Unveiling More of Hayward’s Dirty Little World Record Musky Secrets

Category: article

 Feb 26th, 2014 by OutdoorsFIRST 

Modified Feb 26th, 2014 at 12:00 AM

HAYWARD, WISCONSIN. “Home of World Record Muskies”! At least that is what it says on the water tower on the hill here. If the “s” in muskies were to be painted over, that claim would be more inline with the truth, since only one musky ever caught in the Hayward area has a likely legitimate claim to having been a true World Record; a 51-pound specimen caught by F.J. Swint in 1916 from Chief Lake before it became a part of the Chippewa Flowage. I say “likely” since that fish hasn’t undergone the professional scrutiny that the other claimed records from here have, but it is probably legitimate. But at a mere 51-pounds, it is not nearly as interesting to musky anglers of today as are the past claims of near 60 to near 70-pound muskies.

Since I live here, let me make one thing perfectly clear…If you want to pursue muskies in one of the most beautiful and aesthetic settings in the musky world and have a better than average chance of catching one of average size, more so now than in the old days, Hayward, Wisconsin is the place for you…just don’t come here with the idea of catching one of world record class size, regardless of what you believe the current world record to be.

Some folks here claim four additional records were caught in the Hayward area, but truth be known, only three of those four were ever sanctioned as world records and that was before their being proven not too long ago to having been falsified! In fact, current Chamber of Commerce promotions has modified the water tower saying to now claim Hayward the “home of 5 world record muskies”, even though there hasn’t been a legitimate musky caught from the Hayward area over 48 and a half-pounds since the 1939 to 1949 rash of four false area record claims were made! “What have you done lately” evidently isn’t in their vocabulary here and the local “powers that be” continue to falsely advertise these supposed records of the long, long-past, in an attempt to lure unsuspecting trophy musky anglers to the area. Shame be unto them!

I too used to be enamored by those supposed records, being a life-long Hayward area musky angler; I ran a resort here in 1966 and moved here permanently in the late 1990’s to guide muskies after being a licensed non-resident guide here for many years prior. I even promoted the aspect of world record class fish being available on my business cards. I had bought into the lies. Being also a near life-long musky historian/compiler of facts, I continuously researched musky record catch information in a continued search for the truth. Turns out that the truth here was ugly!

In the early 1990’s, John Dettloff, a Chippewa Flowage resort owner and musky guide here, upset the world musky record applecart when he set out to get the then world record musky of Art Lawton, a claimed 69-pound 15-ounce monster from the St. Lawrence River, NY in 1957, disqualified, and get Louie Spray’s 1949 claim reinstated. After being successful at the endeavor to get the Lawton fish disqualified or set-aside (New York still lists the Lawton fish as their state record), he then set out to debunk all world record muskies caught after 1938 that challenged the Hayward record muskies with the exception of the two from Eagle Lake, Ontario, in 1939 and 1940; the 1939 fish of John Coleman at  60-pounds 8-ounces, the first ever certified musky over 60-pounds and the 1940 also ran of Edward Walden, which at 61-9 ounces became the Canadian record for the next 48 years. It is unclear why he ignored those two, maybe he thought them legit, and they may be, although they have not been subjected to professional, scientific photogrammetric scrutiny as have three of the four bogus Hayward record claims (there isn’t sufficient photographic evidence available of the fourth one to examine, but other evidence got the job done).

At any rate, my goal in writing this piece was to shed additional light on these phony Hayward record claims with new information fairly recently obtained, present my hypothesis’ as to why I believe these shenanigan’s happened in the first place and also as to why the current and past “powers that be” here continue to perpetuate these shameful musky lies.

First, let us set the stage as to the possible why’s of the making of these false claims in the first place:

The first false world record claim originated from Louie Spray in 1939. At that time, Spray was owner and operator of Spray’s Bar (and house of ill repute) on a prime corner in downtown Hayward. Spray, self-admittedly, had a long and colorful history of run-ins with the law, having been a poacher; boot legger; gambling house operator; pool hall operator as well as an operator of several houses of ill-repute, along with legitimate stints as a lumber jack, hunter and trapper. Spray was an entrepreneur and successful business man and could usually figure out a way to make a buck. Following is my belief of what likely took place in 1939:

