Upholding '49 muskie mark casts bad vibes at Hall

January 18, 2006


HAYWARD, Wis. -- Somebody needs to clean up this muskie mess. Otherwise, the fishing world will become "like boxing with all kinds of groups keeping records,'' warned Jim Saric, editor of Musky Hunter magazine, at the Chicago Muskie Show on Friday.

He looked prophetic. On Monday, the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame showed no inclination to clean up its defining record. Not one member of its executive board voted to accept the protest from the World Record Muskie Alliance against Louis Spray's all-tackle muskellunge record. The news conference afterward was more about attacking the WRMA report than examining the evidence.

In fairness to the Hall, the WRMA report so ventured off its scientific basis and into speculation that muskie fishing's most respected historian, Larry Ramsell, had his name removed from it.

That was too bad. The core of the WRMA report -- photographic analysis showing Spray's 69-pound, 11-ounce muskie from the Chippewa Flowage in northern Wisconsin on Oct. 20, 1949, was nowhere near that big -- is very convincing.

"Personal animosities got in the way of the examination of the facts,'' Ramsell said. "Both groups have acted unprofessionally.''

Amen. Ramsell resigned as the world record historian for the Hall on Dec. 30 and will not renew his WRMA association.

So we're left with a dirtied muskie record, despite what Emmett Brown Jr., executive director of the Hall, said: "It's our final decision on this protest, unless some additional credible evidence would surface.''

I know Muskies Inc. honchos have done their most to avoid the current controversy. However, Ramsell said the subject will be brought up at the spring meeting.

Here's the idea that makes sense to me.

Muskies Inc. should appoint a panel to examine modern records, and by extension, the WRMA's reSpray report (worldrecordmuskie alliance.com) and the Hall of Fame's report (freshwater-fishing.org).

From Illinois and for biology, I suggest Phil Willink. The Field Museum's fish expert has a lively mind on modern fish issues. This kind of inquiry would stir his intellectual curiosity.

From Wisconsin and for history, I suggest Ramsell. He has been involved in both camps. But he is the muskie historian and is professional enough to distance himself sufficiently to made a solid judgment.

From Minnesota, I would suggest Doug Arnold. The director of the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications originally was asked to examine one Spray photograph last winter. From talking and corresponding with him, I know the case tripped his academic curiosity. The problem is he already said from the photo he has examined that there's no way Spray's muskie is as long as claimed. But he's professional enough to consider all sides.

Then turn them loose to go wherever they want with the report.

I floated the idea by Ramsell. He thought Muskies Inc. more likely would stick with its members than outsiders, and that two Canadians should be on the panel because our northern neighbor is as likely as the United States is to produce the next modern muskie record.

I agree with the Canadian experts suggestion, but this issue is muddied enough that Muskies Inc. needs to go outside the muskie-fishing subculture.

Right now, the fishing world looks foolish. And a besmirched record sits as the marquee exhibit in the Hall.

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