakes - Breezy Point area. This event is about fishing, but, it is also a celebration of our hosting communities and the kick-off to the summer tourism season," said John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota Tourism, the state agency that coordinates the event.

Editor's note: Brad Swenson, Bemidji Pioneer, contributed to this article.