In Tribute to Jim Burns

James Patrick Burns was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on June 9, 1939. After graduating from high school in 1957, he attended St. Norbert’s in De Pere, Wisconsin, and the U.W. Oshkosh, receiving a B.S. degree in Education. He married Mary Lou VanEss in 1960, and together they have two children, Lisa and Mike. In January of 1967, Jim began teaching English at Oshkosh West High School, later being transferred to the new high school (Oshkosh North) in 1974. Since his teens, Jim Burns had been quite the avid largemouth bass fisherman. In 1966, he tried his hand at muskie fishing for the first time in Vilas County.

During his first spring of teaching in Oshkosh, Jim met a fellow teacher in the teacher’s lounge who was known to be quite the muskie fisherman. His name was Vern "Frenchy" LaMay. The two quickly hit it off, and in August of 1967, Frenchy invited Jim up to his trailer at Herman’s Landing on the Chippewa Flowage to go muskie fishing with him. That first day turned out to be quite memorable Jim recalled, for they had boated three muskies in one night! They left Herman’s at 5 p.m. and in their first spot, Little Kanachkey, Jim caught his first muskie, a 9 pounder. They took that fish in and then went right back to the same spot and Frenchy caught one. On their way back in, they hit Little Pete’s Bar and Frenchy ended up getting another one, a 16 pounder. Jim recalled with a chuckle, "Frenchy had me club that one and–not wanting to screw it up–I hit the fish so hard I broke his club. Frenchy didn’t care though because we had gotten the fish."

The next season, in 1968, Frenchy moved his trailer over to Indian Trail Resort, where Jim was a frequent fishing guest of Frenchy’s. Sometimes he would stay with Frenchy for a week at a time, and other times he would camp in the trailer court with his family. Burns then started renting a cabin at the resort, and by the mid 1970’s, he had gotten his own trailer up on the hill.

It was about the time when Jim started teaching in 1967 that Frenchy began getting into lure making on a more consistent basis, and Jim was right there by his side. The two men had access to the tools in their school’s industrial arts department, where they produced lures that were larger, stronger, and noisier versions of their favorite proven muskie baits. There was a new bait called a LeBeouf Creeper that came out about that time, and it was Jim who encouraged Frenchy that they should make some larger versions of this hot new lure. In fact, it was Jim Burns who caught the first muskie ever on a Creeper out of Indian Trail Resort.

Early on, Jim hired Indian guides Jackie Hollen and Chick DeBrot a number of times, learning a number of little, out-of-the-way spots that weren’t often talked about. One time Jim and Bruce Pinske were fishing with Jackie, Jim caught a nice fish on a Topper that wouldn’t die… even after Bruce had hit it hard with a wheel barrow handle. They thought they had killed it, but it came alive in the boat on the way home, getting Jackie all excited. Jim also hired out Bruce Tasker on a number of occasions to guide him.

By 1972, Jim was among the top muskie producers at Indian Trail, dealing with more than his share of huge muskies during that time frame. And although he has boated many muskies since he started (54 to date), the "luck of the Irish," as Jim jokingly put it, always seemed to be standing in his way of boated a truly huge one. Two monster fish that Burns recalls seeing was a five foot long "submarine" that followed his lure one summer afternoon on the southeast end of the Church Bars while fishing with his daughter around 1972, and the other was a world record muskie that he had on and lost on an Orange Topper while fishing on top of Big Pete’s Bar during mid-August of 1975.

Jim retired from teaching in 1994. The following season, Jim, Frenchy, and some of their other muskie buddies formed the LeLure Tackle Company, mass producing high quality muskie surface lures following the designs of some of their time tested proven killers. Although the lures set the standard in the industry, it became too costly to keep the company going so they ceased making lures after about five years. Ironically, LeLures are now fetching a pretty penny amongst collectors.

Jim’s two biggest muskies were caught in the same spot, off a corner of Chipmunk Island now known as Burns’ Corner. So the next time you drive by there…throw a cast in there for good old Jim Burns.