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Big pike reeled in Saturday on Lake Okabena

WORTHINGTON -- Jake Cuperus and his fishing buddies -- 4-year-old son Lawson and friend Brandon Van Westen -- were ice fishing on Lake Okabena Saturday when Jake's 6-pound test fishing line went taut, the weight tugging from a golden-colored jig ...

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Jake Cuperus shows off the 11-pound, 36-inch northern pike he pulled from Lake Okabena early Saturday evening. Cuperus was using 6-pound test line with a jig head and minnow to catch the biggest fish of his life. (Special to The Globe)

WORTHINGTON - Jake Cuperus and his fishing buddies - 4-year-old son Lawson and friend Brandon Van Westen - were ice fishing on Lake Okabena Saturday when Jake’s 6-pound test fishing line went taut, the weight tugging from a golden-colored jig feeling like a rock.

“I knew right away it was a big fish - it was just the way it felt,” said the rural Wilmont farmer and ice-fishing enthusiast.

Big it was - perhaps the biggest to be pulled from the Worthington lake in a long while. Certainly, it’s the biggest fish Cuperus has ever landed.

The northern pike tipped the scale at 11 pounds and measured 36 inches long. Its belly girth was 16 inches.

A combination of willpower by Cuperus and slime on the lunker helped bring the pike through an 8-inch-round hole in the ice early Saturday evening.

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Cuperus and his friend arrived at the lake about 2:30 p.m., hoping to catch some walleyes and panfish. They drilled holes in the ice straight out from Sailboard Beach, set up their portable fish house and dropped their minnow-baited lines in about eight feet of water below the ice.

The action was quiet - dead quiet - until the pike latched onto Cuperus’ line three hours later. He hooked the fish right in the lip, the best scenario considering pike are known for breaking lines - especially those absent of a leader.

Then the fight was on. Cuperus said he began reeling in the fish with no idea what was on the other end. It wasn’t until the pike surfaced near the hole that he realized just how big this fish tale would be.

The pike was brought up to the hole twice, and then fought its way back into the depths of the water before Cuperus handed off the fishing rod to Van Westen, reached into the hole and grabbed the pike by the gills on its third appearance. Once he pulled the fish’s head through the hole, he used both hands to pull the pike from the water.

“I was concerned he was going to break the line,” said Cuperus, adding that the pike turned sideways when it neared the hole.

“By the third time he was pretty tired,” Cuperus said. “He came up fairly easy - we squished him through the hole.”

While the pike may have been tired out, Cuperus was running on adrenaline.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. Lawson was nearly in tears, as the big fish was a bit frightening to look at, particularly its teeth.

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After a brief discussion with Van Westen about whether to return the pike to the lake or take it home, Cuperus opted for the latter. He’s already spoken with Jim Slocum, owner of Slocum True Life Taxidermy at Reading, about having the fish made into a display mount.

“We are probably doing the smaller fish (in Lake Okabena) a favor,” Cuperus added.

Ryan Doorenbos, fisheries supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Windom, said Monday that Lake Okabena isn’t really known for its production of northern pike.

“I would describe Lake Okabena as having a lower pike population,” he said. “In those lower populations, you’ll find a lunker in there.”

Doorenbos said the DNR, several years ago, had used its rearing ponds in Worthington to grow northern pike because habitat in the lake isn’t ideal for the fish to spawn. He said Cuperus’ catch might be one of the fish transplanted from the rearing pond.

The DNR last did a fish survey on Lake Okabena in 2014. Using trap and gill nets, just six northern pike were caught, including one pike of 15-19 inches long, three pike of 20-24 inches in length and two pike of 25-29 inches in length. The DNR plans to conduct a fish survey on the lake again this summer.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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