In the early ’90s, some new and valuable information was collected invalidating not only this record but also all of the Lawton records, including Ruth Lawton’s 68lb 5 oz fish from 1961, in addition to the Hartman, Hanser, and Haver records.
This evidence included a recant of one of the witnesses who had signed the weigh-in on Art’s 69-15 World Record, in conjunction with a “smoking gun” photograph showing it was most likely a 49lb fish.
It is important to note that the various existing record-keeping agencies themselves did not initiate this action, nor did they have any direct involvement in the investigation.
Likewise, it is equally important to note that Ruth Lawton’s 68lb 5oz IGFA world record was subsequently rejected by means of photo analysis alone, although her association with her husband Art was certainly damaging to her credibility.
After the Lawton record claims were shown to be false, the IGFA and FWFHF both chose to retire the Lawton all-tackle world record, but each selected a different fish to replace it as their new world record.
The NFWFHF elected Lou Spray’s 69-11, while the IGFA initially elected Ken O’Brien’s 65lb fish.
Spray’s record was never a consideration at the IGFA due to technical considerations: per IGFA standards, he had exceeded the number of allowable hooks and shot the fish in order to land it. On a recommendation, the IGFA subsequently changed their record to Cal Johnson’s 67-8.
And here is where the bitterness begins.
After research was completed, an apparent conflict of interest came to the fore. The two top recognized fish – Louis Spray’s 69-11 NFWFHF record and Cal Johnson’s 67-8 IGFA record – both hail from Hayward, Wisconsin.
Due to the close association, the Lawton researcher has with Hayward, WI. area, a great portion of the muskie hunting community stands divided over the validity of the present records.
Right or wrong, for many this, was enough to create a perception that these fish did not receive the same scrutiny as the Lawton, Hartman, Hanser, and Haver records.
Before going any further, we at the WMA would like to state unequivocally that we have no interest in accusing anyone of any wrongdoing. Nor are we interested in detracting in any way from the rich and storied history of the great town of Hayward, Wisconsin.
On the contrary, we envision that the creation of a non-partisan group working to objectively authenticate these records and future records for the betterment of our sport will do much to heal the bitterness over an issue that has far too long divided us.
The WMA has selected the three top remaining fish to authenticate in the same manner or better as was applied to the now disqualified records.
The WMA is only looking at those fish due to their prominence as world records. Just so, everyone is crystal clear on this subject- it has nothing to do with Mr. Spray, Mr. Johnson, or Mr. O’Brien… it’s only to help authenticate the brass rings of our sport.