In 1939, the country was coming out of  the depression only to find itself facing the possibility of becoming embroiled in World War II. Tourism and business in general here was not flourishing, to say the least. Spray and friend Widmer Smith, had a bit of success scamming the Fitger Brewing and Field & Stream magazine fishing contests in 1938, so Spray likely thought, why not “catch” a new world record musky to get things buzzing and generate some business for the bar (not to mention the more $3000 he won, a “ton” in 1939, with an additional bonus of increased local tourism). So, knowing the best musky violators in the area, he put out the word that he was in the market for a big one. He was able to obtain a large (but not nearly as large as claimed) musky from two local violators named Pettit, a couple of brothers that had a reputation for taking large muskies by any means, especially the older Pettit brother. Spray, after getting his fish, along with another friend, Alton Van Camp, loaded the fish with weights of various types from Van Camp’s garage (well documented by the Van Camp family much to the chagrin of Dettloff) to attain a record fish weight. Only one usable photo with Van Camp holding the fish was ever produced that made the fish look big enough and a record claim was made on behalf of Spray to Field & Stream magazine and the American Museum of Natural History, despite the fact that there wasn’t a photo available with Spray and the fish…and one has never been produced!

Let us step back for a moment, as above I have provided information never before published with regards to the Pettit brothers. The younger brother passed away in 2012 at the age of 94. His older brother had passed away a short time previously. They had grown up in the post lumbering era where one did whatever necessary to make a living, including taking and eating fish and game out of season and selling fish and game on the black market. We also learned that they also violated just for the fun of it!

Thru a close Pettit family friend, I had occasion to visit with the younger Pettit brother and one of his sons, and we learned that despite a life-time of violating, including capturing via various methods, muskies for sale, he was extremely proud of the fact that he had never been caught by the law. During the course of our visit, Pettit said, ” Louie said he’d pay us for getting him a big one (muskie). When we did in 1939 he never paid us. So I washed my hands of getting him any other big ones after that.” He passed away still being mad at Louie as Spray never did pay them that money! When I learned of this, prior to his passing, I offered, thru the family friend, to pay Mr. Petit a significant sum of money if he would provide an affidavit to the fact that he and his brother provided the 1939 record fish to Spray. He declined, not wanting to expose himself to the law and risking arrest. Pettit also said that ”Louie was no better fisherman than the next guy”.

So, Spray had made his 1939 claim stick, what with the fairly lax criteria and scrutiny of record claims in those days of record keeping and no photo required.

However, much to Spray’s chagrin, his record claim was bested twice before 1939 ended! So, obviously emboldened by his success in 1939, Spray gave it a go again in 1940, but he made a tactical error…he entered his fish too quickly and the weight he “engineered” and claimed for his 1940 fish was beaten before it was submitted and was never certified as a world record…sorry Louie.

Spray had once again contacted the Pettit’s to get this 1940 fish, but the younger brother told us he wouldn’t have a thing to do with him since Spray had stiffed them the year previously. But his older brother took up the challenge anyway and provided Spray with another specimen that could be enhanced to record claim size and weight. It is this fish that was placed under professional scientific photogrammetric scrutiny and the size proven to be embellished and the mount of the fish modified to record claims for length and girth.

Obviously taxidermy enhancement took place with the 1939 fish as well, both being done by renowned Hayward taxidermist Karl Kahmann, one of the then Hayward “Town Fathers” and former Chicago Field Museum taxidermist. Kahmann would later mount Cal Johnson’s supposed world record in 1949, but would then refuse to mount Spray’s 1949 fish, obviously having had enough of the shim shams by then. But he knew the tourism value his record mounts had been for the Hayward area.

So Spray’s efforts were in vain record wise in 1940, but he still made plenty of “greenback hay” with the fish, “claiming” yet another world record and getting considerable “ink” from the press corps, especially in the Midwest tourism area. In addition, as he had done in 1939, Spray built a box and put the fish on ice in his bar and had patrons make their guesses as to length, girth and weight in a contest with a monetary prize for the winner. Hundreds of people visited Spray’s Bar and made their guesses and likely spent a good deal of money buying drinks while there! Mission Accomplished!! Again…

This photogrammetric solution leaves no doubt to the fact that Spray’s fresh
fish was nowhere near what was claimed and shows the taxidermy
enhancement of the mount to match the claim of length and girth.
Courtesy of the World Record Muskie Alliance.

We will now jump to 1949, the year Hayward had not one but two claims for world record muskies! Wow, what a place to fish for record muskies, huh?

