The late Walter Klenzak topped an impressive year for Illinois northern pike with an impressive state record.
Fishing at Monster Lake—a strip-mine lake just north of Essex in northwestern Kankakee County—on Nov. 9, 1989, Klenzak hooked into a monster pike while fishing a Hellbender lure. Klenzak’s fish weighed 26 pounds, 15 ounces and was 44 inches long with a girth of 20.5 inches.
Klenzak died on July 1, 2008. He was a veteran of the U.S. Army, 82nd Airborne, 307 Medical Division, serving in Italy, France, Belgium, Africa, Germany and Holland. Klenzak was also an avid fisherman enjoyed hunting.
Klenzak caught his fish while bass fishing at the South Wilmington Sportsman Club’s Monster Lake and later said the fish “felt like a log” as he was reeling it in. The catch landed him in the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame. “No matter if it was hot or cold outside, he always wanted to fish,” said Rick Africano Sr., his son-in-law. “One time it was 19 degrees outside, and he still wanted to fish.”
Klenzak’s big catch was the second record pike of 1989.
Exactly two months earlier on July 9, 11-year-old Kris Koeser of Machesney Park had caught another huge pike while fishing at Pierce Lake in Rock Cut State Park. Koeser’s fish weighed 23 pounds, 4 ounces and was 44 inches long—just four inches shorter than the young angler who caught it on Red Eye Junior lure.
Koeser’s fish had bettered the old state record of 22 pounds, 12 ounces set on Sept. 19, 1976 by Robert Trusz of Chicago. Trusz’s fish came out of Lake Marie on the Chain of Lakes.
“This is the first pike I’ve ever caught,” Koeser said at the time of his catch. “They sure don’t fight very much.”
Even so, the big pike did break Koeser’s rod into three pieces. Despite that, he managed to land the fish.