Emil Stasek .....A Fish Story To Remember
By: John Dettloff © 1992
Ever since first learning how to cast a Musky rod, the story of Emil Stasek's 45 pound monster 'lunge out of the Chippewa Flowage has been one of the classic Musky stories I can remember. It was caught during the Chippewa Flowage's "heyday", the early 1950's, and often comes to mind whenever I go back trying to imagine what those early years were like. It's a story that I've heard many times, but never grow tired of. Letters from three of the fishermen involved provided me with details of the day - recollections nearly 40 years old. John Zeug, Emil's guide that day, deserves credit as the primary author of this story, as his account was the most absorbing:
"Emil Stasek and I left Athens, Wisconsin early this day of September 20, 1952 for an outing of piscatorial pursuits, Musky fishing that is. Since Emil had neverfished the flowage, the drive provided plenty of time to give him a verbal description of what to expect. Our discussion concentrated on the southeastern part of the flowage, especially the 'Cranberry Bars', an area where we intended to spend most of our time this day. A couple of weeks prior to this trip, Labor Day weekend, fishing friends Bruce Tasker, John Kondrasuk, and I worked this area with unbelievable action. This I tried to convey to Emil, but I suspect to him my narrative was a bit 'fishy'. That Saturday evening, prior to the Labor Day holiday, was a super event that will forever be etched in my mind. John tied into a Musky of world record class. That is another story, but it did have impact on this trip.
We arrived at Lovetree's Resort in the Cranberry Lake area of the flowage, rented a boat, attached our three horsepower motor, and putted to our fishing grounds about 15 minutes away. The day was dark, overcast with no rain and a very light breeze blowing from the south. Temperatures were quite mild. With these conditions our expectations were high, however enthusiasm and expectations do not necessarily raise or catch Musky. We tried everything as we crisscrossed the bars. Suicks, bucktails and surface lures combed the water with nary a follow and the live sucker we trailed did no better.
About four o'clock, Emil opted for a nap in the front of the boat as I continued casting and dragging a sucker. About an hour later we were about 25 yards north of a small willow bar on East Cranberry, an area where my friend Bruce and I had raised a very large Musky several times earlier in the year. I was tossing a Suick when a huge Musky appeared out of nowhere and made a slashing pass at the bait 10 feet from the boat. I've often wondered what would have happened had the fish connected with the Suick. Needless to say, this first action of the day awakened Emil. We pounded that area for the next 20 minutes to no avail and then moved to a nearby spot, Wagon Wheel, to rest the fish.
Frenchy Lamay and John kondrasuk were also fishing the same area that day, and experienced an encounter with the same fish after we left. They spotted a 'waking' fish cruising the area near the surface. There was great excitement as they threw lures of all kinds to intercept this extra large fish. At first, it showed no interest, continuing to cruise around, but it did finally woof at John's gray 'Bobbie', but made no contact. Frenchy called over to Emil and I, who were still on Wagon Wheel towing a sucker around. Maybe this Musky preferred the real thing. A live sucker might be our best chance.
A fresh sucker was rigged and we put out 50 to 60 feet of line. Emil took care of the rod as I slowly maneuvered the sucker into the Musky's path, rowing 50 yards to the north and turning back to the spot. Upon arriving in the area, a large wake in the water made straight for our bobber but dropped out of sight. No contact, but the sucker was sure excited. We proceeded south another 50 yards or so and returned again. Same wake, same results. One more trip north and we turned around again. The wake appeared again, but this time appeared more determined and purposeful as it headed for the bobber. The Musky's whole behavior had changed. Contact! The wake and bobber disappeared simultaneously.
Darkness was approaching, we couldn't wait too long to set the hook. We wondered whether or not what had our sucker was what we thought it was. We kept our distance from the fish as it moved slowly towards the channel between the willow bar and Wagon Wheel Island. It continued east and then moved in a northerly direction towards the bar again. All we could do was follow, hopefully it wouldn't get tangled in the weeds or stumps. Thirty minutes had passed with no excitement, just anticipation and some worry. Our sucker was attached to a light action Heddon Pal steel rod equipped with a Pflueger Summit reel with 24# test Ashway line. Was the equipment going to be good enough?
