Muskie World Records; Too many “belts/crowns”?

Category: article

 May 11th, 2016 by OutdoorsFIRST 

Modified May 11th, 2016 at 12:00 AM

Muskie World Records;
Too many “belts/crowns”?

by Larry Ramsell, Muskie Historian

At the Minnesota Muskie Expo on April 9th, 2016, I was having a conversation with Jim Saric, Editor of Musky Hunter magazine. I asked him what he thought of the new World Record Muskie Release by Estimated Weight program. He allowed as how it was ok, but his concern was that perhaps, like boxing, there were just too many “belts” (or crowns) out there. Is there, or are all of the various programs good for the sport of muskie fishing?

I thought it would be fun to take a look at the various record programs out there today and analyze the “why’s?”, and to see if it really is too much. To do so, we must first delve back a bit into history of record keeping and “play it forward”.

In the early days of muskellunge sport angling, most of which took place in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, took place on the St. Lawrence River near the U.S. towns of Cape Vincent, Clayton, and Alexandria Bay, New York and the Canadian towns of Gananocque, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec, as well as Quebec’s Ottawa River and western New York’s Lake Chautauqua. In the central, northern part of North America during this time some of the Indian wars were still ongoing and logging was in its hay day and muskie fishing in its infancy, as many of today’s major muskie reservoirs hadn’t even yet been created. Organized record keeping in those early days was non-existent, with the closest thing being newspaper promotion and various outdoor magazines of the time often publishing what they thought to be the largest muskies caught and making unfounded claims of same; often new claims were of lesser weights than previously published claims by the same publication!

In 1911, the venerable Field & Stream (F&S) magazine began a fishing “contest”, that morphed into a listing of “World Record” claims. Problem being, that in order to make the Field & Stream list, a fish had to be entered into their yearly contest. These early records had to fulfill an evolving list of rules for entry, but basically, angler honesty was relied upon and follow-up investigation of claims was minimal until the “crazy days” of muskie records beginning in 1939. Beginning then, muskie record claims came forth like popcorn and in many/most cases, the “fix” was in. Field & Stream did a modest amount of “investigation” of contested claims during the years from 1939 thru 1957, including using game wardens in the earlier years and using the famed Pinkerton Detective Agency as well for their last recognized muskie world record in 1957.
In the early 1970’s, on behalf of the then fledgling National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame- “World Recognition” (NFWFHF or Hall), I developed, as World Record Secretary, a new fresh water record keeping program including all-tackle records as well as line-class records, designed to encompass fresh water fish from all over the world, which the F&S contest did not do. In fairness to F&S, I chose to list what fresh water world records they did have to start, as well as include the fresh water line-class records of the then International Spin Fishing Association (who later disbanded in favor of our program). Added to that, were the fresh water records of the British Rod-Caught Fish Committee (BRCFC), a United Kingdom record keeping program. BRCFC secretary Peter Tomblinson, became one of the first Judges of the NFWFHF program.

However, Field & Stream wasn’t happy and sent the Hall a “Cease and Desist” letter, and the legal battle was on. The Hall attorney prevailed, citing the “Fair Use Doctrine” and the fact that world records belonged to the anglers who caught them and not to Field & Stream. And of course, ultimately, the records are fish not people! At any rate, not long thereafter, Field & Stream, citing an expense of $50,000 per year to operate their program, got out of the contest and record keeping business and turned over all of their fresh water record files to the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), who had been a keeper of salt water angling records since 1939, but had never delved into fresh water record keeping. One could assume that a large donation went along with that transfer, plunging the IGFA into the fresh water record keeping arena.

The two programs (with their relevant belts or crowns, if you will) were off and running. The IGFA, a club-like organization, catered to an elite membership and their fresh water rules were more stringent than most state angling rules. The two programs co-existed for a number of years, until, in 1979, I effected a merger of the two programs to eliminate the duplicity and minimize confusion…I had thought and hoped! A major part of the merger was that the IGFA would administer the program, freeing up Hall funds and the Hall would publish the records in their publication, The Splash. In short, that didn’t work out well, to say the least. The IGFA didn’t keep their end of the bargain, claiming that they wouldn’t give the Hall the information on new records until after they had published, causing problems and confusion with Hall publication dates…and so, the merger marriage was ended and the Hall resumed record keeping where it had left off and there were again two record keepers and two “belts/crowns” extant for muskie anglers.

