This week’s column is dedicated to stories about the muskellunge. In the early years, the newspapers spelled it muskalonge but is often just called muskie. According to the Minnesota State Record Fish Guide, Itasca County has held the record muskie since 1957. That muskie, weighing 54-pounds, was caught by Art Lyons in Lake Winnibigoshish. [Reminisce column A Really Big Fish Story…and It’s True! Grand Rapids Herald-Review 8-18-2019]
The youngest fisherman to catch a muskie was Glenn L. Fadden, Jr. In July 1933, he landed a 20-pound muskie at the end of the dock at his grandparents, Walter and Edith Fadden on Big Moose Lake. “Glenn attempted to land the fish by pulling him up on the shore, but when he had his prize nearly to dry land the line broke. Grabbing a spear which was nearby, Glen completed the task. His achievement is a very creditable one and here’s our congratulations.” [Deer River News 8-3-1933]
Unusual Fishing Techniques
In a time before fancy fishing gear, creativity and quick thinking was sometimes used to land a muskie. These are three entertaining examples.
Editor’s Mother Brings Home Dinner ~ Itasca News 8-10-1901
“Our wife was out with her mother on Deer Lake, and they caught a 25 pound muskalonge. The good wife appreciating the several meals in sight, immediately sat herself upon the ‘Jim Hill’ as he spit the hook out landing inside the gunwale. One simple flop he gave and our better half went sailing through space. The mother-in-law saved the fish owing to her heavier weight, and the guide saved the wife – but this is no surprising story here, where so much fishing is done; you fellows should tell a ‘stronger’ one or come up here for your fishing this summer.”
Catches ‘Em New Way ~ Itasca News 7-14-1927
“Alex Steenson, a swimming instructor at Camp Minnesota on Deer Lake, has set a new pace for local muskie fishermen.
“While taking a canoe ride last Saturday evening, Mr. Steenson saw a muskie in the clear water near him. He had no line nor bait, didn’t need any. Mr. Steenson made a grab for Mr. Muskie with bare hands, and after quite a tussle landed him in the canoe.
“The fish weighed 14 pounds and was quite a prize. We hand the palm to Mr. Steenson. His feat sets a new pace in local waters. Now someone please page Mr. Robert Page Lincoln and tell him there is real muskie fishing in Deer Lake, where they catch them with bare hands.”
Robert Page Lincoln was a sportsman who wrote a column on the Outdoors for the Minneapolis Tribune newspaper. Lincoln became well known after writing a four-part article on bass fishing in the May through August issues of National Sportsman Magazine in 1912. His two most famous books are Black Bass Fishing (1952) and The Pike Family (1953). The editor for the Deer River News, brings his name up on more than one occasion.
Boy Goes In, Grab, Ride Big Muskie ~ Deer River News 5-18-1933
“Richard Peck and Edward ‘Bud’ King turned in a fish story Tuesday that takes the prize!
“The boys were spearing for minnows in the river below Winnie dam, when they discovered a big muskie in shallow water. Richard had a line with which he snagged the gray warrior, and watching his chance, Bud stunned him with a rock.
“Then there was plenty of action. Fearing their prize might get away, Bud jumped into the water and grabbed it. Right there, Mr. Muskie took Bud for a ride, but he stuck to his hold and shortly the boys had the big fellow on the bank. The incident furnished a lot of amusement for a group of spectators.
“The boys brought their muskie to Deer River, where it was found to weigh thirty pounds. It was 52 inches long. Some prize!”
Muskies in Deer and Moose Lake
Deer and Moose Lakes became known as good muskie lakes early on. The following are examples that were reported in the local newspapers.
~1904 – Frank Peterson caught a 47-pound muskie. “It broke his pole; he had no reel and he had to coax his greatness to shore, where he fought him into the brush with a spear. Mr. Peterson shipped the prize to friends in Minneapolis.” [Itasca News 5-28-1904]
~ 1910 – “Last Tuesday George Metke caught a fine one in front of the Metke home on the north shore of Moose Lake. It measured 54 inches and weighed 26 pounds. The boys shipped it to their uncle, R. Schmerler, in Minneapolis. This specimen excited P.R. Brooks, who is a “profesh” at the game, and he went out on Thursday to try his luck. Dr. Fairall accompanied him, and in a few hours’ trolling from the motorboat they landed one near Brooks’ summer home on the north shore of Deer Lake. It weighed 17 pounds and made fine eating, as a number of friends can testify.” [Itasca News 10-1-1910]
~ 1920 – “In the past week six muskalonge have been caught in Deer and Moose Lakes, each weighing from 25 to 50 pounds. During the last three days the weather has been hot, and the big fellows are again averse to tasting a hook.” [Itasca News 8-28-1920]
~ 1926 – Prize muskie of the season will be mounted. The fish measured 50 inches in length and has a girth of 24½ inches. The weight given was 40-pounds.
~ 1927 -Two fisherman guided by C.A. Voigt, caught a nice muskie. It weighed 30-pounds and was 48 inches in length.
