The success of a fishing trip, even the sacred Minnesota fishing opener, isn’t always measured in inches or pounds or number of fish.
Sometimes, it turns out, it’s not about fishing at all.
Not that the Hannay group didn’t plan on fishing on opening day Saturday. Maybe in the evening, they said. The Hannay group has, after all, been coming here to Black Pine Beach Resort on Little Whitefish Lake — or Pig Lake — for the opener for about 30 years.
But it’s always been about more than fishing for the group. In fact, this year, for the first time, John Hannay didn’t bring his boat. And as of mid-afternoon on the opener, the group had pretty much been holed up in the cabin playing cards the entire day. A request for a photo of the group near the lake was met halfheartedly. About 50 yards from Cabin 7 — their home base for this outing most every year — Pig Lake may as well have been the Dead Sea.
A world away.
Instead, they appeared more than content to return to the cozy confines of the cabin to continue a game of “500.”
“We’ve always played cards here. We like fishing, but it’s not why we come here,” Hannay said, but added, “Opening fishing is sacred.”
As is the annual trip here, whether they fish or not. They always do, though. But this year, a group that at one time consistently numbered 10 is down to four — Hannay, of Sleepy Eye; his brother, Mike, of Virginia; nephew Robert Nelson, St. Louis Park; and Ryan Johnson, Mike’s stepson, of Big Lake.
The Hannays’ father, Bill, was for years the leader of the group, but hasn’t felt up to returning in recent years.
“Dad always sponsored opening fishing — paid for it,” John Hannay said. “When that changed, things changed.”
He remembers, on an opening weekend about 20 years ago, waking up before the others and going out and catching six walleyes in about 10 minutes.
“I never found that spot again,” he said, shaking his head. “I came back in and never caught another fish (that weekend).”
When asked about other memorable memories, talk turned, of course, to time spent off the lake.
“We had a ‘500’ game that lasted 35 hands about 15 years ago,” John Hannay recalled. “We had to go to bed and take it up again the next day. It’s always so much fun catching up.
“I’d like to be fishing now, but I’m playing cards.”
That might have been the way to go opening day in the Brainerd lakes area. Although optimism was high for a successful 2012 opener, and a stellar weather forecast was expected to get people out on the water in droves, the open-water season appeared to get off to a slow start in the area Saturday.
Aside from reports of walleyes being caught on Gull Lake from anglers coming off the lake at Gull Narrows, reports of walleye success were limited in the Brainerd area through Saturday afternoon.
At the marina on Pelican Lake at Breezy Point Resort, an employee said he’d heard of only one walleye being brought in as of early Saturday afternoon.
Nikki Shoutz, who along with fellow DNR conservation officer Karl Hadrits, was checking boats for aquatic invasive species and possible related infractions on the Mississippi River, said that after stops at five accesses on the river, she hadn’t heard of a walleye being caught. She did, however, hear a report of a 36-inch northern pike being caught at French Rapids near Brainerd. The pike season also opened Saturday.
DNR types were out in force at accesses Saturday in the stepped-up effort against invasives. Shoutz said she saw a few infractions, mostly for failure to remove the drain plug in boats and the like. A volunteer at Jones Bay on Pelican reported no infractions as of mid-afternoon Saturday — and very few walleyes being caught, too.
That wasn’t the case on Lake Mille Lacs as the premier walleye fishery in the state didn’t disappoint over the weekend. Terry Thurmer, owner of Terry’s Boat Harbor and Marina on Mille Lacs, on Sunday said limits weren’t unusual, with most of the fish being caught early or late opening day. Thurmer heard of a number of good-sized walleyes being caught, too, with the biggest about 29 inches, he said.
As for the Hannays, no walleyes, no problem.
“We’ve never not brought fish home,” Mike Hannay said, reiterating that the group does indeed fish on these outings.
“We panfished for mom and dad,” John Hannay added. “This (trip) was dad’s tradition. There’s no Mother’s Day (celebration), but the first fish goes to mom.”
Sunday, Day 2 of opening weekend, was Mother’s Day. For the Hannay crew, it was just another day in Cabin 7.
Who’s turn to deal?
BRIAN S. PETERSON, outdoors editor, may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5864. To follow him on Twitter, go to www.twitter.com/brian_speterson. For his blogs, go to www.brainerddispatch.com.