Cal Johnson's record fish (right) brought Louie Spray out of fishing retirement. Spray's record (left) was eventually disqualified by the IGFA. Read the whole story below.
Louie Spray was a stubborn man, even by Wisconsin standards, and he might never had had his run-in with "Chin Whiskered Charlie" had it not been for Cal Johnson.
Spray was a native son of Hayward, Wis., before it earned the well-deserved designation as the muskie capital of the world. In fact, it was spray who put Hayward on the map.
By the mid-'40s, when Johnson moved to northern Wisconsin, Spray was the acknowledged muskie king, having already boated two world-record fish. One of them, 59 pounds 8 ounces, was caught in 1939; the other, 61 pounds 13 ounces, came in 1940. Both fish were taken from the famed Chippewa flowage, formed when the Chippewa River was dammed in 1923.
When Johnson came to town, he was one of the most famous and revered outdoor writers in the country. Declining health and his doctor's admonitions had forced him to jettison much of his workload, and he chose Hayward as the place where he would live out the remainder of his life doing what he loved best: fishing.
Spray was cut from rougher cloth. A lumberjack in his early years and a bootlegger during prohibition, spray had become a respectable barkeep by the time Johnson arrived on the scene. Spray and Johnson shared a mutual respect for the other's fishing talents. When Johnson moved to Wisconsin, Spray was 49 years old and seldom fished anymore. But then Johnson caught a new world-record muskie of 67 pounds 8 ounces from lac courte oreilles on July 24, 1949, and Spray decided it was time to come out of retirement. He set out to catch a bigger muskie, and on October 20 of that same year, he found what he was looking for.
Spray knew about chin whiskered Charlie because he had seen the fish on a number of occasions, cruising the clear waters offshore what is now the Indian trail resort and searching for careless perch or crappies. A muskie that was cunning enough to reach 69 pounds 11 ounces and 2 inches long wouldn't just fall for anything, but spray had developed a deadly system that appealed to bigger muskiest. He slow-trolled a big wooden lure as well as a live sucker that was rigged in what was called a "quick-set rig," bristling with hooks. Occasionally spray would let the sucker free-swim under a float, then relocate to a new spot and troll awhile between stops.
Spray started fishing on October 1 and he didn't catch anything. He went back the next day, and the next, and several more, with the same results. He slow-trolled or drifted in straight lines and in big circles; he pulled the baits at varying lengths from the boat and at different speeds; he stopped and fished in one place for a while, then moved to another location. After 19 consecutive days of this routine, spray and the giant muskie finally tangled.
On the afternoon of the 20th day, as spray was working the sucker toward him with a side-to-side retrieve, chin whiskered Charlie announced his arrival with an enormous swirl and took the bait. Spray, who had fishing buddies George Quentmeyer and Ted Hagg in the boat with him, fought the muskie for more than 30 minutes before it played out. Then spray did something that would eventually keep his name out of the IGFA records book: he shot chin whiskered Charlie with a .22 caliber handgun. He kept the firearm with him to subdue muskies. It was a common practice in those days.
Having reclaimed the muskie king crown, spray enjoyed the title until 1957, when Art Lawton of Albany, N.Y., stunned the fishing world with a 69-pound 15-ounce muskie caught in the St. Lawrence river. Years later, record keepers who examined numerous photos of the fish became convinced that LawtonÂ¿s muskie was too short and lacked the girth to have weighed almost 70 pounds. Spray's fish was reinstated as the record.