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CAL JOHNSON’S OWN STORY - New World’s Record MUSKY!

Here, in his own words, Cal tells you how he hooked,
fought and landed the largest muskellunge
ever taken with rod and reel
By CAL JOHNSON - 1949


It had stormed throughout the night and prospects looked bleak when my son Phil and I clambered out of bed at three-thirty in the morning of July 24. Rain still pounded on the roof of our cottage at Moccasin Lodge on the shore of magnificent Lac Court O’Reilles, located about ten miles southeast of Hayward, Wisconsin.

Shortly after four o’clock we gathered our tackle, put on raincoats and headed for the dock. It was still raining, but the thunder by now had become only a low rumble in the distance. The wind was blowing from a southerly direction and the surface of the waters was dark and ruffled. To me, it looked like the ideal day for the big Musky to move around. Phil and I got into our boat and started trolling about fifty feet out from shore over a bottom of gravel, sand and rock.

It was not the first time we had fished Moccasin Bar. Six weeks earlier we had spotted two unusually large Musky there. We were not the only ones who knew of their existence. In fact, among the hundreds of letters I have received since landing this new world record fish was one from Harry T. Miszewski of Milwaukee who wrote:

“In 1946 I hooked into one of the two big Musky around Moccasin Bar. I lost it after a five-minute battle. Saw his back when he turned and rolled away from the bait and his back alone was four feet long. My brother-in-law had one of them on the week of July 4th this year on Moccasin Bar and after only a minute it snapped a brand new line. Also, a Mrs. Tracy from Georgia lost a big musky there in 1946...”

The rain changed to a drizzle by the time we reached the extreme east corner of Moccasin Bar. Phil rowed the boat fairly close to the rushes and weeds as we worked along at medium speed. The lure, a chub-finished Pike-Oreno, wobbled and shimmied about six to eight feet down, over a bottom of anywhere from ten to fifteen feet deep. The waters were still ruf­fled and the wind was just right. I was using a light South Bender rod, four feet and eleven inches long. My reel was a South Bend Perfectoreno, the line a Gladding Invincible 30-pound test. To this I had attached an eight-inch wire leader with Cooper snap and swivel. It’s a good outfit for musky fishing.

By the time the boat had traveled a hundred feet from the edge of the bar, I felt a terrific strike. It seemed for a moment as though I had snagged a sturgeon in the nose, for the fish did not move at first. Then I could tell that tell-tale back and forth movement of the fish’s body, and I realized I had hooked into one of the big Mudky we had been fishing for during the past six weeks.

“Son, I’m into one this time!” I yelled to Phil. “Now do just as I tell you and we’ll try to land him somehow.”

Without any instructions, Phil, who is an experienced muskellunge fisherman himself and a licensed guide, rowed slowly into deeper water. It was necessary for me to let out line as the fish refused to follow. Finally the big ‘lunge began to move forward slowly and I could feel his great strength and weight. I realized then that I would have to let this huge fish fight me, rather than attempt to lead him around. So Phil and I decided to “sit it out” for as long as the fish wished to take charge.

In handling any unusually large Musky it is wise to let the fish lead the battle. Trying to “horse” him is impossible without breaking the line or rod. But the fish will tire eventually after fighting the resistance of a taut line and a heavy boat. Big fish are not spectacular. They do not leap and swirl like the smaller Musky. My record fish reminded me more of fishing for tuna. Actually, the fight was mostly a grim tug-o-war with a giant that refused to show himself.

After permitting the ‘lunge to battle me for a full half hour I decided to try my luck at turning the tide. To determine whether he was ready to take orders, I tried pumping him. To my surprise the fish turned, but still stayed deep. I had to get him off the bottom somehow, so I continued pumping to make him either lead toward the boat or at least come to the surface where we could see him.

A few minutes more of this type of handling brought the fish close to the surface. He finally rolled, his belly shining white, within inches of the surface. When we actually saw his size we became a bit jittery and plenty excited. And who wouldn’t?

“Pop,” said Phil, in a voice that trembled, “we never can bring him over the side. What’ll we do?”

“We’ll have to beach him,” I replied. “Work your way toward shore, but take it easy. I want this fish and I’m willing to fight him all day if necessary.”

The fish rolled and wallowed near the surface, but I had to hold my rod well up to keep him there. He seemed to want to dive deep again, but his fighting powers were waning and I had full control. Would the knot where the line met the leader hold—would the plug pull from his mouth—would my rod snap? The next ten minutes gave my heart the greatest strain it will ever endure.

When we had worked the fish within ten or fifteen feet of the beach I directed Phil to leap from the boat and gaff the fish, then haul him to shore, and I didn’t care how far up the beach he pulled him, either.

Phil did a swell job. He made his way slowly and carefully toward the big wallowing musky, gaff in hand ready for the final operation. He looked funny in the waters up to his waist, raincoat still on and bulging around him as the air entered underneath. His hat was a mess on his head—wet and out of shape, but still glistening with bass bugs, spinners and flies. I was getting more excited as I realized how many big fish have been lost at this point of the battle.

It’s difficult for me to recall exactly what happened next, but there stood Phil on the shore beside the fish, its glistening body looking like something that weighed all of one hundred pounds. I wilted in the boat, and I know that my son, who is 23 years old, was a nervous wreck, for he was pale and trembling.

We loaded the fish into the boat, cranked the little two-and-one-half horse­power outboard, and sped around Moccasin Bar back toward the Lodge. When we got there and landed our fish, bedlam broke loose. The owners and guests of the lodge came running in their pajamas, like volunteer fire­men in a small town.

The fish was immediately taken to the Moccasin Lodge garage where it was placed upon their “store size” scales. Seventy-five pounds, said the scales—but Mike Solo called, “Don’t get too excited, Johnson. That includes these boards and gunny sack.” I held my breath until the excess luggage was taken off the scale and weighed separately. The final result showed that the fish weighed 67’/2 pounds—a new world’s record for this species taken on rod and line.

From there we took the fish to Karl Kahmann’s taxidermy shop where Karl weighed it again and measured it. He used a steel tape to measure it—and that kind doesn’t stretch or shrink. The scales are to be tested by the state inspector to verify everything so that the fish can be presented for recognition as a new world’s record by the American Museum of Natural History.

The correct weight and measurements of the new record muskellunge are 67½  pounds; length, 60¼ inches; girth, 33½ inches. Its stomach was empty. Its body did not have a blemish. It is planned to display this great fish at many sportsmen’s shows during 1950, but its permanent home will be Hayward, Wisconsin, near the waters where it grew to such prodigious size.


Editor's Note:

The account of the catching of Cal Johnson’s 67½ pound world record Musky is reprinted from the October 1949 issue of Outdoors magazine that was recently discovered by Bernard Tworek, owner of the Moccasin Bar in Hayward, Wisconsin, the famous Northwood tavern where Johnson’s mounted world record musky has been on public display for more than fifty years.

The article was written by Cal Johnson himself right after he had caught his fish and this story gives an exciting, blow by blow account of the catching of his World Record.

This story by Cal is the compliment to the account of the catch by Cal’s son Phil which is also available on Musky America.

There have been efforts to besmirch Cal's accomplishment but these efforts have relied upon faulty logic and misapplied technological assessment. There is no doubt that there will be renewed attempts to discredit this catch so that the detractors can find a "back door" way into the record books in pursuit of a "Pay Day Fish" or personal recognition.