To their credit, both the IGFA and the NFWFHF eventually added released muskies to their programs, but these records are based on length only and as muskie anglers well know, weights can vary greatly from one muskie to another of the same length.

Fast forward to the early 1990’s, when a Hayward resort owner and self-styled historian, went on a crusade to debunk almost all large muskie record catches from history save those caught from the Hayward, Wisconsin lakes area! And he got away with it for quite a while!

The first thing he did was to get both the Hall and the IGFA to disqualify the then current all-tackle world record muskellunge of 69 pounds 15 ounces, caught from the St. Lawrence River by Art Lawton in 1957, even though Field & Stream couldn’t get the job done in 1957 using game wardens and the Pinkerton Detective Agency! NOTE: The IGFA merely set the Lawton record aside pending better photographic proof and installed a reported 65 pound muskie caught by Ken O’brien from Georgian Bay, Ontario as their all-tackle world record. The NFWFHF then of course, installed the 1949 catch of Louie Spray of 69 pounds 11 ounces, reportedly taken from the Chippewa Flowage, at Hayward, Wisconsin (within a quarter mile of the “Debunker’s” Flowage resort!), as their all-tackle world record.

The “Debunker” wasn’t happy with the IGFA’s decision not to list the Spray fish as their record, but was unable to literally badger them into listing it because the IGFA said that the Spray catch didn’t comply with two of their rules for record catches. He then pressured the IGFA into listing another Hayward catch as their world all-tackle record, the 67 pound 8-ounce catch of Cal Johnson from Lac Court Oreilles, Hayward, Wisconsin, in 1949, despite the fact that it had never been properly vetted for record consideration as it had been bettered in the 1949 F&S contest by the Spray fish. The IGFA caved. NOTE: all three of the previously mentioned fish have since that time been proven to be other than claimed, and despite overwhelming evidence, both the IGFA and the NFWFHF continue to this day to list the Johnson and Spray catches as their respective all-tackle world records.

In 2005, the World Record Muskie Alliance (WRMA, now WMA: http://worldmuskiealliance.com/ ) made a protest to the NFWFHF that contained about 95 pages of evidence against the Spray record, including Professional Photogrammetry analysis and several of the same methods used to get the Lawton record disqualified and set aside. The Hall, with the “Debunker” then President of the Board of Director’s, and a board consisting of all local Hayward business people, upheld the Spray record…tourism support at its finest!! NOTE: The WRMA also lodged a protest against the Johnson fish with the IGFA, again based on Professional Photogrammetry and other evidence. The IGFA declined the protest, stating that it is impossible to determine fish size from a photograph, despite “setting aside” the Lawton record for that very reason! Hypocrisy at its finest!!

So, despite two questionable “belts/crowns” already in existence, the Truth compelled me to do something about the unfairness and inconsistency in the muskie world record keeping arena. I gathered together a large panel of Committee members from the muskie industry; top muskellunge biologists from both the US and Canada, as well as known muskie personalities from both countries and as well as a number of press writers known in the muskie world from both countries and developed a Modern Day Muskellunge Record Keeping Program for muskies and tiger muskies (www.modernmuskierecords.org). We developed what we felt were a nearly foolproof set of rules for application for record and set the weight bar high so that there wouldn’t be a lot of fish killed trying to establish a new modern record…it worked!

It was seven years before we were able to establish a new Modern Day Muskellunge World Record (and eight years for a new tiger muskie record)! And even then we had to slightly modify our weight requirement for muskellunge…we lowered it by two pounds in able to give consideration to a 58 pound muskie that had already been caught and kept in 2013…it was certified and is still unbeaten two plus years later, showing that the upper weight limits of the species may well be nowhere near the bogus weight claims of yesteryear maintained by the two other programs. NOTE: To my knowledge, since we began this program in 2006, with a thousand times more highly educated muskie anglers with far, far superior equipment, funds and travel ability than ever before, there have only been three muskies caught in this same weight range during this time, and none bigger!

