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A grand success for Nisswa

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With a break in the rainy weather and sunshine peeking through, thousands turned out Friday, May 9, for the kickoff event for the 2014 Governor’s Fishing Opener — a free community picnic in downtown Nisswa.

Mark Ronnei, Grand View Lodge general manager, reported more than 3,000 free pulled pork sandwiches were served under the giant tent on Main Street, and the evening finished with a performance from headliner the Gear Daddies and a fireworks display.

The Nisswa chamber reported that 349 volunteers helped at the picnic, and that 10,134 raffle tickets were sold for $5 each for the Larson boat package. Levi Frye of Otsego bought the winning ticket.

After a pit stop at S&W Bait north of Brainerd for his fishing license, Gov. Mark Dayton arrived in Nisswa at 4 p.m. to speak at the event, alongside Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon and the numerous sponsors of the weekend. Dayton and Prettner Solon lavishly praised the community for pulling off a grand welcoming to the Brainerd lakes area.

“What an outstanding show of people coming together,” said Prettner Solon. “Everything is shining. You’ve done an outstanding job.”

Dayton said he would use fishing advice he received from former WCCO TV news anchor Don Shelby, who suggested he spit on his bait and spray it with WD-40.

This was the second time Dayton bought a fishing license at S&W Bait. He bought one there one January to attend the Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing Extravaganza.

“It’s an awesome honor for him to remember he was here and to come back,” said store owner Sherree Wicktor, noting both times Dayton made a point to buy something besides his fishing license from the store. Friday, he bought a camouflage S&W Bait baseball cap. “That was a very, very nice compliment and a way to show he cares about the people. This is just a great event for our area.”

Organizers presented both the governor and lieutenant governor with gift baskets and giant Rapala lures, signed by all of the fishing guides involved in the Governor’s Fishing Opener. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr also made sure to check over Dayton’s license, giving him the go-ahead for hitting the waters of Gull Lake at Grand View Lodge at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, May 10.

The midnight fishing trip, unfortunately, yielded no fish for Dayton, who fished with guide Ray Gildow. Prettner Solon, however, brought in not one, but two walleyes, around 1 a.m. Her guide was Toby Kvalevog.

Thousands of anglers headed out on lakes throughout the state Saturday morning. With no ice in sight and temperatures in the 60s, Gull Lake buzzed with activity and boats as far as the eye could see. Aboard the 59th annual Welcome Wannigan sponsored by the Nisswa Chamber of Commerce, Miss Nisswa Ellie Erholtz and Little Miss Nisswa Ella Kratochvil distributed free coffee and doughnuts to dozens of anglers, including Dayton; U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn.; and Nolan’s Republican opponent this November, Stewart Mills III.

Nisswa Chamber President Shawn Hansen described the Wannigan as the “best one ever,” helped along by outstanding weather and a high turnout of anglers.

Dayton again came up empty-handed on Gull Lake on Saturday morning, while Prettner Solon added two more fish to her weekend total.

“I repel fish,” Dayton said while out on the water. “For everyone with me, too.”

No one on the governor’s boat — including Gildow; state Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter; Miss Minnesota Rebbeca Yeh of Nisswa; and Yeh’s brother, Phillip — reeled in a fish Saturday.

The 2014 Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener was hosted by the Brainerd Lakes Chamber in collaboration with the Nisswa chamber and with headquarters at Grand View Lodge. Explore Minnesota Tourism organizes the event each year with a host community.

The 2015 Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener will be in the Lake Vermilion area, hosted by the Lake Vermilion Resort Association with Fortune Bay Resort as headquarters.