New Muskie Controversy?

Category: article

 May 1st, 2022 by Keith Worrall 

Modified May 1st, 2022 at 11:19 AM

by Larry Ramsell, Muskellunge Historian

A “potential” new World Record Muskie controversy has reared its ugly head. This one a new one among the “many” in existence regarding World Record Muskies. I say “potential” because I don’t believe it to be very credible, but you will have to make up your own mind.

In 1919, John Knobla caught a 51- pound 3-ounce muskie from Lac Vieux desert (LVD) on the Michigan/Wisconsin border. It won the Field & Stream (F&S) contest in the muskie division that year and was recognized as the new World Record “Muskie” (the fish was actually a Tiger/Hybrid muskie, although true hybrids were unknown until 1938).

Knobla was a guide working out of the Thomas Resort (now Sunrise) on LVD. His fish was the recognized “Muskie” World Record until it was bettered by another F&S contest winner in 1929, although technically it was beaten in 1924, by Lewis Walker Jr. with a 54-pound 3-ounce Muskie from Conneaut Lake, PA. Walkers fish became the PA record (that still stands today), however, since he didn’t enter it in the annual F&S Contest, it was overlooked. Knobla’s Tiger is still recognized as the World Record Tiger Muskie, although that didn’t happen until 1979 when a photograph was finally found proving that the Knobla fish was indeed a Tiger/Hybrid.

At any rate, what is this new controversy about? Earlier in 2022, I received an email from an acquaintance with a copy of an article from the “Vilas County (Wis.) News” dated “Wednesday July 23rd, 1919”. It contained an article entitled “Caught Record Musky”, “Lac Vieux Desert King of Fresh Waters Tipped the Beam at 51 lbs. 3 oz.-A Perfect Fish”, no author was named. Following is that article in its entirety, after which we will discuss it:

“Weighing 51 lbs. 3 ozs., the tiger muskellunge caught last week Tuesday by Walter Houle, an employee of the L.L. Thomas resort (as was Knobla…ed.) on Lac Vieux Desert, is the accredited ‘Big Boy’ of the whole musky region. Houle’s fish is said to be the handsomest of its kind caught for years, and for that matter is the largest fish to have been taken from Lac Vieux Desert’s waters for over 20 years (no mention of what “may” have been larger 20 years prior…ed.). Other big fellows have been caught and lost, and hundreds of ones under that weight are being landed from year to year – but none to reach this fish. Here is what Dr. A.H. Peck, 25 East Washington St., Chicago, to whom the fish was shipped says: ‘You ask me what I think of that fish. I sure think it the most beautiful specimen I have ever seen. Its markings are wonderful. Haman the taxidermist to whom I delivered it, said he had been in business for 35 years and it is the most perfect specimen to come to him. It is the largest Tiger Muskellunge by considerable he has ever mounted. The fish is 54 1-2 inches long; 24 inches girth, weight 51 lbs. 3 oz. Walter Houle after his work was finished Tuesday evening, began using a surface bait off a rush bed in the lake for pike. Musky rushed the lure, and the fight was on, but unlike most tales, this fish was hooked and hooked good, played properly, brought to gaff and landed. And now, there remains but the pleasure of the fight, and pointing out the big fellow in the club house at Thomas’ resort, where many an envious eye will see ‘some fish’.” -END-

Accompanying the article was the following photograph,

“supposedly” of the subject fish. As you will note, there are NO MARKINGS on that fish whatsoever as compared with a known Knobla photo and the tail is pointed like a true muskie.

John Knobla (l) and his beautiful “Tiger”. Could the gentleman on the right be Walter Houle?

So now that you have the entire scenario, let’s discuss it. Following are the problems that I have with this “controversy”:

This article is the ONLY reference to a “Houle” tiger that is known to exist.
As noted above. the photo included with the article, “that” fish is NOT a Tiger!
According to the article, Houle supposedly “caught” this fish on Tuesday, July 15th. Knobla’s fish was registered with Field & Stream as being caught on Wednesday, July 16th.
Both fish (if indeed there were two) weighed exactly the same and both were “Tigers” (although the photo with the article is not a tiger).
Both men worked at the L.L. Thomas resort. Could Houle have been “messing” with his co-worker?
The Knobla fish was registered with Field & Stream magazine and was accepted as a new World Record Muskie! There are no other known references to the supposed Houle fish.
The official measurements of the Knobla fish were 52 ¼ inches long with a 25 ¼-inch girth. The given measurements of the Houle fish in the article were 54 ½ inches long with a 24-inch girth. NOTE: It is believed that the length measurement of the Knobla fish was a “fork length” measurement, used for many years by F&S.

Arguments from my Acquaintance and my rebuttals

1. Dr. A.H. Peck and the taxidermist Haman both saw the fish.

LR. According to the article, which is not “proof”. Even if Dr. Peck had the fish mounted by Mr. Haman, where is there proof that Houle caught it and not Knobla?

2. The photo of Knobla and fish with another man; “that’s probably or maybe Walter Houle on the right …correct???

LR. Possibly. Unknown, and what if it is?

3. Also I don’t think 2 fifty pound fish were caught back to back because (it) is what I felt after reading the article right away.

LR. I agree, and only one was ever registered, the Knobla fish.

4. Dr. Peck in 1915 caught a 41 pound muskie at same said area.

LR. Your point?

5. My point is!!, this Dr. Peck back then was probably a highly respected man and maybe 6 months or a year later OR SO, read newspaper articles or the field and stream magazine and said, “wait a minute” Knobla didn’t catch that fish, Walther Houle caught that fish and he sent it to me and I took it to a taxidermist.”

AND!! Don’t you think that when he was up there the following couple of months or a year later he would here (sic) other people saying Knobla didn’t catch that fish Houle did. (?).

LR. You have NO “proof” Houle caught that fish. If the

Good Dr. made any waves, it is unknown!

6. And don’t you think that after all these years of Knobla getting the credit Walter Houle should get his rightful place???

LR. NO “PROOF” EXISTS HOULE CAUGHT THE FISH!!! KNOBLA WAS RECOGNIZED BY FIELD & STREAM. You can’t use one brief newspaper article to overturn a World Record! NO VERIFICATION. Find me more articles that contests Knobla’s record. Doubtful any exist.

So, there you have it to date fellow muskie folks. What do you think?…Larry Ramsell, Muskellunge Historian.

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