And now starting in November of 2015, there is yet another “belt/crown, and, despite Jim Saric’s concern, I don’t believe it to be too much. Why? Because finally we have established a program to recognize a World Record Muskie Release by Weight!  Allow me to elucidate.

While muskie anglers have long promoted catch and release, they have at the same time wanted to know how much their released muskie weighed. And as most of you know, there can be huge swings in weight between fish of the same length; big fatties to long skinnies. Other than carry a certified scale in the boat, there was just no way to know what a released muskie weighs and few anglers wish to spend the necessary funds for a certified scale, nor do they wish to subject the fish to the additional stress. It would still rely on angler honesty as well anyway. Most anglers tried to use an old “Standard Formula” (G X G X L/800) to make a weight determination. This formula was developed in the 1920’s and was derived from dead salt water fish. Plain and simple, it considerably overstates weight of released muskies, which of course makes anglers happy, but it just isn’t so. There are several other formulas out there for calculating fish weight, but most just do not get the job done, especially throughout all weight ranges and especially the upper, record class weights. Some are so far off as to be laughable.

A number of years ago, Dr.’s Crossman and Casselman developed a formula using mostly Lax Taxidermy data; most of the fish being in the smaller to mid weight ranges. Naturally, it was scientific in nature and about as complicated to use. Also some years ago, I provided Roy Crawford with data on about twice as many fish as Crossman and Casselman used to create their formula and he worked up the fairly easy to use Crawford Formula for anglers (L X G/25 -10), which is fairly accurate in the mid ranges, but understating upper end weights from 53 to over 61 pounds (61-4).

When Dominic Hoyos, with the assistance of Dean Block, hooked and boated a giant muskie 55 inches long by 30-inch girth on November 25, 2015, and documented it so thoroughly as so not to leave any question of fish size and released it, a new era of muskie record keeping was almost born! (See:  http://muskie.outdoorsfirst.com/board/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=106545&start=1)

I was contacted by an MDMWRP Committee member and asked if we should get involved in a release world record by weight. I answered, “Absolutely not. Are you out of your friggin’ mind?” (or something close to that…and, despite what follows, the MDMWRP is not involved in this new program, it was decided we stay with verifiable kept weight only). Then it started working on my mind and for the next several days I dug thru my files on length, girth and weight of upper range muskies; researched all of the known fish formula’s I could locate and then decided that the easiest one to use was the closest to being consistently accurate, even though it slightly understated actual weight of the largest muskies. Simple (?) I thought, I’ll just modify it strictly for use on the giants (over 53 pounds) …and it, I believe, comes as close as we will ever get to a formula that can “estimate” the weight of a released giant muskie! I took the L X G/25 -10 formula and reduced the subtraction number (last number) to -8.

Applying it to an obviously limited data base of “legitimate” known length, girth and weights of both kept and released/weighed giant muskies, this modified formula was found to never understate fish weight and any overstating of fish weight was extremely minimal, in the low single digit percentage range.

Viola! A new era in muskie world record keeping was born. We finally have something that for several years muskie anglers have been clamoring for and by using only this new modified formula, it will be equally fair to all. With the fine cooperation of Steve Worrall and company at the MuskieFIRST Internet website (www.muskiefirst.com), this new program has a home and we look forward to the challenge this brings to the sport to accurately document your future giant release. And, it is the only “Release” belt or crown of its type in existence that establishes estimated weight! Good luck out there…

Larry Ramsell, a two-term past International President of Muskie’s, Incorporated, is a muskie historian that has authored or co-authored 10 books about the sport and the history of muskie fishing; founded the NFWFHF world record keeping program as world record secretary and was for many years a world record advisor of all things muskie to the Hall; was an International Representative of the IGFA for 16 years and an advisor to them on muskie matters; Founded and is currently the Chairman of the Modern Day Muskellunge World Record Program as well as developer and moderator of this new World Record Muskie Release by Weight Program. He has been an avid muskie angler for over 60 years and is a retired muskie guide living in Hayward, Wisconsin, home of ONE world record muskie (1916), that weighed 51 pounds.

More like this