The World Record Muskie Alliance (WRMA) was formed in January of 2004, assembling a dedicated group of anglers who felt strongly that the controversy over the legitimacy of the current All Tackle World Record Muskellunge could be resolved by the use of modern technology and unbiased methods of authentication.
The WRMA authentication process relied heavily upon the work of independent experts who evaluated critical photographic and taxidermic evidence relevant to the 1949 FWFHF All Tackle World Record Muskellunge without bias or prejudice. All historical eyewitness testimony was carefully scrutinized to determine the accuracy of sworn statements.
Our pledge is to hold each of the two world and Canadian records to the same standard of measure by confirming the length, weight, and method of capture of these historic fish.
Our hope is that this effort will provide consensus in the various recognized muskellunge records and that the long-running record debate will finally be resolved once and for all.
Our thanks go out to Larry Ramsell for including a synopsis of the WRMA Spray Report in his latest edition of “A Compendium of Muskie Angling History”, released in the fall of 2007. Any readers who enjoy muskellunge history and/or further information regarding the world record controversy can contact, [email protected]
For a copy of the original WRMA 94 page Spray Summary Report submitted to the Hayward Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame please contact, [email protected] with your request. Thank you for your interest.
We humbly ask the Muskellunge Community to please accept the following as our findings regarding Mr. Spray’s muskies.
Photogrammetric Solution for Historic Muskie Lengths
DCM overlay above depicting fresh 1949 record muskellunge in red as compared to finished skin mount in blue.
Per the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, photogrammetry is the science of obtaining measurements from photographs. According to James R. Williamson, PhD, PE, it can also be thought of as, “the sciences of geometry, mathematics and physics that use the image of a 3D scene on a 2D piece of paper to reconstruct a reliable and accurate model of the original 3D scene” (Williamson, 2005).
In order to derive the actual dimensions of Mr. Spray’s 1940 and 1949 record fish, the WRMA contacted Dan Mills from DCM Technical Services, an independent photogrammetry firm located in Toronto, Canada. By using the common photographs of Mr. Spray and his historical records, Mr. Mills was able to arrive at accurate length and width measurements for 2 of Mr. Spray’s muskies.
Note: Mr. Spray’s 1939 Record was never a candidate for this procedure, as there is no extant photograph of Mr. Spray and said fish.
DCM Technical Services Inc. was asked to determine all possible measurements relating to the fish with the provided information. Of largest importance was the length of each fish and then the width at the largest belly point.
The final lengths for each of the Muskies were found to be:
1940 Muskie length – 54.8” +/- 3”
1940 Muskie width – 9” +/- 1”
1949 Muskie length – 53.6” +/- 1.5”
1949 Muskie width – 8.7” +/- 0.5”
Obviously both fish fall well short of the 59-¼” X 32 ½” and 63 ½” X 31 ¼” claimed by Mr. Spray. Though the length discrepancy is glaring, the claimed girth is equally overstated – and just as troubling.
The DCM photogramatic solution has been referenced to in countless newspapers, magazines, television, and now Mr. Ramsell’s latest compendium. As of this writing (now over two years after its release), the WRMA can still unequivocally state there has not been a technically sound review that is critical of the peer-reviewed DCM documents.
The WRMA will always be indebted to DCM and Mr. Dan Mills personally for his considerable contributions in this area of our Spray summary report, for the full DCM photogramatic solution you may contact [email protected] .
Imaging Forensics Peer Review
Per Wikipedia, a peer review (or “refereeing” in some academic fields) represents, “…a process of subjecting an author’s scholarly work or ideas to the scrutiny of others who are experts in the field. It is used primarily by editors to select and screen submitted manuscripts, and by funding agencies to decide the awarding of grants.
The peer review process aims to make authors meet the standards of their discipline and of science in general. Publications and awards that have not undergone peer review are likely to be regarded with suspicion by scholars and professionals in many fields.”
The following letter details the results of a formal peer review of DCM Technical Services’ work that was conducted by Imaging Forensics, an independent photogrammetric firm located in Fountain Valley, CA.
