On the eve of Saturday’s Minnesota fishing opener, Elvis has left the hay bale. Or something like that.

Ron Schara, host of TV’s “Minnesota Bound” and retired Star Tribune outdoors columnist, announced Sunday that he — the kid from Postville, Iowa, whose broadcasting sidekick was Raven, a black Labrador retriever — was retiring again.

“Giving up the hay bale,” Schara said, referring to the perch (which is actually straw) from which he announced the opening of his weekly outdoors TV program, which first aired in February 1995.

Taking over Schara’s hosting duties will be his daughter, Laura, and Bill Sherck, both of whom are “Minnesota Bound” regulars.

“It’s time to pass the torch,” Schara said. “I’ll still be around, but not every week. I’ll do some occasional stories and specials. But the week-to-week shows, Laura and Bill will handle.”

What won’t change is Schara’s fishing opener celebration, which, as it is for many Minnesotans, is a family affair. Beginning Friday, members of the Schara clan plans to descend on Bowstring Lake as they have for many years, looking to plop a few walleye fillets in a frying pan at day’s end Saturday.

Though fishing-license sales so far this spring trail the number distributed just before the opener a year ago — most likely because of late lake ice-out dates Up North — close to a half-million Minnesotans are expected to wet a line when walleyes and northern pike become legal fare on inland lakes at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

In Minnesota, the opener marks both a seasonal shift and a method by which the passing of time can be documented. Limits are caught one year, but not others. Kids join the celebration, fishing at first with Snoopy rods, and before long, they’ve graduated from college.

“People like to say Minnesota is the state of hockey,” Schara said. “Well, hockey’s important. But Minnesota is not the state of hockey. It’s the state of fishing.”

Statistics bear him out. Minnesota registers 15 boats per 100 people, with about 810,000 watercraft calling the state home. Plus, Minnesota has more walleye lakes (and walleyes) than any other state and a greater diversity of fishing opportunities. Also, Rapala is headquartered here, as are other industry heavyweights such as Lund, Alumacraft, Crestliner, Northland Fishing Tackle and Wenonah Canoes.

Minnesota also has long been a hotbed for fishing media, beginning with the founding of the In-Fisherman empire by brothers Al and Ron Lindner, as well as television shows produced by Babe Winkleman, Larry Dahlberg and others, including Schara.

“Our family used to have reunions in summer,” Schara said. “We don’t anymore. Instead we get together for the fishing opener.”

As a kid growing up in Iowa, Schara fished more sheepshead and carp than walleyes. A relative was a fly fisherman and taught him and his three brothers (there are two sisters, as well) how to fool brook trout with a feathered hook. Later, in college, it was stink baits and cut baits for catfish in the Des Moines River.

Schara and his siblings couldn’t know it at the time, but they were building an activity bond that would last forever. Which is an important advantage that fishing and similar outdoor activities have over team sports, participation in which for most people ends after high school.

Landing in the Twin Cities in 1967, Schara left a communications job with South Dakota Game Fish and Parks to become the old Minneapolis Tribune’s outdoors columnist.

“One of my first memories while working for the Tribune was at a Governor’s Opener by Grand Rapids,” he said. “At the time, they had an award, it might have been called the Governor’s Cup, given to the anglers who caught the most fish. So Al Lindner and I schemed to fish Roosevelt Lake, where we knew there were a lot of walleyes, to win the Cup. Well, we got skunked!”

Schara’s dad was a carpenter who worked six days a week, so his time to fish with his kids was limited. He made up for it after retiring, when he joined the family on the Minnesota opener.

“The last time Dad made an opener was in 1981,” Schara said. “He was dying of pancreatic cancer at the time and didn’t think he could make it. But on the Friday before the opener he showed up at my house, ready, more or less, to go Up North.

“He didn’t look good and felt worse. So I called a doctor friend of mine to see if there was anything I could do for him, and he said if I could get him some marijuana, he’d feel better. I’m not going to say how I got it, but I did, a couple joints, and he got through the weekend. That was in May. He died in July.”

Time passing also played a role in the scheduling of Schara’s departure from “Minnesota Bound.”

Raven, the kind-eyed black Labrador who appears on the program with him, is also feeling her age. In fact, she is the “third” Raven to work with Schara — the granddaughter of Raven No. 1 and daughter of Raven No. 2.

“Raven will be 12 in July and doesn’t have the energy she once did,” Schara said. “Who knows how long she will last? I didn’t want to announce on the show that she was gone, and I didn’t want to do the show without her. So I just decided now was a good time to end my part with it.”

And go fishing.


Dennis Anderson danderson@startribune.com