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Lure of fishing opener strikes: Politicians head for Leech Lake

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Only one event can draw the governor out of St. Paul during the final days of a contentious legislative session, as well as pull a U.S. senator out of Washington, D.C.

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That lure is the traditional opening of the walleye fishing season in Minnesota. And this year, the 59th annual Governor's Fishing Opener focuses on Leech Lake, with host Walker.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau will attend a number of public events today in the Walker area, while fishing starts early Saturday on Leech Lake. U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, a fellow Republican, will arrive late Friday and takes the lake Saturday as well.

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"I usually have the circumstance where, for whatever reason, the walleyes around me think that the fishing opener is a week later," Coleman said Thursday during his weekly telephone news conference with Minnesota reporters.

"Obviously that's not true for the lieutenant governor, who has some sort of mental telepathy with walleye, and the governor's wife the same way, he said.

Coleman was skunked last year, when the Governor's Fishing Opener was held on Rainy Lake, near International Falls. Meanwhile, Pawlenty pulled in three walleyes, three northerns and a bass, while first lady Mary Pawlenty scored three northerns. Molnau, meanwhile, took honors with a big northern, six walleyes and two perch.

"I'm Lindy Rig kind of guy," Coleman said of his planned arsenal for Saturday. "But I'll ask the locals. ... I'm going to turn to the local folks. A leech and a Lindy usually works for me."

Coleman's fishing partners include Walker Mayor Brad Walhof, and Derek and Megan Parks, son and daughter of Lt. Col. Gregg Parks of Walker, battalion commander of the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry, 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 34th Infantry Division now on duty in the Anbar Province of Iraq. Coleman said he met Parks on his tour last month of Iraq.

"I'm going to ask the mayor, I'm going to ask the Parks kids what they think works," he said.

Coleman is a frequent visitor to the area, with a lake cabin on Lake Ada, "which is only a stone's throw from Walker," in the Backus/Hackensack area, he said. "I know the lake area, but I've never fished that big Leech Lake.... I know the area, I know what the walleye in Ada like. Hopefully, they'll have the same appetite up in Walker."

Gov. Pawlenty did his advance work earlier this week, stopping at Joe's Sporting Goods in Roseville to purchase his 2007 state fishing license and a lucky lure.

The governor and first lady will be guided on Leech Lake by Chip Leer, a northern Minnesota fishing guide and resort owner, a founder of Fishing the WildSide, and who got his start as fishing guide in Alaska.

Guiding Lt. Gov. Molnau is Al Maas, a retired high school biology teacher and coach who has been a Leech Lake area fishing guide for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame in 2000.

The Governor's Fishing Opener is designed to draw some 150 outdoors journalists to sample what the area has to offer, often coming from other states and even other nations. State tourism officials estimate that the concentrated attention is worth $600,000 in promotional marketing for the Leech Lake area.

The event also allows the local area to draw the governor's attention to a number of local projects, which Walker has lined up today.

Coleman is also planning events in the area today, with a 12:30-1:30 p.m. community luncheon in Wadena, a 2:30-3:30 p.m. Park Rapids Chamber of Commerce reception at the North Country Museum of Art, and the annual Grand Rapids Fishing Opener Community BBQ at 4:45-6 p.m. in Old Central School before heading to Walker for the official opener with the governor.

"In my business, it's important to listen to folks at the local level," Coleman said. "I do it when I'm senatoring, and I'm going to do it when I'm fishing."

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