Peer Review of Photogrammetric Solution for Historic Skin Mount Muskie Lengths And Photogrammetric Solution for Historic Muskie Lengths By DCM Technical Services, Inc.
I have reviewed the two reports mentioned above for methodology, the inclusion of valid variables, and the margin of error.
In both reports, the methodology used was appropriate for the content of the photographs and the information available about the objects in the images.
In both reports, all relevant variables were considered in the analysis.
In both reports, a margin of error was provided that appears to be consistent with the available data and the methods employed in making the measurements.
In my review of these reports, I find that the methodology, inclusion of valid variables and stated margin of error were all appropriate for the images analyzed based on their content and the information known about the objects in the photographs.
Imaging Forensics, Inc. October 10, 2005”
*Editor’s note: the science of photogrammetry itself represents a peer-reviewed tool of measurement previously validated by countless scientific journals, when applied correctly as attested to with the above peer review – it is simply beyond reproach.
1940 & 1949 PHOTO COMPARISONS
The WRMA’s effort to hold all World Record Muskellunge to a consistent standard of the measure began with the following visualization experiment, which compared actual photographs of the 1940 and 1949 Spray Record Muskellunge to artificially constructed muskellunge silhouettes
Our visualization experiment began with an examination of photographic evidence relating to the 1940 Spray record, in order to provide a broader base of information and additional materials for the 1949 visualization experiment. It should be noted that the 1939 Spray Record was never a consideration for this procedure as there is no photographic record of Spray with said fish.
After the WRMA completed this work in the summer of 2004, we found ourselves in complete agreement that reasonable doubt now existed with regard to the Spray records. Further, it now appeared that our 1940 visualization experiment not only provided a broader base of information for us to work with but also supported the 1949 work by way of association.
In sum, we find the results of the WRMA experiment as yielding compelling evidence that the 1940 and 1949 Spray fish did not come remotely close to possessing the record-setting dimensions originally claimed.
(A) (B) (C)
In photos (A) and (C) stands the subject (President of the WRMA, Richard Delaney) who has been measured at more than 6’ without shoes. In photo (B) stands Mr. Spray who, according to a medical report in our possession that dates back to 1934, and 5’11” tall.
It is of course common practice for patients to remove their shoes for a standard medical examination. Nonetheless, it is not known conclusively whether or not Mr. Spray had his shoes on or off during the medical examination. Therefore, in order to extend the benefit of the doubt to Mr. Spray, we used a 6’ plus subject.
Members of the WRMA in conjunction with professional photographer Nancy Shepherd conducted this experiment in August 2004.
Silhouettes / Fish
Photo (A) is a cardboard mock-up of a muskie that measures 54 ½” long at its longest vertical point, and 10” across at its widest horizontal point.
Photo (B) is Mr. Spray holding the 1940 World Record claimed to be 59-¼” long with a 32 ½” girth.
Photo (C) is a wooden (pine) mock-up of a Muskie that measures 59 ¼” at its longest vertical point, and 11” across at its widest horizontal point.
Distance / Silhouettes
We asked the photographer to duplicate as best she could the camera height and distance in (B). (Please consider this work was completed before the DCM photo analysis).
The camera height used for (A) and (C) was 45” from the floor to the camera lens. The 45” measurement she selected is what one would expect from someone of average height using a viewfinder camera common in the 1940s.
Distance / Spray
We conducted a survey of some WRMA members regarding how far they would judge the distance between the backside of the fish in the photo (B) and Mr. Spray in this 1940 photo. This survey was conducted in early April 2004, via separate emails. Please consider that a large portion of these famous WRMA members’ livelihoods owes to their enviable demonstrated ability to catch, handle and photograph large muskellunge.
These individuals reached the same minimum of 8-9”, without suggestion or contact with each other on this subject. We elected to only use the lower committee minimum distance of 8” in order to give the Spray 1940 fish every benefit of the doubt.
We find it of consequence to note that this group of individuals separately scrutinizing the same picture was able to arrive at a range of numbers so closely matching one another.
Further, an unforeseen by-product of this survey is the fact that each of these experts – again separately – expressed their sincere doubt about the claimed size of his fish, without any prompting by the WRMA.
