With bait stores set to open, fishing fans rejoice

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Tranquil Eagle Lake in Maple Grove, on a sunny afternoon, feels like a world away from the troubles of COVID-19.

“For Minnesota, it’s huge,” declared Peter Dienslake, of Minneapolis. “This is what Minnesota is all about.”

Dienslake and longtime friend Kevin Berg were hanging out, soaking up the sun, and talking about Governor Tim Walz’s announcement that bait shops will be allowed to reopen Saturday.

It’s part of an effort to get Minnesotans to get out and enjoy the outdoors, while staying safe.

“Very excited about it,” Berg said. “It’ll be much better when I can get up to Leech Lake area and go fish up there.”

These two fishing buddies aren’t alone.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says there are 1.4 million licensed anglers across the state that visit the 5,400 fishable lakes; fishing statewide generates $251 million a year in sales and income, according to the department.

Berg has high hopes for the future.

"I’m in food sales as it is, and it’ll be nice if they can start opening up resorts in northern Minnesota, reap the benefits of this also,” he said.

But from bait shop to shoreline, this is more than a respite from a virus. It’s a Minnesota thing.

“Yeah, definitely,” said Jack Wellman, who remodels apartments for a living. “You still have got to stay safe though. I’m at an age where I can catch (COVID-19) easy. I’m 63 years old and my wife and I don’t want to catch it.”

Dienslake said his love of the outdoors, including fishing, has been handed down to his children. That’s a tradition that seems more precious now with a health threat impacting the entire country.

"This is a part of their culture. This is what they grew up doing,” he said quietly. “They pass those traditions on to their kids, and forward. This is important."

Even on the dock, the two friends are careful about social distancing.

There’s a kind of cautiousness amid the yearning to see Mother Nature spring to life once again. But it also offers a bit of normalcy.

“This is all the unknown, we don’t know,” Berg said. “That’s where the doctors and everyone else can figure that out.”

Dienslake hopes the increase in outdoor activities won’t give people a false sense of security — and that everyone will remember to use social distancing and not gather in tight-knot groups.

“In Minnesota, as well as we all know, our warm weather climate is short-lived,” he said. “People are going to fall back to old habits. We just got to keep sending the message. Remember, we’ve still got a challenge ahead.”