Birdshot and backlashes
Governor Tim Pawlenty’s 2005 Minnesota Fishing Opener on Lake Vermilion, May 14, was the greatest ever held. At least the greatest ever attended by anyone from the Ely Echo who regularly receive invitations to these events.Here’s why it was so great: Every participant was presented with an insulated nylon jacket donated by Minnesota Power, a Polartec vest from Cabella’s, a nylon tackle box with four plastic box inserts and an assortment of tackle from XcelEnergy. Also, accommodations and excellent meals were provided through Fortune Bay Casino, the Lake Vermilion Resort Association and the communities of Tower and Cook.And a lot of fish were caught in spite of an icy rain whipped by a cold wind that turned the 40,000-acre lake into a dark, foreboding expanse of churning whitecaps.Teams of two or three writers, TV people and assorted dignitaries were accommodated in comfortable boats with guides who were termed ‘hosts.” Our host was Jim Underhill from Aurora, MN, who had us in a new 16-foot Lund powered with a 40-horse Johnson and a smaller trolling motor. Also in the craft were Bob Ehrler, on the staff of the Minnesota Department of Tourism, and his son Reed.Underhill is my kind of guide. The flotilla was scheduled to breakfast at 6:30 and hit the water immediately. “What do you think of meeting for breakfast at eight and then go fishing?” Underhill suggested the evening before. Considering the miserable weather, he had unanimous support. We got to sleep in.Thus it was that we launched at 9 a.m. at Pike Bay and threaded our way through a flotilla of milling fishing craft reminiscent of the Normandy invasion. As we headed into the waves, it did not appear that a whole lot was occurring. We saw no fish being netted.But all this changed about 10 a.m. as the fish apparently woke up or thawed out. A second craft in our fleet was commanded by John Edman, State Director of Tourism, guided by Mel Hintze, Tower. They hit first and eventually boated 20 walleyes. Although we missed a number of strikes, we landed nine, on jigs and minnows, Reed Ehrler was top gun hooking four walleyes and a 16-foot Crestliner.Crestliner? What happened was, that particular boat drifted into our lines and when the guide realized how close he was, he gunned the motor to get out of our way. Unfortunately, Reed’s line got hooked on his boat. The reel squealed, the Crestliner roared off and the line broke. The boat got away.Largest fish of the day was a 20-lb. muskie hooked by eight-year-old Frankie Chicka, an Eveleth Cub Scout, who needed the assistance of his 13-year-old brother Andrew to get the monster aboard. They were guided by Jeremy Johnson, Whispering Winds Resort who released the fish. A tasty walleye shore lunch was served up under a huge tent at Gruben’s Marina on the lakeshore, and a gala banquet was held at Fortune Bay Casino that night.Governor Tim and Judge Mary Pawlenty, caught some walleyes, we heard. The Echo reporter never got to talk to him or even take a photo. When the Governor’s boat docked for shore lunch, he was immediately mobbed by dozens of news folk with notebooks and TV cameras. An accommodating deluge of icy rain finally scattered that bunch, allowing the Pawlentys to eat some walleye fillets in relative peace.Still, it was a heck of a walleye opener. And the freebie garments were warm and greatly appreciated.