Girth / Silhouettes
We contacted James McGregor of Advanced Taxidermy in Toronto Canada in April of 2004 to calibrate the thickness (side to side) of some very large carefully measured muskellunge molds to determine the correct measurements for use with our silhouettes.
The two largest girth molds available to him at the time were 28 and 27”. The calibration of these molds yielded a thickness of 7 ½” and 7 5/8” respectively. Many lesser-girth fish were calibrated as well, and as one would expect, a decrease in girth led to a proportionate decrease in thickness.
Based on the Advanced Taxidermy work we elected to use the conservative fish thickness range of 7-8” only for the 1940 Spray fish, again giving this Spray record fish every benefit of the doubt.
For the photographic distortion perspective, it would normally be required to add the committee minimum distance between the fish and Mr. Spray’s body (8”) and the minimum fish thickness (7-8”) together for a (minimum) viewer distortion perspective of 15”-16”.
This distortion perspective would be the difference between Mr. Spray and the front of the fish as seen in this (B) photo. It is obvious that Mr. Delaney’s arm is tighter to his body than Mr. Spray – AND there is certainly less depth to our silhouettes!
Next, we formed a cloth tape measure into an oval 32 ½” muskellunge-shaped girth to arrive at a fair horizontal flat measurement for the silhouette. Obviously, as we moved the “thickness” in the 7-8” range, the horizontal measurement changed accordingly.
Using the 8” thickness measurement in the formed 32½” tape measure we arrived at a measurement of 11 ½”, a 7” thickness, of course, yielded even greater readings.
We elected to use a conservative 11” horizontal measurement for the widest point in the (C) 59 ¼” silhouette, and a 10” horizontal measurement in the (A) 54 ½” silhouette, to once again extend to Spray’s 1940 claim every benefit of the doubt.
Distance / Silhouettes
We then elected to hold both silhouettes 7” from the front of the subject to the front of the silhouette. This is 1” below the lowest estimation given by any committee member.
Please consider we actually held this fish 8-9” less than the already conservative 15-16” minimum viewer distortion perspective in order to remove any possible chance for ambiguity in our findings.
In reality, this would mean the subject in both (A) and (C), (had he been holding a real fish with a girth of “only” 27-28”), would have to have been holding this fish perfectly tight against his body.
Our desire here was not to disregard our committee’s recommendation, but rather to give the 1940 Spray record every benefit of the doubt – and then some.
Based on the silhouette work alone – even while employing the most conservative of measurements – it is obvious that this fish falls well short of the claimed 59 ¼” X 32 ½” (B). Though the length discrepancy is glaring, we would also like to point to the stated girth which is as much as 50% overstated.
Based on this research alone, this fish could not have possibly weighed anywhere near the claimed 61-13 without some type of artificial weight added (See section elsewhere on suspicious lumps viewable in photo (B).
In sum, we discovered that there was a clear physical impossibility for a 6’ subject (we actually used 2) to hold the 59 ¼” silhouette out in front of himself and not utterly dwarf the 1940 Spray record.
Of particular interest is the fact that by employing simple human reasoning ability alone it is clear to see that the fish fits within the calculated DCM range as described earlier in this report, thereby lending support to each conclusion.
(E) (F) (G)
The second part of our visualization experiment compared photographs of the current FWFHF All-Tackle World Record, claimed by Spray in 1949 to have measured 63 ½” in length and 31 ¼” in girth, weight 69lb, 11oz, with artificially constructed cardboard muskellunge silhouettes.
The members of the WRMA were not only amazed by the compelling results this commonsense experiment revealed, but also by the realization that over the course of more than 50 years of controversy surrounding this fish, no one had previously considered this simple undertaking.
In photos (E) and (G) stands WRMA President Rich Delaney, the same subject as (A) and (C) in the 1940 report. In photo (F) stands Spray, now 49 years old. It is likely Spray was a few pounds heavier, but certainly no taller than he would have been 15 years earlier during the 1934 medical exam.
Silhouettes / Fish
Photo (E) shows a cardboard mock-up of a muskellunge that measures 63 ½” long at its longest vertical point, and 11” across at its widest horizontal point.
