Nancy Koep grew up at a resort near Battle Lake and can hardly remember a time when she didn’t go fishing.
“When chores were done, I always got to go fishing,” she said.
Her family owned a resort on Spitzer Lake. She went out fishing by herself a lot, but that independence paused whenever she caught a bullhead.
“I went home and had my dad take it off the line,” she said. “About the third time, he said to me, ‘Nancy, just cut the line and tie on a new hook.’”
She still won’t touch bullheads. Eelpout is the other fish she just won’t touch.
During her college years, she fished a lot with her grandpa, Paul Koep. After a break in time, it was not until her late 20s that she started fishing again. A few years later, she bought her first boat, a Lund 16-foot tiller. She was fishing mostly in Lake Minnewaska and Lake Reno, with some time at Pelican Lake too.
In about 1984, her parents, Joe and Eileen Koep, started a bait shop in Clitherall. The Glenwood store opened in 1999, and Koep has been running it ever since.
She joined the Pope County Walleye League, where she learned new things. The group fished a different lake every Sunday night during fishing season.
“I really enjoyed the camaraderie,” she said. “We learned different lakes that we ordinarily wouldn’t probably go to.”
By the early 2000s, Koep was more confident in her fishing skills and she started entered fishing tournaments, mostly walleye tournaments. This year, because of the pandemic, only one of the tournaments she had lined up was held, on Lake Minnetonka.
Her elder son, Evan Palmer, started fishing with Koep at a young age.
“He is the kind of fisherman who woke me up at 5 a.m. to get fishing,” she remembers.
Evan is now on the NDSU fishing team.
Koep’s younger son, Ty Palmer, is more of a social fisherman who likes the activity in order to spend time with friends.
In 2010, Koep started a kids’ fishing league in Glenwood, affiliated with the American Angler League. The group held fishing contest for kids ages 6-13. Points were tallied for each fish. Koep led that for three years.
For three years, she was a guide at the Lund Mania fishing tournament in Ottertail. One year she placed 12th.
“Al Lindner and Gary Roach – ‘Mr. Walleye’ – both gave me a hug because I placed above them. It was better than winning!” she said.
She was asked to be on the Lund Pro Staff, and she joined the team.
Koep has been active with Fishing with Veterans since about 2015. Her love of fishing and the fact that she already had the equipment made it the perfect way to give back. In 2019, she started a new event, a Fishing with Veterans all-women event.
In 2017, Koep formed a fishing team for area high school students. She coaches the Lakers team, which is not funded by the school.
“It’s not a MSHSL-sanctioned sport yet. Hopefully, that will pass next year,” she said.
The team jerseys are sponsored by local businesses and organizations. There are currently 28 kids on the team, which runs all summer to mid-August. Their schedule in past years was to fish three Mondays each month, with one tournament day in the month. They also go ice fishing about one or two times a month during the season.
“For ice fishing, we just go out and have fun. There are no competitions,” she said.
This summer’s league schedule was adjusted for the pandemic. Although they went fishing, they didn’t do the usual gatherings/listening sessions afterwards.
“I felt like they missed out, to have to fish and leave,” Koep said. “I hope everything will be back to normal next summer.”
The team is all set to begin a new season in February, when Koep brings in speakers for the kids to get them ready for fishing season.
No matter what changes were necessary this year, fishing itself is timeless.
“Fishing is such a release. There are no worries out on the water,” said Koep. “I will keep fishing until I can’t back the boat up and get into it myself.”