Half a million Minnesota anglers are counting down the days.

Just few weeks, just a blizzard or two, until the May 2022 fishing opener.

Michelle Morey knows exactly where she'll be. On a kayak, in a trout-stocked lake, celebrating her own fishing opener tradition.

"There's hope in every cast," said Morey, president of the 1,100-member strong Women Anglers of Minnesota. "It gets you outside, gives you some tranquility; it gets you one-on-one conversations with the person that you're with, instead of sitting in front of the computer or the TV."

In a normal year, she'd check her phone once she got off the lake, to see whether the governor had caught a fish yet.

In a normal year, a host community would be making final preparations for the movable feast that is the Governor's Fishing Opener. Lining up lodging and tours and golf tourneys; marshaling volunteers and boats and fishing guides; packing swag bags full of branded hometown merchandise; bracing for bragging rights.

But we haven't had a normal year in years. When state tourism officials cast about for hosts for the 74th annual Governor's Fishing Opener, few communities were eager for the expense, uncertainty or political baggage of the event.

The fishing opener might be called the governor's, but it's always been organized by, and for, the host communities. In Otter Tail County last year, with tensions simmering over pandemic policy and mask mandates, organizers found that some critics didn't want to host anything with the word "governor" in the name.

Faced with the prospect of a Fishing Nopener, Minnesota scaled back.

Had the state reached a point where Minnesotans couldn't even fish together?

Of course not. The people you fish with are the best part of fishing.

"The vast majority of Minnesotans don't spend the fishing opener fishing with the governor. They spend the fishing opener fishing with their friends and family," said DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen, who will celebrate the fishing opener with her son at a Take a Mom Fishing event hosted by the Women Anglers of Minnesota.

There will be angling activities around the state in May. Gov. Tim Walz, who caught only perch at his own walleye opener last year, will be out on the water. And the state tourism officials at Explore Minnesota are already making plans for the 2023 Governor's Fishing Opener.

None of this, Strommen said, should change the things that matter most.

"The really fun things about the fishing opener is knowing that you are carrying out a tradition with friends or family ... along side hundreds of thousands of other Minnesotans," she said.

Missing out the traditional fishing opener festivities this year is a loss. Organizing a fishing opener weekend involves years of planning, dozens of volunteers and as much as $100,000 in expenses for a host community.

Otter Tail County was just weeks away from hosting the 2020 fishing opener when the pandemic cancelled the event, and every other event. Organizers were able to use those plans, and all the Find Your Inner Otter merchandise, to host the 2021 fishing opener instead.

Minnesota Hall of Fame fishing guide Tom Neustrom has been in on the fishing opener planning process, and understands why communities hesitated this year.

He had no hesitation about serving as the governor's fishing guide this year.

"I want him to have a good day on the water," he said. "I think the political issues need to be left on shore. You go out on a boat and you enjoy the things around you."

That's why fishing is so important to so many Minnesotans, he said. It's a chance for shared joy.

"That's what's so important to me – bringing a little joy and happiness to the people in my boat," he said. "Sometimes when things aren't going really well, [fishing] brings an up beat to your life."

The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe stepped in to host the governor for the fishing opener this year. Chairman Faron Jackson Sr. is eager to show off the reservation's beauty, and its bounty.

"The Anishinaabe people of Minnesota have relied on the lake to sustain us for many, many generations," he said. "Fishing and gathering, sharing the resources that the lake has provided, has been the foundation of our way of life. In our Ojibwe language, we call it 'mino-bimaadiziwin,' which means 'living the good life.'"

The past few years of pandemic and politics may have frayed the bonds between Minnesotans. But Jackson remembers the stories his grandfather told about the ties that bind us together like strands of a spider web. What happens to one part of the web affects every part of the web.

"It's not so much about us against them," he said. "We've always got to remind ourselves, we're in this together."

So on May 14, at the 2022 Governor's Fishing Opener, he will take a moment for gratitude and hope. Starting with a small offering of tobacco placed in the water.

"Hopefully," he said, "the Creator will let us catch some fish."