WILLMAR, Minn. - The Willmar Lakes Area is hoping to not only catch some big fish during the 2018 Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener but also a big positive impact on the region, both in terms of dollars and in publicity.

"Historically, the fishing opener weekend is the kickoff to the busy tourism season, and this media exposure will help boost awareness of our area," said Beth Fischer, executive director of the Willmar Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The hope is the opener, which was expected to bring about 350 guests to the area and expanded media coverage, will bring about $1.3 million worth of media exposure.

"It is a great opportunity to have so many media outlets in our area, talking about our area and telling our stories, encouraging others to come to the Willmar lakes area for their fishing trip or upcoming vacation," Fischer said.

During the event which started Thursday, May 10 and runs through Sunday, May 13, guests will tour the area including paddling down the Crow River, visiting Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center touring the MinnWest Technology Campus and visiting Sibley State Park.

"It is such a wonderful opportunity to show and tell," said Ken Warner, president of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, hopes the opener shows the wider state what this area has to offer.

The actual fishing will take place on many different lakes, with the governor fishing on Green Lake the morning of Saturday, May 12, as the Minnesota fishing season opens.

Green Lake had 26 inches of ice a month before the opener, but was ice free by May 3.

A send-off ceremony will be at 8 a.m. Saturday at Saulsbury Beach County Park in Spicer for those heading out on the water.

With hundreds of guests expected, there was also a need to find hundreds of volunteers"Everyone has worked very hard. You can see the community pride," Warner said. "They are proud to live here and proud to show it off."

Annually, more than $95 million in gross sales and $6 million in sales tax revenue is generated in Kandiyohi County from the hospitality and leisure industry.

"We've been planning for a good year and a half," Fischer said. "It's a real community-led volunteer event."

It has been 23 years since the Willmar area last hosted in the Governor's Fishing Opener in 1995.