The Catching of the World Record Musky
By Louie Spray

     In 1949, a good friend of mine, Cal Johnson, a sports writer, beat me out–so I was again back in second place.  To get beat a second time, naturally was quite a let down, but I was happy for Cal, a wonderful man if there ever was one.

     I was then living in Rice Lake, Wisconsin, was forty-nine years old, and was taking a good look at my financial future.  I figured it was time to quit fooling around and start laying something up for our old age.  Although I felt, “To heck with muskie fishing,” I couldn’t get it out of my head completely.  I knew of a monster on the North Fork of the Flambeau and one in the Chippewa Flowage.  So, in the fall of 1949, I decided to have one last fling at these two fish and then forget about it–win, lose, or draw.

     But now, whom do I fish with?  Good old Tommy Campbell was in Florida and while I learned later that there were some excellent muskie fishermen in Rice Lake, I had not met them.  Ted Hagg, who operated a nightspot in Sarona, Wisconsin, came into my new bar in town one day and I approached him on the subject.  He said, “How much do the Indians charge per hundred pounds?”  Ted was the kind of individual whom everybody wanted to be around, with always a witty crack on the end of his tongue.  He said it would be good for him to get away from the place for a while, so I had myself a partner.

     I told him I wanted to fish the entire month of October and he was agreeable.  So, on October 1st, we took off for Herman’s Landing to fish on the Chippewa Flowage, and did so each day until the 20th, when we finally hooked and landed old “Chin Whiskered Charlie,” as I had named him.  He was a granddaddy: 69 pounds 11 ounces, 63½ inches long, and had a girth 31¾ inches.  It was taken in the late afternoon, around 4 o’clock I suppose, and it was getting kind of dusk when we got in.

     Everyone on the flowage knew about “Chin Whiskered Charlie,” except no one would talk about it.  They all wanted to go out there and get it themselves.  I knew that big fellow was there.  I’d been after him for several years myself and hooked him a number of times.  Even Ted Hagg once had him hooked, about three weeks before I finally caught him, so he was no stranger to us.  We had spent nineteen days fishing in that one hole for this “Chin Whiskered Charlie.”  He was lying in a pretty bad place, near a jam of logs along the shore.

     Roy Risberg, who had a place not too far from Herman’s Landing, had hooked a huge muskie during that time.  When we’d come in each evening from fishing, we’d stop in there and get a few hot drinks or high balls and, one day, Risberg happened to be in there and called me off to the side to tell me about this big fish that he’d seen on Fleming’s Bar.  He told me that he had him on about three weeks before that and that I ought to go and try for it over there.  I thanked him very much for the tip.

     During the preceding five days before I caught my fish, it had been very warm with temperatures in the 60’s and winds from a southerly direction.  I was out for nineteen days in a row before I finally caught him, and I wouldn’t have gotten him that day if it hadn’t been for the urging of our guide.

     On that particular day, George Quentmeyer, a guide who was off duty, joined Ted and myself for a fishing expedition.  Ted couldn’t understand why I always kept going back to one particular spot.  Off and on, during the days we fished the flowage, we’d fish there for an hour or so, and then go away and fish some place else, but we’d always come back to it, several times a day.

     Even George Quentmeyer, as much as he guided the Chippewa Flowage, didn’t know what I was there for; but he caught on fast.  He must have surmised that there was a big fish lookin’ around there; he knew I had one spotted.  George used to kid me about going back to the log jam, as he called it.  There were a lot of logs there and it was a pretty wicked place to try to land a big muskie.

     On the morning of Thursday, October 20th, it was still warm, but by afternoon the weather had made a sudden change and a major cold front moved in.  We set out for our fishing trip to the flowage, first stopping in at Charlie Pastika’s Bait Shop in Hayward to carefully hand pick our suckers.  We got our boat from Herman’s Landing and set out on the water shortly after noon.  It was a cold, damp, foggy, dismal day with temperatures in the 40’s and a steady drizzle almost turning into snow. A strong northeast wind had blown up and it was generally nasty weather. 

     Ted was seated in the front of the boat, I in the middle, and George was in the stern on the oars.  I had Gladding 42-pound test line on and good gear (a Union Hardware rod and Cycloid casting reel) because the fish was lying in a pretty bad place.  George was an excellent man to handle the boat, so I knew he would be a great help if we ever did catch him.