The first claim for that year revolved around a much loved and highly respected outdoor writer for Sports Afield magazine, Cal Johnson. Believe me, disputing his credibility has put me in the hot box from family and devotees. But, I persist in a search for the truth regardless. The evidence is what it is! And that evidence proves his fish exaggerated.

To set the stage, I sincerely believe that the ailing, and knowing that he was dying, Cal Johnson had altruistic motives when he decided to pursue a Hayward record “claim” in 1949.

Cal Johnson had been a life-long lover of the Hayward area and in fact had his home on an area lake. At the time of his record claim, post WWII, the economy was struggling and of course the huge number of Hayward area resorts (over 360 at the time) were struggling too and could certainly use a shot in the arm. What better way than to once again produce another world record musky from Hayward’s famed musky waters? So Mr. Johnson, after making claims beforehand in an area bar that he would catch a new world record musky, proceeded to do just that…and everybody cheered.

Hayward had a large celebration attended by the governor and the annual Hayward Musky Festival was born and is still celebrated today…what a great and ongoing generator of tourism to the claimed “The Musky Capitol of the World”. Not long after, in the March 1950 issue, Sports Afield magazine published a Cal Johnson authored article touting the great musky fishing in the Hayward, Wisconsin waters. It was surrounded by a bunch of local resort ads, and of course contained photo’s of Cal’s “record” musky. A one quarter page Chamber of Commerce ad screamed “World’s Record Muskies! Get the thrill of catching a husky Hayward musky. Thousands of the ‘big boys’ have earned Hayward its reputation as ‘Musky Capital of the world.” (Oops, Hayward had to give up that logo/claim after losing a court battle over it with Boulder Junction, Wisconsin some years later, resulting in the current logo/claim on the water tower). See the tourism connection yet again?

At any rate, when professional, scientific photogrammetry was performed on both the fresh fish photo’s and the mount, it proved that the Johnson fish was considerably short of the record claim for length, and the musky world began mourning, although many still wished to “believe” and local supporters and family screamed to the heavens. The International Game Fish Association  (IGFA) still lists it as their all-tackle world record, despite their having proof to the contrary.

In this previously unpublished photo Johnson’s fish looks its actual size and nowhere near 5 feet long…Johnson’ was only 5 foot 7 inches tall! With a low camera angle, the fish in front and Johnson leaning back, the fish “appears” to be above Johnson’s head.

Comparing the distance between the rear paired fins and the anal fin of the mount photo with the fresh fish photos, makes it easy to determine that body length was added to the mount in this area. Viewing the actual mount, a crack is very visible at one end of the area where this enhancement was made. In addition, it is easy to view the enhancement of all fins including the tail extension which added at least one and half-inches to the already lengthened body! Yes, the mount may be near the claimed 5-feet, but the real fish wasn’t!

Here is another photo of the fresh Johnson fish, making it look bigger by holding it well out in front of himself. Please note also, the distance between the two sets of paired fins on the belly of the fresh fish compared to the distance between the bottom set of paired fins and the anal fin on the fresh fish and then compare that second distance to the same dimension on the photograph of the fish mount. That distance on the mount is almost double that on the fresh fish, while the other dimension remains the same. Also, the mount has the total length and the size of all of the fins greatly enhanced as well (visible only when viewing the actual mount). Note that the clothing and holding tool/method is the same in both fresh fish photographs. All Johnson photo’s courtesy of the WRMA.

Next time you are in Hayward, view the Johnson mount and see how it was enhanced by carefully examining these several features on the mount and see how it was made to make it appear to be the size claimed. Be prepared to be asked to purchase a beer or two while you are there (as I was the last time in) and add to the thousands and thousands of drinks this mount has already been responsible for selling in this bar, even though Johnson supposedly “gave” the mount to the City of Hayward!

I believe it was due to Cal Johnson’s stellar reputation and life-long involvement with one of the country’s top three outdoor magazines (he wrote for Sports Afield magazine for 50 years or so) and the wish not to make waves, that was the primary reason that the IFGA chose to become hypocrites by upholding Johnson’s fish as their current all-tackle world record. Their reasoning claimed that, despite professional photogrammetry that is admissible in a court of law, one could not determine fish weight from a photograph, even though proven actual length was far short of claimed length. This, despite the fact that they used the very same reason of questionable photograph of fish weight claim vs. length, for the “setting aside” of the Lawton world record. They can’t have it both ways...

