The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online | Return to regular view

Original Story URL:

Musky record still on the line

Experts insist on independent investigation

Posted: March 4, 2006

Bob Riepenhoff

The controversy over Louis Spray's world record musky is in some deep and murky waters.

The latest twist is that three math experts, who were asked by the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame to examine photographs of the musky, are now calling for an independent investigation of Spray's fish.

In January, the Hall of Fame, in Hayward, announced that its board of directors had voted to uphold Spray's record, citing two of the experts as supporting the size of Spray's fish.

But in a letter sent to the Hall of Fame dated Feb. 1, the experts - Dorian Goldfeld, of Columbia University in New York City; Joseph A. Gallian of the University of Minnesota-Duluth; and Douglas N. Arnold, of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities - wrote: "None of us is willing to say, based on the limited information and investigations we have made up to this point, whether or not we believe the record is valid."

The experts say that an independent panel of math and photo-analyses experts, supplied with all the information and photos, could produce "a much more definitive result."


Spray's fish, caught on Oct. 20, 1949, on the Chippewa Flowage in northern Wisconsin, is listed in the Hall of Fame's records as 69 pounds, 11 ounces and 63½ inches long. But an Illinois-based group, the World Record Muskie Alliance, filed a protest with the hall, which included a photo-analysis by DCM Technical Services of Toronto that found the fish was only about 53.6 inches long.

When announcing that Spray's record was upheld, Emmett A. Brown Jr., the hall's executive director, said the Muskie Alliance had not used good science, and cited photo-analysis opinions from Gallian and Goldfeld, who both concluded that the length of the fish was close to 63 1/2 inches. Although Arnold concluded that the fish could have been shorter, Brown characterized Arnold's findings as both speculative and less definitive than Gallian's and Goldfeld's.

In an interview, Arnold told me: "The hall's report that is posted on their Web site ( does not include thorough, good science, because we were not asked to do thorough, good science."

Instead, he said, he was asked to give a quick analysis and was not given full information.

"In general, I don't like science to be used as a tool to manipulate opinions," Arnold said. "You should never go to several experts … and cherry pick the results you want."

Brown denied that happened. "We weren't picking and choosing," he said. "We used the hard information that Goldfeld and Gallian gave us. There was nothing speculative about their findings and they supplied us with the math."

Brown said the board's decision to uphold Spray's record remains "firm and resolute."

The board is scheduled to discuss the letter later this month. But Brown said: "I don't know that there is any action needed to be taken as a result of this letter. To me, all it did was soften their (Gallian's' and Goldfeld's) position a little bit."

Brown said the board's decision was "largely based on the ten eye witnesses to the weighing and handling of the (Spray) fish," which he said was more important and less subjective than photo analysis.

"This fish was paraded around town for several days," he said. "There is no way a 54-inch fish could have been passed off as a 63 ½-inch fish."

The mount of Spray's fish was destroyed by fire in the late 1950s.

In another development - Larry Ramsell, longtime fish historian and world record adviser with the Hall of Fame, and Brad Latvaitis, one of the hall's advisory governors - have resigned to protest the way the hall handled the challenge to Spray's record.

Ramsell also is raising questions about whether the Hall of Fame had sufficient information to disqualify Art Lawton's world record musky in 1992. His 41-page paper on Lawton's fish can be read at

Lawton's musky, recognized for nearly 35 years as the world record, was disqualified after John Dettloff conducted an investigation which concluded that Lawton had grossly exaggerated the size of his fish. As a result, Spray's fish was reinstated as the all-tackle world record muskellunge.

Dettloff, who operates a resort on the Chippewa Flowage and has written a book on Spray, is now president of the Hall of Fame's board of directors. He recused himself from the January vote on Spray's record after critics charged that he was biased.

Ramsell said he supported Lawton's disqualification at the time, but now he has doubts. "The bottom line in this whole thing is, the criteria they ignored to take Lawton's record down was the same criteria used to uphold the Spray record," he said. "To me that indicates a hometown bias."

Brown said he refused to accept Ramsell's paper because it did not meet the Hall of Fame's new policy on protests, which, among other things, requires a $1,500 fee designed to discourage frivolous protests.

When this story broke back in January, I credited the Hall of Fame for mounting what then looked to be a careful, deliberate and appropriate response to the challenge to Spray's record. It now appears that didn't happen, and the hall's response was flawed.

These new developments add up to a credibility crisis, and I hope the Hall of Fame can to do something to clean up this mess.

Send e-mail to

From the March 5, 2006 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Have an opinion on this story? Write a letter to the editor or start an online forum.

Subscribe today and receive 4 weeks free! Sign up now.

© 2006, Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved. | Produced by Journal Interactive | Privacy Policy
Journal Sentinel Inc. is a subsidiary of Journal Communications.