Photo (F) shows Mr. Spray holding the current 1949 All-Tackle World Record Muskellunge claimed to have measured 63-½” long with a 31 ¼” girth.
Photo (G) shows the same cardboard muskellunge mock-up used during the 1940 experiment that measures 54 ½” at its longest vertical point, and 10” across at its widest horizontal point.
Distance / Spray vs. Silhouettes
We feel confident that a 7-8” fish thickness represents a very conservative estimate when attempting to replicate the dimensional thickness of a muskellunge specimen with a reported girth of 31 ¼”.
However, we still elected to hold both silhouettes to the smaller 7” minimum from the front of the silhouette to the front of the subject.
This experiment depicts the 1949 Spray record muskellunge well below the calibrated dimension of the 27” to 28” girth fish as if hanging from the oar on the same plane as Spray, positioned as if it were perfectly tight against the subject’s body in both (E) and (G).
A glance at the 1949 photos reveals Mr. Spray is standing behind and noticeably pushing out the fish while Mr. Delaney is holding a thin piece of cardboard.
Again, our intention was not to distort reality, but rather to extend every possible benefit of the doubt to the Spray 1949 All-Tackle World Record.
Distance / Silhouettes
We asked the photographer to duplicate as best she could the camera height and distance for these silhouettes; please remember once again this was before contacting DCM for formal photo analysis.
Without prompting, she advised us that she was having problems with a silhouette (E). When asked to expand, Shepherd said: “The cardboard fish (63 ½” silhouette) is too long…I can’t fit it into the picture.”
Shepherd then requested that we move silhouette (E) outside and raise the camera height to accomplish the task we asked of her (this request came after the 1940 photo shoot was already completed).
The camera height she elected to use for (E) was 51 ½” from the floor – not because this was her best estimate, but rather because she felt it necessary to allow the 63 1/3” silhouette (E) to fit into the frame.
The members of the WRMA elected to use the same camera height for (G) as well as (E) to maintain the same viewer perspective for both silhouettes.
We are confident that the 51 ½” measurement is somewhat higher than the camera angle used in (F). However, considering this could only help to increase the perceived viewer distortion perspective of this fish, we elected to maintain this measurement, to again grant the 1949 Spray record the benefit of the doubt during each step of the process.
Visualization Experiment Summary
The 1949 visualization experiment yielded results strikingly similar to those derived by the 1940 experiment. It is again plain to see that the fish in the photo (F) is both shorter and thinner than the claimed 63 ½” X 31 ¼”.
Viewed together, one cannot help but conclude that the results of the 1940 and 1949 visualization experiments clearly help us understand what a muskellunge the dimensions Spray claimed should really look like.
In the last analysis, although the muskellunge Mr. Spray is holding is surely a fine specimen, we sadly feel that this simple experiment shows it to have been no larger than any number of other large muskellunge captured from this same time period and geographic area.
Condensed Taxidermist Findings
The following represents selected excerpts from an analysis of the Spray mounts provided by a professional taxidermist, Doug Petrousek. It is important to note that in addition to being an expert with impeccable credentials, Mr. Petrousek has also worked on and remounted many mounts from the 1940s, including some originally created by Karl Kahmann, taxidermist of Spray’s first two records.
1939 fish: “In comparing the mount photo of Spray’s 59 1/2 lb. record to the photo of the fresh fish, there are some anatomical differences that are difficult to justify.”
“It is obvious that the overall appearance of the mount bears little resemblance to the fish”
1940 fish: “The mount of this fish is obviously missing key anatomical dimensions, measurements, which an accomplished taxidermist would certainly pay attention to in the mounting process. Especially in the case of a world record. “
“I think it safe to say that this mount by Kahmann exhibits these unusual dimensions because that was Karl’s intent.”
1949 fish: “The thin girth and the rearward position of the fins are consistent with an attempt to stretch the skin onto a form making the mount measure longer than the fish actually was. In an attempt to stretch the skin, it may be necessary to reduce the girth, much the same as stretching a rubber band. Overall the mount done by Lackey appears to be of high quality as judged by the standards of the day. I believe, however, that the mount of the fish held by Spray, as done by Lackey, is not an accurate representation.”