Time was up. Emil had the pistol out and ready. Emil was going to tighten up until he got a good feel of the fish and I was going to pull hard on the oars, away from the fish, as he set the hook. Everything worked, and he hooked the fish when he set. I rowed and Emil reeled. The fish came in kind of slow and easy at first, but upon feeling the pressure Emil had on the rod, came out of the water with it's head shaking. There was nothing but foam! Emil held the rod in one hand and picked up the pistol in the other, and before I could say anything, he shot into the foam. One shot and it was over. Emil worked the fish closer to the boat and I put the gaff in the lower jaw, attempting to lift it over the bow. No success, it was far too heavy. We retreated to the stern and, with a lower lift and more effort, succeeded in getting the Musky into the boat. Needless to say, we were in awe upon seeing the size of that fish. Frenchy and John, who were still fishing nearby, motored over to observe our catch. It was immediately determined we had a fish worth entering in the Milwaukee Sentinel Big Fish Contest. We had to get the fish to an official weigh in station without delay, especially since the Musky was rapidly losing blood and consequently weight from being shot. We transferred the fish into John kondrasuk's boat and they raced to Indian Trail Resort to weigh the behemoth, before taking it to the Herman's Landing weigh in station.
Emil and I putted back to our resort to turn our boat back in and then drove to Herman's landing where we learned our catch was 52" in length and 45 pounds. Some of the fishermen at the gathering at Herman's got drunk twice that night. It was quite a celebration!
We later found out that Emil's Musky ended up winning second place in the 1952 Milwaukee Sentinel Contest. First place was 46 1/2 pounds, also out of the flowage. The sad thing was, Emil's fish left so much blood and gore in the bottom of our two boats, it could have easily won first place - a new automobile. For second place Emil won a boat, motor and trailer. Emil also won a $50 United States savings bond for placing second in the Field and Stream annual contest. He gave the savings bond to me, which I still have, for being his guide."
Quite a first hand account of a significant fish. I explored several avenues in search of a photo showing Emil's musky. Peter Haupt, area restaurant owner, guide, and collector of fishing artifacts, received a mailing from Providence, Rhode Island collector listing a large Ashway line poster advertisement as one of the items. It mentioned over a dozen prized catches. One picture included a Musky of 45 pounds. Curiosity got the best of Peter and after calling the dealer for more details, he learned the Musky was indeed caught by Emil Stasek in the Chippewas Flowage. Recognizing Emil's name from past records, Peter purchased the poster to hang with his other fishing artifacts on display at the Ranch Supper Club in Hayward. I rushed over to see the poster and photo of the Musky that had inspired such an enduring story.
A short time later, I obtained photos of the fish from both Emil and his guide, John Zueg, but I couldn't rest until I saw the Musky itself. Emil had given the mount to his son, Roger, who lived in Rochester, Minnesota so I made it a point to stop and look Roger up the next time I was in the area. When I did, I wasn't disappointed. The mount was well preserved, hanging in a prominent place in the basement with Emil's Field & Stream pin close by on display. The big Musky was quite a sight, possessing a head that resembled a five gallon pail and a thick, stocky body right down to its tail, typical of Chippewa Flowage Muskies. As long as I live, I'll never again be able to fish the east end of Cranberry Bar without thinking of Emil's prized monster.
This classic tale is a glimpse into the history of Musky fishing. A time when stout men set out in small boats powered as much by manpower as horsepower. A time when Musky anglers would "give up" a fish that they could not catch just to be able to join in the possible celebration and in that way be part of the overall experience. It is a story of camaraderie that rarely exists in this "Modern Musky Era" of tournaments, lure marketing and the quest for a "Payday Fish"