About a million anglers hit the lakes over the weekend for the walleye fishing season opener. Gov. Jesse Ventura spent the weekend on Rainy Lake in International Falls, making the most of what could be his last opener as governor.
Jesse Ventura may be facing declining poll numbers, but his celebrity status seems as strong as ever. The governor was welcomed to International Falls by a crowd city officials say was more typical of a Fourth of July.
This year the governor came without his wife, Terry. She stayed home with her mother, who's recovering from surgery. At a picnic gathering Friday, the governor signed a few autographs, stood for pictures and talked fishing. He also managed to take a few jabs at the Legislature.
"The secret is not to be a Democrat or a Republican. You see, fish don't like those two parties. They like Independents. That's why they bite. That's why I have success. And I'll make a prediction: I'll be more successful this weekend than the Legislature will be," Ventura said.
Unlike his predecessor, Arne Carlson, Ventura has had pretty good luck on the lake. In 2000, he became the first governor in nearly a decade to catch a walleye opening day.
On Saturday, Ventura and a boatload of high school buddies were on the lake by 4:30 a.m. They found a hot spot near the Kettle River, and by 8 a.m., they'd reeled in a respectable catch.
"We got 17, total. And I got my limit in 55 minutes," Ventura said.
A handful of state commissioners joined Ventura in International Falls. Ventura boasted he's probably the only governor who's had his entire political caucus on hand for an opener event. The Independence Party caucus has only one member - Sen. Bob Lessard, who lives in the Falls.
Lessard says he doesn't always see eye to eye with Ventura, but he's still happy to be in his ring. "When we get behind closed doors one on one, you can't beat him. He's just a fun guy to be with. The public doesn't really see that but he really is a lot of fun, and he says it like it is. And I think that's what makes him different," Lessard said.
Rainy Lake still had ice on it just a few weeks ago. The area got a few inches of snow Thursday. But anglers on Saturday were treated to mostly blue skies and 60-degree temperatures.
Besides good fishing and good weather, Ventura says he was able to avoid the media most of the morning. Only a few reporters were able to find the governor's boat.
"The great thing about Rainy Lake, it is so large that it's impossible with all the islands and different canals, you don't even have to ditch the media. They'll get lost on their own," he said.
The largest of the five walleye the governor caught was 22 inches. All were released back to the lake.
"How many did the Legislature get on opener? Or maybe I should ask you, have they done anything? Oh, that's right. I can light a sparkler," Ventura said.
As it turns out, while the govnernor was fishing, the Legislature was busy working out an agreement to fix the state's $439 million budget deficit. Lawmakers say they can do it without raising taxes. They say they hope to have a final agreement ready in time for a vote on the plan Tuesday.