“I find it difficult to justify the difference between the appearance of the mount and the fish held by Spray”
“The size of the mount, length, and girth, could and should be accurate to the dimensions of the fish when it was measured for record book consideration”.
“Any excessive deviations from those dimensions would only occur because the taxidermist intended for those dimensions to vary from the original.”
“Shrinkage (measurable) of a mount such as done by Kahmann after over decades would be, in my opinion, zero.”
“Common practice in the 1940s was to keep all fins attached to the skin and mount in this configuration. Original fins remaining on the original skin were then repaired [if needed] and reinforced in the mounting procedure. “
Note: The WRMA will always be grateful to Mr. Petrousek for all of his professional advice and many contributions to the Spray Summary report.
An Investigative Profile of Louie Spray, 1938-1939
Toward establishing motive, intent, and behavioral patterns, leading up to and including 1949 All Tackle World Record
The following represents an abridged summary of Louie Spray’s reported muskellunge catches during the years 1938-1939. Though largely circumstantial, we feel strongly that this analysis, when viewed within the context of the evidence already presented, sheds valuable insight into Spray’s record claims.
After boating, “…not a single Muskie from 1935 through the middle of 1938” (Dettloff, John, Three Record Muskies in His Day, pp. 150), Spray suddenly laid claim to an unprecedented run of huge muskies, culminating with his first world record claim of 59lb, 8oz on July 27, 1939.
Interestingly, Spray claimed to have caught the 1939 record (Duluth Herald, 8-3-39) the very same week of his prize-winning 46lb 3oz Fitger Brewing Contest fish. Thereafter, the only remaining documented Spray contest claims targeted world records in 40 and 49.
On the surface, this feat would appear to represent a near-miraculous turn of fortune for an angler who had endured a three-year stretch without so much as a single muskie to his credit.
8-12-1938: Fitger Brewing Contest; 38 lb, 4oz; Widmer Smith recorded as fishing partner and witness to the catch (Fitger Brewing Company letter to L. Spray, August 12, 1938).
It is important to note that in this same year Widmer Smith, with a 48lb entry, took 1st place in the vaunted Field & Stream annual fishing contest.
Years later Smith not only, “…admitted to a friend…that he had shot that fish from a bridge after he had seen it in the shallows, but there is strong evidence that Widmer padded its weight as well,” (Sawyer County Gazette, August 11, 1938; Sawyer County Gazette, July 27, 1939).
In other words, Spray’s close friend and principal witness to this first contest entry was a man who, by his own admission, sought personal gain by defrauding the largest established fishing contest in the United States.
It is of further significance to note that Smith, was said to be in the company of Spray at the time of his “catch,” and undoubtedly claimed Spray as a witness to his 48lb, 7oz contest entry.
These same two men – Louie Spray and Widmer Smith – would soon appear as signatories to Spray’s 1939 world record claim, which followed Smith’s Field & Stream contest entry by less than a year.
9-16-1938: Fitger Brewing Contest; 42 pounds 6 ounces. This contest entry could very well represent the beginning of Spray’s legacy of photographic “mix-ups”. Spray himself identified and hand-labeled an alleged photograph of his 1940 record fish as one instead depicting a “42 pounder” (Latvaitis, Brad, Musky Hunter June/July 1998,”How Big Was That Musky,” pp. 58; Fitger Brewing Company letter to L. Spray, Sept. 16, 1938).
It is unknown if the photograph of the 1940 fish was used to substantiate the 42lb, 6oz 9- 16-1938 Fitger Brewing Claim, or if Spray merely meant to hand-label the alleged photograph of his 1940 record as one depicting a muskellunge weighing 42lbs.
To grasp the true import of this Spray photographic “mix-up” one must first acknowledge the relatively small total number of muskellunge of this size claimed by Spray. Of these, the WRMA has only been able to locate five photographed fish claimed by Spray to have weighed more than forty pounds: 41-8; 46-3; 59-8 (1939 WR); 61-13 (1940 WR); 69-11(1949 WR).