Above is a silhouette comparison of the Johnson fish, exactly as composed and performed by John Dettloff on the Lawton record, but was totally ignored by the IGFA in their review of the WRMA Johnson Protest. As can be clearly seen, “if” the Johnson fresh fish had indeed been the length claimed, it would have appeared much longer and wider in the fresh fish photographs! It isn’t even close…!! It truly is a shame, but this magnificent mount has contributed to the world record musky confusion. It is still a pleasure to view, but sadly one must now look at it with a jaundiced eye and respect the taxidermist’s artistry that went into making this mount “appear” to be the size claimed. But, it just isn’t so! The silhouette comparison photo was graciously provided by the WRMA.

Back to 1949: Louie Spray evidently couldn’t stand the fact that Cal Johnson had claimed a bigger Hayward musky than he, so he sent a telegram to the Johnson celebration advising, “Don’t give the award (a new car) yet. I will catch a new world record musky this season.”…and he did! At least he claimed one at any rate.

So now for the icing on the cake…King Louie’s 1949 world record claim has been so intensely defended by John Dettloff since 1992, that he went incredibility far overboard shaming himself, the Sawyer County Historical Society, Musky Hunter magazine, The National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame (NFWFHF-who ultimately upheld the Spray record, despite the vast amount of proof against it) and the town of Hayward, Wisconsin! And of course he also claims it was caught near his Chippewa Flowage resort…

So over-zealous was Dettloff that he went to any lengths to remove the contender to Spray’s 1949 fish. This included lying to the Lawton family to obtain the Lawton files; positioning himself to be appointed Director, Sawyer County Historical Society, Historical Editor of Musky Hunter magazine and then to the Board of the NFWFHF, ultimately becoming Hall Board President.

As Hall board president, he directed the NFWFHF rebuttal of the World Record Muskie Alliance (WRMA) Protest against Spray’s record muskies, involving the entire board, which was/is made up entirely of local businessmen and women and corrupting them in the process. He did this by convincing them to believe “HIS” version of things instead of them following the facts. In addition, the parts of the WRMA report against the Spray muskies that exactly mirrored some of his Lawton investigation methods, but served to cast doubt on Spray’s fish, were completely ignored by him and the Hall Board and additionally it’s  Executive Director, who went along to appease his bosses and protect his job.

During the deliberation process, Dettloff declined to allow this writer, who originally developed the World Record Program for the Hall and at the time WRMA Spray Protest was titled “World Record Advisor”, with 35 years of volunteer Hall involvement, and Brad Latvaitis, a Hall Governor and record advisor with 30 years of volunteer Hall involvement, to participate in the Spray Protest review! When asked why, Dettloff stated, “Because that is the way I want it.”! Talk about a stacked deck…Naturally, we both resigned from further volunteer involvement with the Hall.

Photogrammetric solution of Spray’s 1949 fresh fish (smaller outline) vs. the
enhanced mount outline. Courtesy of the World Record Muskie Alliance.

Dettloff was so extremely upset with the IGFA for not recognizing Spray’s musky after he got Lawton’s record set aside, that he was beside himself, but then he made the best of that situation by badgering the IGFA (I have copies of the letters) into dumping their then current world record and replacing it with Cal Johnson’s fish, despite the fact that it never underwent world record scrutiny in 1949 by them or anyone else. I’m sure this was a move that the IGFA now regrets after the WRMA Johnson Protest, due to the position it put them in having to defend a record that they never sanctioned in the first place! Oh what a tangled web Dettloff weaved back in the early 1990’s! A sad tale to be true and one that has forever muddied historical world record musky waters!

Epilogue: There are many, many facts of proof not offered here that I have previously published, regarding the status of these four claimed Hayward record muskies. They can be found in my book A Compendium of Muskie Angling History-3rd Edition-volume I, which includes the findings of the World Record Muskie Alliance with respect to their investigation and the scientific photogrammetry performed, along with reams of additional information. There is also a portion of Volume I of my book, containing most of the Hayward bogus record information, free, on my website at: http://www.larryramsell.com/WorldRecord.html
The WRMA information can be also be found on their web site: www.worldrecordmuskiealliance.com

Obviously, the current Hayward “powers that be” still wish to promote these bogus record fish merely for the tourism draw they feel they still have. However, today’s serious trophy musky anglers know better! C’est  la vie.

Larry Ramsell, Muskellunge Historian

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