By Chad Koenen


Contributed photo
Eric Koep was the local guide for Governor Tim Walz during the Governor’s Fishing Opener on Saturday. 

Ask any fishermen about the key of landing a large fish and one of the top responses will revolve around good bait. It seems fitting then that a family with a rich history in the bait industry would be selected to help Governor Tim Walz land a walleye on the opening day of fishing in Minnesota.

Eric Koep, who is the former elementary teacher at Henning School and is the current superintendent at Bertha-Hewitt School, was selected to be the fishing guide for Governor Walz on Otter Tail Lake on Saturday. 

The Koep family, beginning with Eric’s grandparent’s Paul and Amelia Koep, have owned and operated Urbank Bait Company for 75 years. The company is currently owned by Marshall and Amy Koep, who are the third-generation owners of the business. 

“It was a lengthy application process. I applied for my dad and brother to do it,” said Koep. “I thought it would be an honor for them to be a part of it because it is in Otter Tail County.”

While his dad and brother were not selected, Koep’s background in education and his family’s history in the bait business, made him the choice for the governor and his team. 

“Governor Walz is an educator so they wanted it to be someone in education and they thought it would be a good combination with my family’s history in the bait business and me being a superintendent.”

Eric Koep

This isn’t the first time a member of the Koep family has guided a governor during the opening day of fishing. Koep’s uncle Marvin guided former governor Jesse Ventura during a governor’s opening fishing in the Brainerd area approximately 20 years ago. 

Koep said he wasn’t nervous leading up to the opening day of walleye fishing in Minnesota—after all it wasn’t him who needed to land a large walleye on the opener.

“I’m not really nervous. He is the one that has to catch a fish, not me,” he said.

Leading up to the Governor’s Fishing Opener there was some question as to whether Governor Tim Walz was planning to attend the ceremonial event. With several protests being planned in the area, COVID-19 concerns and the legislature still being in session, event organizers were unsure if the governor would come to Otter Tail County.

With nearly two years of planning into the event, which was canceled last year due to COVID-19, Koep said the distractions leading up to the Governor’s Fishing Opener were unfortunate. He said a number of volunteers have put in hundreds of hours of work to get the greater Otter Tail County area ready to showcase what the region has to offer and that work was unfairly being overshadowed. 

Even though people may not agree with the decisions that were made by the governor, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Koep said people should still respect the office he holds and focus on what the governor’s fishing opener is all about—celebrating fishing in the land of 10,000 lakes.

“I feel bad for Erik Osberg. He has done a tremendous job and put in hundreds of hours of work for the governor’s opener,” he said. “We are celebrating fishing in Minnesota and Otter Tail County.”