In other words, Spray did not make this error from among hundreds of muskellunge photos; it is hard to imagine that Spray – a relentless self-promoter – would not have taken the time to photograph other large muskellunge specimens had they existed.
Further, there is only one picture of the 1939 record being held by another man and only one photo (claimed at the time) of the 1940 record (two surfaced later, one of which Spray himself had claimed was 42 lbs), and only two photos of the 1949 record.
6-?-1939: Photo pp. 153, Dettloff, John, Three Record Muskies in His Day, top left of page. The caption for the photo in question reads: “Louie Holding a muskie that he caught out of Blaisdell Lake in 1939, which reportedly tipped the scales at 41 ½ pounds.” However, this photograph also appears in Spray’s My Muskie Days (pp.7) with the caption, “Lou Spray with a 24 pounder, 1924”.
It is clear to the naked eye alone that this fish comes nowhere close to weighing 41 ½ pounds. The fact that Spray himself labeled it as 24 lbs speaks volumes regarding the actual size of the fish when compared to photos of Spray with his claimed 1940 record.
It is important to note that this patently false claim of 41½ lb was only a few weeks before Spray’s 1939 world record entry. How this fish managed to nearly double in weight certainly could lead one to a harder question.
7-2?-1939: Fitger Brewing Contest; photo pp 153, Three Record Muskies in His Day. Spray claimed this specimen to have weighed 46 lb, 3oz, and measured 52” in length. It is clear from even a cursory review of the photograph (in addition to what is known about the relationship between the length and weight) that it is beyond belief that a specimen of this length with average girth weighed 46 pounds.
Amazingly, Spray claimed to have caught this prize-winning contest fish (reported in the Duluth Herald, 8-3-39) the same week as his 7-27-39 world record.
7-27-1939: Fitger Brewing Contest and WR documentation; 59 lb, 9 oz. Spray claimed to have lost his camera, which is why he had only one picture of another man holding his first world record muskellunge.
First, given the fact that the fish was displayed in his bar for several days before Karl Kahman picked it up to be mounted (Three Record Muskies in His Day, pp. 159), we find no plausibility whatsoever to Spray’s “lost camera” story. Common sense dictates that a reasonable person would not, upon discovery of the missing camera, immediately secure plenty of duplicate photographs.
Next, when considering the likelihood that Kahmann not only mounted but also substantially augmented Spray’s 1939 fish during the mounting process, in addition to the highly suspicious weights of the two earlier contest-winning fish, Spray’s close association with Widmer Smith, a man who himself admitted to cheating in the 1938 Field & Stream Contest by shooting the prize-winning fish from a bridge – Spray’s 1939 world record’s credibility completely unravels.
Not incidentally, Smith’s revelation about his “angling method” of choice may help explain yet another mix-up with regard to Spray’s 1939 record.
As the story is told, Spray had two different handguns with him in the boat at the time of the capture of the 59lb, 8oz 1939 World Record, an automatic 45-Colt, and a 22-caliber, high-standard pistol.
According to Spray, while doing battle with the fish he mistakenly picked up the 45 instead of the 22, and shot the muskie after only a 10-minute fight (Three Muskies in His Day, pp. 155).
When one considers that close friend, regular fishing partner, and trusted witness Smith likely shot his 1938 Field & Stream entry from a bridge with the help of a high-powered rifle, it is reasonable to conclude that Spray, needing to explain away an unusually large hole in the 1939 record, concocted this strange tale to silence nonbelievers.
Spray would learn from his early mistakes (“guessing contest” as a remedy for highly suspicious 1939 affidavits, improved taxidermist augmentation as a remedy for the bizarre appearance of 1939 mount, etc.) to make two more additional record claims.
Additional Suspect Claims & Photographic Mix Ups
8-24-39: A letter to Spray from the Fitger Brewing Company on this date makes mention of a 52lb muskie, apparently referencing a fish mentioned in a previous letter sent to Fitger by Spray.
It is safe to assume that a catch of this magnitude (near WR) would have been front-page news of the local papers of Spray’s day. Interestingly, we were unable to find a single
written word elsewhere about this supposed 52lb specimen in the historical record that Spray had referenced in this letter to Fitger.
