Area businesses ready for fishing opener
A 2007 study indicated that the fishing industry in Minnesota creates 47,000 jobs and generates $2.8 billion in direct annual expenditures. Fishing also contributes more than $640 million a year in tax revenues to the treasuries of the state and federal governments.
Those figures were recently announced by Minnesota DNR Fisheries Chief Dirk Peterson. The numbers are based on a study that analyzed the economic impact of Minnesota's 1.4 million anglers.
"As an economic engine, fishing is more like a Mack truck than a mo-ped," Peterson said. "You can easily hear it rumble through all corners of the state."
That metaphorical truck also makes its way to Bemidji, and it will be revving its engine this weekend as Minnesotan's celebrate the opening of the walleye and northern pike fishing seasons.
Among the area business owners who will be ready for steady traffic this weekend is Ron Bostic of Taber's Bait. Bostic will welcome opening day by continuously keeping the doors at Taber's Bait open from early Friday morning through 9 p.m. Saturday.
"After midnight on opening day it will slow down a bit, but by 4:30 a.m. on Saturday (the traffic) will be fast and furious," Bostic said.
Not too many years ago anglers from all over the Midwest would stop into Taber's, but Bostic has noticed a definite change in the demographics.
"Last year we didn't see as many tourists come through, and I think that is because of the economy," Bostic said. "We still get traffic from Fargo and Grand Forks, probably because those people have property here, but overall I'm expecting this year to be a little down because of the gas prices."
Despite what will probably be a drop in the tourist traffic, opening weekend will bring an economic shot in the arm to the Bemidji area.
"Opening day is definitely important," Bostic said. "Would we go bankrupt without opening day? No, we wouldn't, but it definitely helps us pay our bills.
"I'm expecting heavy traffic this weekend. It has already picked up and it will only get stronger."
Keith Dahl, the assistant manager at Gander Mountain, also is expecting a steady stream of customers through the door this weekend.
"We'll be busy, and the customers will come from everywhere," he said. "Fishing opener is like the deer opener. It's tradition. People who grew up here and have moved away come back just for the fishing opener and many of them bring their families.
"If they opened on Lake Irving 20 years ago, they come back this weekend to open there again," Dahl added.
The fishing opener also represents the official start of the warm-weather season.
"This weekend is the kickoff for summer. Opening fishing, Memorial Day and July 4th are the three big weekends of the year," said Mark Cook of Bluewater Outdoors. "This is the weekend when my hours change, my staffing changes and the duties change. After a lull following ice-out we are back in business again."
While Saturday is the official opener, Friday is the day when the area businesses see the most traffic.
"Everybody is getting everything together on Friday," Cook said. "By 9 a.m. on Saturday, most of the people are on the lake. On Saturday, we'll see the guys who tried and failed to get one more year out of that old reel or who broke the tip of their rod. We'll see guys who need to replace stuff that didn't work out as well as they planned."
The opening-weekend impact has already been experienced at Bemidji Discount Liquors.
"We already had people stop in who are up for the fishing opener," said senior clerk Don Baumgartner. "We'll be very busy this weekend. There is no doubt that the fishing opener is a boon to Bemidji's economy.
"The deer opener, the fishing opener and the holidays are our busiest times of the year," Baumgartner added.
Kevin Fenner, the senior clerk at Bemidji's Lakeview Liquor, agrees.
"We expect sales to be 20 to 25 percent better on fishing opener weekend than during a normal weekend," Fenner said. "The customers will be a mix of locals and tourists.
"Fishing opener is a definite (economic) boost for Bemidji."
Denelle Hilliard, the executive director of Visit Bemidji, said that Memorial Weekend is the official kickoff to summer for most people because school is finally out and there is more opportunity for families to stage a get-together.
"The trend now is that the fishing opener is more of a soft opening to summer," Hilliard said. "For the Bemidji area, however, we like to see the fishing opener come along because that is the start of the season for many resort owners."