The Governor’s Fishing opener was held on Big Sandy Lake near McGregor, MN in Aitkin County. Headquarters for the event was Big Sandy Lake Lodge. Big Sandy Lake has 6,088 acres of water with 54.45 miles of shoreline and has an average depth that ranges between 15-30 ft. with a maximum of 84 ft. This lake has almost any species of fish that you would ever want to fish and a slot limit that allows you to only keep walleyes between 14-18 inches and one over 26 inches. You can also keep only five sunfish. Big Sandy and Lake Minnewawa are the two largest and most popular lakes of this area; there are also many other smaller, good fishing lakes in the immediate area and plenty of resorts and campgrounds to accommodate you. As if that’s not enough; Savannah Portage State Park is also located in the heart of the area.
Whenever the weather is bad on the Friday of the opener I always feel a little sad for the many folks that volunteer their time and hospitality to host the community picnic and all other events associated with promoting their area of the state. The fishing opener actually signifies the beginning of the tourism season which generates $13.6 billion in gross sales in leisure and hospitality. Hosting the opener highlights the host area each year and is a boost for the economy of that particular area. For such a small community the folks of the McGregor area did a bang-up job of showcasing the McGregor area and the hospitality that they showed was overwhelming.
As most of you have probably heard by now; the Governor did indeed catch a walleye again this year. The Governor’s fishing host was a fellow some of you may remember; Bob Straska who was formerly the head football coach at Glenville and is now the principal and head football coach at McGregor High School. When he found out that I was from Albert Lea we spoke briefly about his time in Glenville. He said that he made the right decision when he came to McGregor where he could not only teach and coach but spend his spare time hunting and fishing. Things obviously worked out for him because not only is he the principal of McGregor High School and head football coach in a great northern Minnesota community but he is obviously a pretty good fishing guide.
The 2016 opener is probably one of the coldest that I can remember in recent years. We were greeted in the morning with enough snow that it stuck to the ground and in the boat. About three years ago the Park Rapids opener was held on lakes that had just become ice-free or still had some ice on them. Now that was cold! I caught a 23-inch walleye that year on a lake that still had ice on half of its main body of water. I can handle the cold weather but cold and wet, like my first opener in Willmar, still gives me goose bumps.
Clarence Bendt, our fishing host is married with two daughters and he said that both of them like the outdoors and fishing. He has attended the last three Governor’s Openers as a host and mentioned that by doing that he learns about different lakes. He had us fishing in a protected bay on Big Sandy and in what I considered a prime area; where the river runs into the lake and also not far from where it makes its exit.
Clarence is a full time fishing guide who has made guiding his livelihood for about the last eight years. I could tell just by talking to him that guiding to him is a passion, not just a job and he has great respect for the resources of this great state of ours. His business is called Berndt Guide Service and not only does he guide in the Park Rapids, Nevis and Osage area but he guides on Leech Lake, Red Lake and the Rainy River. In the winter he has six fish houses on Leech Lake that he will rent out for a couple of days or a week. He can be reached at www.bendtguideservice.com or by calling Clarence Bendt, 218-252-0659.
We did not fish in the afternoon but a few of the folks that I talked to said that they had their best luck in the afternoon. Some folks reported catching a few walleye, northern pike, perch or some dandy crappie. These were the folks that braved the wind and cold of the main waters of Big Sandy and ventured to other parts of this big magnificent lake some distance from the lodge. There are plenty of islands on this lake where you can go to escape the wind.
This year, however, I did officially catch “the skunk” but at least my friend of many years, Jeff Anderson, sportscaster from Watertown, South Dakota did catch a 10-inch perch to keep the skunk out of our boat. I along with our fishing host, Clarence, who makes Park Rapids his home, had some nice bites but no takers. A nice bite when fishing walleye does not give me the same felling that a follow when fishing for musky does. I did manage to catch a tackle box that I horsed off of the bottom of the lake; it looked like it had been there for quite some time.
Over the years I have occasionally taken Hwy. 65 to the cabin and stopped at the wayside rest near McGregor that looks out over this beautiful lake. I have stopped there with all of my grandsons and pointed out the beauty of this view. They probably couldn’t figure out why I found this so fascinating but to me, this lake holds a special meaning because my mother who taught me how to fish at a very young age and loved to fish herself, came here in her later years. My dad worked with a fellow named Kenny Myron and he and his wife June had a little cabin on this lake. Once or maybe twice a year they would take my mother and dad to the cabin for a few days, where mom could fish and dad could enjoy the outdoors. Both of them spoke many times of how they enjoyed the area and this beautiful lake and how they appreciated the opportunity to come here with friends like Kenny and June. My other fishing mentor, my Uncle Ben, made this his and my Aunt Marcie’s yearly vacation area and they would stay at a family owned resort named Ole’s Resort; Yah, sure, you batcha. This family resort is still there today. My Uncle Ben was an avid fisherman so I always knew that it was a good lake if he came here year after year.
I am glad that I have finally gotten to visit the area that my two fishing mentors loved to frequent. It didn’t take me long to know why they loved this area. Once you take time out from admiring the beauty of the lake you will find the folks of this area very friendly and hospitable. With this being said I will definitely be visiting Big Sandy Lake and the McGregor area again.
Until next time, the fishing opener is behind us so now it’s time to get serious about fishing; whether it is fishing from a boat, one of the area fishing piers or just sitting on the bank of one of the lakes – enjoy!
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