     About 3:30 p.m., I knew Ted was freezing because he was not dressed for the cold, so I suggested we go in and have some hot drinks and get warm at a nearby resort (Indian Trail Resort).  He was all for it, but George–who was no novice at handing out the old malarky jazz himself–chided us with such remarks as “tenderfoot, pansies, and city slickers.”

     I was all for quitting and trying him the next day, but the guide insisted we give it one more try.  George had been guiding all summer, and this was his chance to finally catch up on his own fishing.  So when we left the tavern and got back into the boat, instead of heading towards home, George took over the motor and ran us right back to the same old spot and told us that we were going to fish some more, like it or not.

     Tired of that spot, Ted complained, “What again, well that beats me,” and just sat there all huddled up.  I myself hated to get down into that cold water in the minnow bucket for the sucker, but I did.  My fingers were numb with cold when I rigged my own make up of a harness onto a fourteen-inch long sucker and laid him in the water.

     George was rowing around in that spot, and I would let the sucker troll out and then bring it back in with a series of jerks.  The sucker was really too large to cast so the trolling gave us the best percentage. 

     It seemed like no time until old “Chin Whiskers” hit the sucker and about half a dozen little treble hooks that I had placed onto the harness were set into his jaw.  The big fish hit in about eight feet of water.  There was quite a fuss for a minute or two, as “Chin Whiskers” asserted himself in the usual way, breaking water and splashing.  The muskie leaped out of the water three times, just high enough for us to get a glimpse of it. 

     When the fish broke water for the first time, we all thought it weighed 80 pounds!  I can say it was just like any large fish, whereas you had to use a certain amount of horse sense.  He was heavier to handle than my other muskies, but I had the right line and a good man on the oars.  The only difficulty we had was with Ted Hagg when he stood up in the boat, an unpardonable sin in the ethics of muskie fishing.  George got to using a little swear words as he immediately directed him to sit down or get clouted with an oar.  But Ted was stone deaf, for his eyes were glued on the fish battling away out there. 

     So I said, “Ted, will you help me a second?”  He agreed. 

     I said, “Sit down and don’t stand up again.”  Ted countered by asking George if he would do something for him, like take him to shore. 

     Now, in the next few lines you will see who was responsible for landing my world record muskie. George was an artist in handling a boat.  There was a wind blowing us towards the log jam along the shore, which would have been fatal had “Chin Whiskers” successfully reached there.

     I had my pistol, at many times, ready to shoot, but couldn’t do it.  The wind was quite high and George was busy with the boat, working it away from the shore.  As best I could, I got the fish out in the lake where there was nothing to do but wait for the opportunity to plug him. 

     I had the fish up a few times, but there was always a wave or something to prevent a good shot.  George was quite perturbed, at least once, when he thought I should have shot and I didn’t, but he couldn’t see exactly my predicament.  When George asked, “Why don’t you shoot?”, I told him why and then he understood.

     Finally, “Chin Whiskers” came up again–this time back by George.  My back was to George so I didn’t know what he was up to and then, as it went on past, I heard, “BING-BING,” and saw the fish stiffen up.  I could have kissed George on the spot, for he had–with the quick skill of an expert guide–dropped the oars and shot the fish twice, in rapid succession, in a very vital spot–and he killed it. 

     So now it finally boils down to this: If it hadn’t been for George, we wouldn’t have gone back to that spot.  Had it not been for George, the boat would probably have drifted into the log jam and the fish would have gotten off.  Had it not been for George shooting the fish, it might have gotten off, as anything can happen when fighting a fish as large as that.  So in reality, I got the credit for the catch, while George was 99% responsible for it.

Louie Spray with the mount of his World Record Musky.

     After old “Chin Whiskers” took his last little swim in sort of a semi-circle, George grabbed a fish stringer laying there and put it through the muskie’s gills, saying, “We ain’t going to take no chances on this baby getting away now.”  We got him into the boat and I straddled him for awhile.  The game was now all over for poor old Charlie.  The battle had lasted about forty minutes and we finally landed the fish at around 4:00 p.m.