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Fishing guide looks back on hosting Dayton

From left, Minnesota state Sen. Rod Skoe, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and fishing guide Jason Durham launch a boat May 11 on Fish Hook River in Park Rapids. Anna Erickson | Forum News Service

PARK RAPIDS — When Jason Durham looks back on memorable Minnesota fishing openers, he’s going to have a tough time topping this year’s version of the big event.

Guiding Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and as part of the 2013 Governor’s Fishing Opener festivities was just part of the adventure for Durham, a longtime fishing guide in the Park Rapids area.

Park Rapids hosted this year’s Governor’s Fishing Opener.

"It was a whole lot of fun," Durham said of fishing with Dayton. "He wanted to go out at midnight. I obliged, and I think he got his line in about 10 minutes after midnight. It took about 15 minutes for him to catch a walleye.

"That was a lot of pressure off my shoulders."

There was more pressure than usual for Durham and other organizers of the Park Rapids event. Fish Hook Lake, where Durham had planned to fish, still had too much ice to safely access last weekend.

That forced Durham to switch to Plan B and fish the Fish Hook River system, instead.

"I was checking the ice repeatedly because I knew of an area on the lake that would be very, very good," Durham said. "But the ice didn’t allow it. We fished the river system, and that was fine."

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Durham’s time with the governor didn’t end in the wee hours. After a few hours on the water, Durham took Dayton to shore, but they were back at it again after dawn.

By that time, Durham had been up for 43 hours.

As if the battle with lingering ice wasn’t enough adversity, Durham on Friday afternoon had stepped in a hole in his driveway and tore a ligament in his ankle.

He figured he’d used up all of his bad luck at that point and would have good luck hosting the governor.

"And that turned out to be true," Durham said.

Besides Dayton, Durham on Saturday morning hosted North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Minnesota state Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook.

Dayton, a Democrat, and Dalrymple, a Republican, go back a long way. They both attended Blake School, a private prep school in the Twin Cities, and later played on the same hockey team at Yale University, where Dayton was a goalie and Dalrymple a center.

Durham said hosting the two governors was a treat. And despite their differing party affiliations, the governors’ focus remained on fishing.

"I thought there might be some debate in the boat, but there was not one bit," Durham said. "They were very cordial, and politics really didn’t come up that much. Every once in awhile, there was a question about something, but really, I’d have to say it was probably one of the most enjoyable fishing trips I’ve been on with two really great personalities in the boat."

Only walleye

Durham said the walleye Dayton caught shortly after midnight on a minnow and live bait rig was the only walleye to come into the boat. He said the fish, which likely measured between 18 inches and 20 inches, was barely out of the water long enough for a photo before Dayton threw it back.

"We caught a pike and had two other fish on that made it halfway to the boat," he said.

The key to walleye success, Durham said, was to fish shallow water with current. He heard similar reports from other anglers across the region.

Durham said about 10 of the 100 or so boats participating in the governor’s opener festivities fished the Fish Hook River system, while the remainder spread out to different waters, mostly smaller lakes that were clear of ice.

"We had about 100 boats and they went a lot of different directions, and no lake was crowded by any means," he said. "It gave people the experience of fishing in Park Rapids we typically have. We converged for shore lunch and got to share fishing stories, and it was perfect."

The Park Rapids version of the Governor’s Fishing Opener also will go down as an event of "firsts," Durham said:

-- First to offer an extra day of activities, which they did May 9.

-- First to host governors from two states.

-- First community to sell 10,000 raffle tickets for fundraising, topping the previous record of 8,500. …

And, of course, the first opener with ice on the lake that inhibited fishing.

Despite the adversity, the governor didn’t get skunked. That hasn’t always been the case during Governor’s Fishing Opener events.

"It was a whole lot of fun and definitely unique in comparison to other openers," Durham said.

Brainerd will host next year’s Governor’s Fishing Opener.

Article by Brad Dokken of Forum News Service

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