MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s that time of year again – the Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener.

The 2015 opener is being held in the Lake Vermillion area May 7 through 10. The fishing challenge begins at midnight on Saturday, May 9, but there are family events and a free picnic starting at 4:00 p.m. Friday afternoon.

More than a half million people are expected to participate in the opening weekend — it’s considered a holiday for Minnesota anglers. Some people actually take off work the day before to prepare for the season opener.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources estimates there are about one million anglers in the state.

Joe Harty, who runs the bait shop near Lake Medicine, says he feels good about the walleye crop this year.

The same can’t be said for a Minnesota lake once known for its premiere walleye fishing.

Greg Fisher is the co-owner of Vados Bait and Tackle in Spring Lake Park, where it’s practically Black Friday for the fishing industry this weekend.

“Leeches are huge, but spot tail shiners are also a premium bait for the opener,” he said.

Fisher says business at the Vados Bait Express pracitcally quadruples on the evening of the Governor’s Fishing Opener.

“We’re chasing bait all week, making sure we have full tanks and full coolers,” he said. “And we get to see everybody we don’t get to see during the winter.”

Tony Sartwell and his 11-year-old son are a few of the customers who are back again for the opener. But this year they’re changing lakes. The Sartwells have a cabin on Mille Lacs, but will be going to Leech Lake instead.

“Traditionally we do go to Mille Lacs but the last couple years, because of the slot limit, we’re looking at different lakes to fish,” he said.

Because of the decline in the walleye population on Mille Lacs, anglers are only allowed to keep a single fish — that’s down from a two walleye per day bag limit in 2014.

“To take a fishery that was that good and to have it be how it is now is saddening,” Sartwell said.

The walleye population on Millie Lacs is the lowest the DNR has seen in about 40 years. There are a number of factors being blamed for the decline, from a higher population of predatory fish to tribal netting.

While everyone is out on the lake this weekend enjoying the season, state patrols will also be cruising the waters making sure people are safe and following the law.

Conservation Officer Adam Block says every year they run into anglers with out-of-date fishing licenses and boat renewals. He says about 150-officers will be patrolling the waters and spread out across the state.

“Fishing licenses — keep those on you. That’s a big violation we see,” Block said. “The boat registration is good every three years, so it might not be on your radar. We want you to look at that registration while your boat is still in your garage, not when you get it out onto the water and realize you need to get it renewed.”

Block also says boaters should make sure they don’t have their drain plug in when they’re putting the boat in the water.

“For aquatic invasive species laws, you cannot transport your boat on a public road with the drain plug in,” he said.

Now in its 68th year, the Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener celebrates fishing, recreational and travel opportunities in Minnesota. It’s also an unofficial kickoff to the summer tourism season.

Information on fishing regulations, purchasing licenses and finding lakes to fish at is available on the DNR’s website.

WCCO’s Mike Max talked to a local fishing experts for some tips on the lake this week:

John Lauritsen

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