~ 1927 – George Herreid caught a 24-pound muskie. It measured 43 inches in length, and is one he is having mounted
These next two stories include Deer River fishing guide John Tremain. In August 2015, my Reminisce column was titled, Tremain Leading Babe Ruth by Safe Margin, which was also the frontpage headlines of the September 1, 1927 issue of the Itasca News.
The article states, “John says he can get a muskie oftener than Babe Ruth can hit a home run, and just at the present time John has a lead of nine on Babe.” This statement is absolutely true. On August 31, Babe Ruth hit his forty-third home run against the Boston Red Sox and John Tremain hauled in his fifty-second muskie while guiding for Mr. Freidmann of Chicago. And as you will see, by the end of the season, Tremain’s count was at 64.
Landed a Big One ~ Deer River News 8-4-1927
“A party composed of I. Freimuth and Chas. Williamson of Duluth, and Victor Kohn and Hiram Scott of Chicago, spent the latter part of the week here in quest of muskies in Moose Lake. Every day they hooked one or more of the big fellows but failed to get them in their boat.
“As they left Cedarwild Lodge Sunday morning, John Tremain, veteran guide and muskie fisherman extraordinaire, was hopping mad at their going sans a muskie. John’s parting shot was, ‘Now I’m going out and get that fish.’ And he made good. Before the party had time to reach the Miller Hotel in Deer River, Tremain had Mr. Muskie on dry land and phoned in for them to come back and get him. Mr. Freimuth, veteran Duluth businessman, broke all speed records getting back to the lake where Tremain handed him a whopping 32 pounder. It was a fine specimen, one of the largest caught here this year.
“Somebody send for Bob Becker and Robt. Page Lincoln! We want to convince them we have muskies here.”
Congressman Carss & Guide Capture Muskie Laurels ~ Itasca News 10-6-1927
“With the veteran John Tremain as guide, Mr. Carss spent Monday afternoon and Tuesday on Deer Lake in quest of muskies. They fished from 3:00 to 6:00 Monday afternoon and from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. Tuesday. In this time, they landed five muskies ranging from 34 to 45 inches in length, two Monday and three Tuesday. The record surpassed any other made here in years and is likely to stand for some time.
“The work of the two days brought John Tremain’s total of muskies for the season up to 64. John says he bests Babe Ruth out by four and started a month after the Babe did.
“Now let Bob Becker and Robert Page Lincoln be fully informed that this IS a muskie region!”
1930 was the first year of the Fuller Tackle Shops Fishing Contest. One hundred and seventy entries were made, with fish being caught from thirty-four different lakes in Itasca County. Both first and second prize for muskies were caught on Moose Lake. First prize went to W.O. Hare, Rock Island, Ill. For his 35-pound 7-oz. fish. He won $10.00 and a South Bend Split Bamboo Rod.
“C.E. Okey of Corning, Ia., and O.W. Compton of Independence, Kans., both made enviable catches in Deer and Moose Lakes the first of this week. Monday Mr. Okey landed a 33 pound muskie that was one of the finest specimens caught here this year. Mr. Okey also caught another muskie weighing 18 pounds, and a 7¾ pound wall-eyed pike. Tuesday Mr. Compton captured a muskie weighing 31 pounds. The muskies were taken in Moose Lake, with C.A. Voigt serving as guide.” [Deer River News 8-28-1930] Okey’s second prize was $8.00 and a South Bend Split Bamboo Rod.
Muskies in the Big Fork River
The news of Bigfork didn’t always find its way to Deer River, but when the Bigfork Times was in business, a few fishing stories were covered.
Catches Big Fish ~ Bigfork Times 8-1-1930
“The biggest fish reported yet this season was caught by Harold Welte in the Big Fork River at this place on Wednesday evening. The fish weighed 26 and one-half pounds and was caught at the Welte bridge on a bass-oreno. It was necessary to spear the fish in order to land it. The fish was entered in the Fuller Big Fish contest and the entrant was assured that it was by far the biggest fish entered so far this season. This is by no means an exceptionally large fish for the Big Fork River as the catching of a fish ranging from 20 to 25 pounds is an everyday occurrence.”
More Big Fish ~ Bigfork Times 8-8-1930
“Another fine specimen of muskie or northern pike, whichever it is, was taken this week in the Bigfork River and was on display at the Evensen & Beck store last Saturday.
“Jerry Knight, son of Mr. and Mrs. James Knight, caught a 17 pound—let’s call it a muskie, in the river close to his home. This was caught on a troller but was gaffed in order to land it. The fish weighed 17 pounds and while not as large as the one caught in the same river last week by Harold Welte, was a fine specimen.
“Argument has been rife lately as to when a muskie is a muskie and when a muskie is a northern pike. There seems to be no generally accepted authority on the question. It is a great deal like arguing on religion. You don’t have to accept the other fellow’s argument without proof, and he has to die to prove his point, so there you go.”
I will post the two Reminisce columns mentioned here on my blog chrismarcottewrites next Sunday, May 30.