Chasing a dream
It wasn’t that George Cooper wasn’t ecstatic about the catch — the fish of a lifetime for most every angler. It just wasn’t the fish of his lifetime.
Cooper, 64, says that northern pike is still out there, not far from where he recently landed a 44-inch, 26-pound pike on the Whitefish Chain.
And as is the norm with “Coop,” just knowing that fish is out there motivates him to get after it. Even though the cancer he’s been battling for 15 years has been keeping him off the water more often than not these days.
“That fish there is a dream fish for me,” Cooper, regarded as one of the premier pike anglers in the state, said of a fish he has scouted since spring and estimates at 35 to 38 pounds. “It’s just huge. I think about it every day.
“And there’s one more laying there for me that’s a really big fish on Gull (Lake) that I had on in June and got to see but didn’t get the fish. It’s 30-plus pounds.”
Cooper’s biggest pike is 32 pounds, but he’s caught countless pike over 20 pounds in the area over the last 50 years or so.
“My career has been catching big fish every year,” said Cooper, a lifelong Brainerd resident. “I always seem to find 20-pounders or better in my home territory. I feel very fortunate over that. I study it (pike) even as sick as I am. I live, breath and sleep northern pike. I gear myself for it every year.”
Still, the 26-pounder was special.
“My little brother died on the 13th of July and my mother died on the 1st of August,” Cooper said. “When my mom was sitting at Bethany (nursing home in Brainerd) I grabbed her hand and said, ‘I’ll catch a big fish and put your name on it.’ She was really proud of them (the big pike he caught through the years). I got to fulfill that promise to ma. I feel good about it. This fish means all of that to me. It’s like having a state record to me.”
The official state northern pike record is 45 pounds, 12 ounces. And while Cooper’s pike of a lifetime probably falls well short of that, “Coop” is adamant about pursuing the fish. He hasn’t gotten out nearly as much as he would like this fall because of his failing health, but has fought through it and gotten out a few times in the last month or so.
“I had that fish up again (recently). I’ve raised him two times (in the last two weeks),” Cooper said. “If I can get healthy enough and the weather turns back around I’ll either go and work on the one on Gull or the one on Whitefish one more time.
“Or,” he said, his voice strengthening, as it often does when he talks pike, no matter how ill he is, “if I live long enough, I’ll go after it next year.”