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Weiss: Wet, wild Governor's Fishing Opener was like 'nun' before

Rain, lightning, lack of walleye — and being compared to Catholic Sisters — made Saturday's fishing opener near Mankato one to remember for PB columnist John Weiss.

Doug Johnson of rural Brainerd holds up a sheephead he caught during the 75th Annual Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener on Saturday, May 13, 2023, on Madison Lake, near Mankato.
John Weiss / contributed photo

MADISON LAKE — While fishing Saturday in a chaos of whitecaps, pounding rain and lightning followed within a second by a shudder of thunder, I realized there’s a line between being tough and being stupid, and the three of us were way over that line.

Maybe we should go in, I told Darrell Kopischke and Doug Johnson. Besides, the fish weren’t biting.

We hurried off Madison Lake Saturday, the opening day of the season for walleye and northern, and fishing for and releasing bass, to huddle under a shelter, check the weather forecast for the umpteenth time and just kick back. We would do that twice.

Kopiscke, of nearby Janesville, was the guide for Johnson, of Brainerd, and me at the 75th Annual Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opener that was held in the Mankato area this year; Madison Lake is several miles east of Mankato.

It is said the two things you don’t really need for the event are the governor and fish; Gov. Tim Walz was at his daughter’s graduation and the fish were just about as scarce.


When Kopischke and I met Friday evening, I realized quickly I was in for a treat — he’s a joyful teller of fish stories, especially those of taking Catholic sisters in his boat. For many years, he worked maintenance for the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Mankato and would occasionally be asked to take them fishing, including taking some sisters from Germany, Africa and Vietnam. They were good, he said, determined, “they are on a mission … wonderful fun to fish with them.” 

Would he measure Johnson and me against the sisters? Sisters are a tough act to follow.

Darrell Kopischke braves wind and spray to guide his boat through Madison Lake on Saturday, May 13, 2023.
John Weiss / contributed photo

Besides the fame of the sisters, we would also go against low walleye numbers the past few years because net testing of the 1,447.15-acre lake showed walleye were on an ebb, Kopischke said. “It’s going through a cycle like all lakes,” he said.

The biggest uncertainty, however, was the weather — the forecast was for conditions as nasty as you could fear, outside of a tornado or blizzard.

When Johnson, a veteran of more than 50 governor’s openers, joined us, we got serious about strategy. The official launch was at Bray Park at 8:30 a.m but that wastes much of a morning. Kopischke suggested another ramp at 6 a.m. Appropriate for seeing how we compared to sisters, we would fish the Church Bar, one of several on the lake.

We arrived at 6 a.m. but hesitated to go out because black clouds were threatening; we would let them pass. Finally, our guide said “I think we’re ready to dance, boys.”

At the Church Bar, we put on jigs and I tipped mine with a leech, hoping for a walleye, while the others went with a nightcrawler or minnows. Johnson got the first fish, a sunfish and a nice sheephead. Our guide was happy to see the sheephead. “I like that the sheephead are here because if sheephead are around, you can usually get walleyes.”

Usually was the operative word.


We soon moved closer to our launch in case weather got worse. Our agreement was we would tough it out, unless lightning got too close. It got close, we hurried to shore. “We can handle the rain, but man, she barked,” Kopischke said of the thunder and lightning.

Storms would eventually become so bad or threatening that the official launch for nearly 100 guests was pushed back an hour to 9:30 a.m., though several of us had already been fishing for a few hours; about half the guests chickened out, or were too smart. It’s hard to know.

Doug Johnson needed complete rain gear to stay dry, sort of, during the Governor's Fishing Opener, held Saturday, May 13, 2023, on Madison Lake.
John Weiss / contributed photo

We fished closer to shore and I learned some things — that you can fish when it’s rough if you are determined and have two others in the boat as determined (or daffy) as you, that I like my new medium-light pole, that I forgot the hood of the outer layer of my two-layer winter parka and that it’s not waterproof. Really not waterproof. I was soon soaked but fortunately wore a wool-like shirt and wool base layer. It was a warm rain, I just turned my back to the wind and fished; Kopischke would loan me another parka with a hood.

Once the worst storms were past, we went back out and caught some more sunfish and sheephead but no walleye. 

Again, the lightning and thunder barked and again, we were on shore, waiting, hoping, checking and rechecking weather apps that showed clouds in graphic, and frightening, color.

I was the only one without a fish so the second time out, I realized walleye were just not in the cards. I switched to a crawler and soon landed a crappie nearly a foot long. Hmm, maybe something good would happen. Johnson said he would like to take home a meal of panfish so we kept some of the bigger ones. I added a sheephead or two, and some sunnies and finally, another big crappie. We never really kept count so agreed that no one could claim to be top hook.

By noon, we had enough fish for Johnson, we were tired from being wind-pounded and rain-drenched. That was enough. 

We went in and drove over to a great shore lunch that included walleye. We sat in a tent, out of the rain, ate and ate more. And laughed and joked and pitied those guests who didn’t fish.


Post Bulletin columnist John Weiss holds up a large crappie he caught during the Governor's Fishing Opener on Madison Lake, near Mankato, on Saturday, May 13, 2023.
Contributed photo / Doug Johnson

Before I left to head home, Kopischke analyzed our performance: “You guys were right up there with the nuns.”


I left the tent with a glow because I had measured up and would be part of his fishing stories. The sun soon came out.

John Weiss has written and reported about Outdoors topics for the Post Bulletin for more than 45 years. He is the author of the book "Backroads: The Best of the Best by Post-Bulletin Columnist John Weiss”

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