In Tribute To Walter J. Roman

Walter Stanley (Joseph) Roman was born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 22, 1916. In 1940, Walt married Kay Wagner and together they raised four boys, Jerry, Jim, Bob, and Don, and one adopted daughter, Carol. A World War II Veteran, Walt served in the United States Navy on a vessel, perhaps an LST, that was equipped to fire rockets. He was involved in operations in the Japanese theater, specifically at Okinawa. Being that Walt was such a good shot with a rifle and that he was from Chicago, some of his fellow shipmates thought he was a gangster.

Walt was the general superintendent for a number of large apartment buildings in Chicago, repairing boilers & furnaces and acting as a maintenance man. Walt and his family began coming to the Chippewa Flowage sometime during the early 1950’s, taking as many a five weeks each summer to vacation at Indian Trail Resort. Quickly becoming caught up in the sport of muskie fishing, Walt never batted an eye about buying the best equipment and hiring guides. He wasn’t about to scrimp when it came to his fishing.

Frenchy LaMay was one of the first guides that Walt hired. On July 7, 1956, Walt caught his biggest muskie while fishing with Frenchy, a 31 pound, 51 inch long fish that he had taken on a frog Surf-Oreno on a small grass island on the back side of the Church Bars. Walt & Frenchy soon became close fishing buddies, spending many exciting days fishing on the water and many memorable nights partying in the Little Red Bar. These were the days of late night parties at the Trail’s, where the revelry often lasted until sun up. Needless to say, there wasn’t a whole lot of early morning fishing going on back then.

With "Walter J.," as he was known at the Trail’s, there was never a dull moment. Hard drinking, loud and boisterous, and quick with a dirty joke, Walt always commanded center stage when he held court in the Red Bar. Walt was hilarious and he had a heart of gold, although he did come on strong to those who didn’t know him. At Walt’s parties you were expected to put away your share of booze, and if you passed out (although it never happened) there was always the veiled threat that you’d be put into a wheelbarrow and dumped into the lake.

By the early 1960’s, Walt was consistently bringing in muskies, reigning as the top producing muskie man at Indian Trail for four years in a row, from 1965 thru 1968. In fact, in 1965, Walt tied the resort record for the most muskies caught in one season (ten). Naturally, this was an occasion to have a "Walt Roman style" party in the Red Bar. From 1956 thru 1973, Walter J. Roman caught more than 60 legal sized muskies with 11 over 20 pounds: two of which were over 30 pounds. But still, as accomplished a fisherman as he was, when Walt tied into a muskie–any muskie–there was usually turmoil and Walt’s excited voice could be heard echoing all over the Flowage.

Another guide that Walt often fished with was Jackie Hollen. The pair caught a number of big muskies together, one of which was a 27 pounder that they got in the Cranberry Narrows in 1971 that they believed was "Big George." Others say that Big George was at least 35 pounds, and that it continued to patrol the area for another five years. The largest muskie that Walt ever had a hold of was a record class fish that he lost on an oversized Creeper on Little Pete’s, late in July of ’71. After losing that fish, Walt was so despondent he didn’t go fishing again for several days.

While Frenchy LaMay was known for making lures that were fairly refined, Walt was famous for concocting lures that were cruder… but just as effective. Cut from the legs of an old wooden chair that Walt had "appropriated" from a woman’s storeroom, Walt’s two best known creations were the Chairleg and Sneaky Joe. After cutting the legs of the old chair into five inch long sections, Walt made a lure out of each section, attaching a heavy Globe-type prop onto the front and two sets of spreaders (or set-ups, as he called them) onto the bottom of each lure.

These baits soon became Walt’s trademark lures, and they produced the majority of his muskie catches from 1965 on. The last big muskie that Walt caught was a 27¾ pounder that he took on July 10, 1973, on his Sneaky Joe.

Around 1975, Walt had a heart attack and quit fishing the Flowage. Although he and Kay later moved to Masaryk Town, Florida, Walt did stay in touch with the Trail’s and returned during the mid 1980’s. Although he had mellowed considerably, Walt was still as funny as ever… and full of fish stories. On July 9, 1987, on the last evening that Walt ever fished in his life, in the last spot, and on literally his last cast, Walt caught a nice muskie on the Sisters while fishing with John Dettloff. This was Walt’s final fishing trip to the Flowage. Walter J. Roman passed away on November 3, 1988, in Florida, at the age of seventy-two.