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Kabetogama Lake is 2010 fishing opener

WHITE BEAR LAKE, Minn. - The Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener moves back north in 2010, after seeing its first visit to the metro area this year in 61 years of the event.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced Saturday night at the concluding banquet that Kabetogama would host the 2010 event. The small city is on Kabetogama Lake, about 30 miles southeast of International Falls.

The lake on the southwest edge of Voyageur's National Park last played host to the Governor's Fishing Opener in 1982 - 28 years ago - when Gov. Al Quie hosted the event, Pawlenty said.

Kabetogama Lake is part of a chain of lakes that make up the border waters between Minnesota and Ontario.

Meanwhile, Pawlenty was basking in his fishing prowess Saturday, having beat Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau in a contest they've had each year. Pawlenty's four fish - three northern pike and one bass - was enough to beat his running mate who managed a 19-inch walleye at 5:03 a.m.

Pawlenty and Molnau traded barbs about starting the day on White Bear Lake at 3:30 a.m. and then coming in for breakfast and the official launch at 6:45 a.m.

"Our boat caught five fish," Pawlenty told reporters dockside at noon, with guide Denny Merry catching a walleye and first lady Mary Pawlenty skunked for the day. "That's a very good day, I think."

He thanked the White Bear Lake community for promoting the sport and the pastime of fishing, as well as for its hospitality to nearly 400 media members and guests.

Molnau chided the governor in that her granddaughter, Anna, caught three fish and only one less than Pawlenty. She suggested Anna would "wipe the governor off the lake" next year.

"I didn't have as good a year as I usually do," the lieutenant governor said. "We had a great time, governor. ... My fear is that you may have won this year. But, just so you know, you're just a little bit better than Anna."

The day was sunny and cloudy, off and on, but rain stayed away. A stiff cold wind created a walleye chop on the lake that may have kept catches down. Still, a 19-1/4-inch walleye was caught and released, as well as a 40-inch muskie. Many bass were also caught, with that season still closed.

"Tourism in Minnesota is an enormous part of our economy," the Republican governor said. "Fishing alone is a $5 billion industry in Minnesota. ... It's licenses and fuel and boats, tackle and equipment, restaurants and lodging. We want to promote fishing because it's economically important to our state, and because it's fun as it gives people the chance to experience and chance to enjoy our great outdoors."

White Bear Lake was the state's first resort town, said event chairman Bill Foussard, owner of White Bear Lake Country Inn. He notes that there are 800,000 anglers in the metro area.

"We talk about always going Up North, but think of all the lakes we have in the metro area," he said. "The resource - this is so beautiful in White Bear and we're just one of many."

Minnesota fishing licenses had declined in recent years, but Foussard said it's up 15 to 16 percent the past year. "It's a reasonable sport, it's great for families. It gives kids a relationship."

The metro area offers so much in lakes, parks, golf courses and other outdoor recreational opportunities, he said.

"I adore fishing," said Mary Pawlenty. "I probably drive the train in our family when it comes to going out fishing. The kids love it, and there's no such thing as a bad day fishing. I had a really great time out there."

The morning opened with a VFW honor guard, singing of the National Anthem and a blessing of the boats by three local clergy.

"The sun is out and the sky is blue and the fishing season is open in the great state of Minnesota," Gov. Pawlenty said.

Mark Holsten, state Department of Natural Resources commissioner, noted at the Saturday night banquet about a number of activities throughout the weekend that involved children.

"There's nothing like seeing a kid catching their first fish," Holsten said." Minnesota is a land of 10,000 lakes and a land of a million memories."

Pawlenty also acknowledged former Sen. Bob Lessard, Ind.-International Falls, who was in attendance and whom the new Lessard outdoor and heritage fund is named after. The fund will come from proceeds from the new State Constitution amendment that adds to Minnesota's sales tax for cultural and heritage programs that includes the outdoors.