Hayward, Wis. The legend of fishing great Louis Spray, who in 1949 caught a muskellunge that the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame here honors as the world's largest, is under attack.
A group of fishermen based in Illinois wants Spray's fish added to the list of muskie crimes of the century. The fishermen say the muskie - listed at 69 pounds, 11 ounces - couldn't have weighed that much, and say that Spray, who some call the Babe Ruth of muskie anglers, "perpetrated a fraud of historic proportions."
"We hope that at the end of this process, basically the brass ring of this sport is going to be untarnished once and for all," said Rich Delaney, a teacher in Oak Park, Ill., and president of the World Record Muskie Alliance.
Spray's muskie - one of 4,000 records involving 125 different fish species recognized by the Hall of Fame - is highly coveted in northern Wisconsin, where fishing is as much a part of culture as snow in wintertime.
Delaney acknowledges the area is "probably loath" to see an attack on Spray's muskie.
"You might even compare it to a story like Paul Bunyan and Babe, the blue ox. It's somewhere between fact and legend," the English and social studies teacher said.
In a 93-page report submitted to the Hall of Fame board, Delaney's group argues that Spray's muskie is significantly smaller than he claimed. The report makes the case that Spray was an "incredible cheat."
"It is almost comical to note that Spray even lied in claiming three record muskies on his tombstone," the report says. "At the time of his death, Spray was credited with only two."
Emmett Brown, executive director of the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, said the group's protest of the record will be reviewed in the next few weeks.
"If the facts show indisputably that there was a fraud committed here, we will acknowledge it," he said. "But it has to be proven."
If Spray's muskie is disqualified, a 671â2-pounder caught in July 1949 by Cal Johnson, a one-time outdoors writer in Minneapolis, would become the record.
The World Record Muskie Alliance hired a Canadian company to analyze photographs of Spray's muskie - the mount of it was destroyed in a fire in 1959.
The study, which compared Spray's known height and the fish's reported 631â2-inch length, concluded the fish weighed no more than about 55 pounds, suggesting Spray filled it with something, perhaps ice or sand, before it was weighed.
The WRMA, formed two years ago, contends that Spray - who was 84 and forced to use a wheelchair because of arthritis when he committed suicide in Arizona in 1984 - even convinced a taxidermist to make the fish longer to perpetuate the hoax.