Say It Ain't So, Louie!

Louis Spray's 1949 world record muskellunge may have been a fake
By Don Jordan

posted 12/20/-5

The problem with keeping world records when it comes to big fish is that fishermen are among the greatest liars on Earth. And, when it comes to the king of freshwater fishes muskellunge fishermen are the kings of all angling liars.

Or, so it seems, as the long-recognized world record muskie, a 63 ½ inch behemoth that weighed 69 lbs., 11 ozs., caught by Louis Spray of Hayward, Wis., in 1949 is probably bogus.

If the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward accepts evidence offered by a group called the World Record Muskie Alliance, Spray's fish will be the second long-standing muskie world record disallowed in the last eight years. In 1994, a 69 lb., 15 oz., muskie caught in 1957 from the St. Lawrence River by Art Lawton, New York, was disallowed, ending a 37-year reign as the biggest muskie ever caught.

Lawton's catch was disallowed on the basis of old photographs. Researchers turned up two photos of Lawton's fish. One photo showed a 49-lb. muskie and another showed the alleged 69-lb. photo. Unfortunately for Lawton, muskies have individual markings that can be used like fingerprints. Comparison of those two photos showed they were of the same fish. Camera angle and distance were changed to make the fish look larger. As any angler knows, you hold the fish closer to the camera to make it look bigger in the photo.

The evidence that Spray's legendary fish from the Chippewa Flowage is fake is slightly different. The WRMA's evidence derives from "proportional analysis" that compares the fish's length with Spray's known height in several photos. According to the group's analysis, Spray's fish could not have been more than 57 inches long and was probably a bout 53 inches long ( is where you can see all the photos and read the various analyses).

This is a subject close to my heart as I spent a lot of summers in Hayward as a kid and later lived near there for ten years. Yes, everyone up there knows that Spray, who owned a bar, was a tireless self-promoter. The taxidermy mount of his fish burned when the bar burned down in 1954. Is it possible he faked his record? Of course. When it comes to muskies, you can't believe anything anyone tells you.

If the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame upholds the WRMA claims, the heir apparent is a fish caught by outdoor writer Cal Johnson of Minnesota. His fish was caught at Lac Court Oreilles (also near Hayward) in July, 1949, weighed 67 lbs., 8ozs., and was 60.25 inches long. Note that Spray's fish was caught just a few months later, in October of 1949.

No analysis of Johnson's fish has been done so far as I know, but assuming that it too might be proven to be a fraud, a 65-lb. muskie caught by angler Ken O'Brien from Georgian Bay, Ontario, in Oct., 1988 is next in line. It will not surprise me if that one also turns out to be a fraud.

©Copyright 2005. Jordan Communications.