7-27-39: In a Sawyer County Gazette article bearing this date, Spray describes his recent capture of a 48lb, 8oz muskie, which would likely put this reported catch as occurring sometime during the week immediately preceding his 7-27-39 world record claim.
At first, one might conclude this fish could be yet another “mix-up” involving the same 46lb, 3oz specimen used in the Fitger contest mentioned above. However, this Spray “catch” is even more intriguing due to the fact that this same article tells how he topped “good friend” Widmer Smith’s 1938 muskie by one ounce.
Smith’s contest entry was claimed to have weighed 48lb, 7oz. In other words, the 1 oz difference in reference to the Smith fish simply cannot be a misprint or typographical error. Please consider the article date: July 27, 1939. Spray was clearly referencing three fish of tremendous proportions – all allegedly caught within a week.
We at the WRMA have yet to resolve these particular inconsistencies in the historical record to our own satisfaction. To review: Spray’s claims are now 59, 52, 48, 46, 42, 41, and 38-pound muskellunge, all in less than one year’s time directly after enduring a three-year run without a single muskie to his credit.
This tally represents a truly incredible collection of extraordinary muskellunge claimed by Spray, all coming within a very narrow window of time. We now know that trophy muskellunge of this site are not, and have never been, commonplace catches, in any era or geographic region. A true forty-pound catch was a rare and wonderful occurrence in the Hayward of Spray’s day – just as it is today.
Loading Fish a Common Practice
In a 1998 article referencing the then-recent Chippewa Flowage Musky Study penned by Mr. John Dettloff entitled, “Putting Myths in Their Place,” Dettloff states the following:
“By around 1938, trophy Musky began to show up with more regularity. From then on, specimens 40# and over were known to be caught on occasion. To date, since the flowage was first created 75 years ago, some 60 Musky over 40# have been caught-at least 8 of which were in the 45-pound class or better.
While this number still represents a rather impressive tally, it is important to note that originally more big fish were believed to have been caught out of the flowage…but, as it turns out, a number of them now prove to have been exaggerated.
Besides the current world record Musky which was taken out of the flowage in 1949, there has been only two other 50-pound plus Musky documented to have come out of the Chippewa Flowage. Note: a 51-pounder did come from Chief Lake in 1946 before the flowage was formed.
There were tales of a couple of other 50-pounders that were taken from the flowage, but now there are strong indications that they too were exaggerated in size.
A substantial effort to overstate the sizes of a number of the flowage’s big Musky catches for publicity purposes during the ‘40s and ‘50s has seriously distorted the perceptions of many who are now trying to assess the fishery and look back to compare today’s realities to yesterday’s exaggerations.
Keep in mind that today the flowage is still producing decent numbers of mid-30 pound fish, but a number of these very same fish would have been counted as being over 40 pounds years ago because of the tendency to exaggerate.” (John Dettloff 1998)
*Note: Even the Chief Lake 51-pounder Mr. Dettloff refers to as “documented” can also be said to fall under suspicion as its reported dimensions of 55” X 24” fall incredibly short of producing a 51 lb fish.
Strangely, Mr. Dettloff’s poignant observations referencing so many of the supposedly large fish from this era somehow did not move this historian to apply this same standard of scrutiny to the Spray fish which, after all, also came from this same time period and geographical region.
However, we at the WRMA would like to point to this era of embellishment for the Chippewa Flowage as yet additional strong circumstantial evidence one must unavoidably consider when evaluating Spray’s record claims.
Nonetheless – as has been said at various points elsewhere in this report – we at the WRMA are confident that this fact does not work to discredit the good names of the vast majority of the people of this time period or those who witnessed Spray’s record fish.
Take for example the statement made by Rose Martin who, according to both her own statements, only weighed Spray’s world record, and did not witness the measuring.
Given (1) the DCM photo analysis, (2) the conclusive findings of the WRMA Visualization Experiment, (3) taxidermist and mount augmentation analysis and (4) highly suspicious circumstances surrounding this 1939 and other Spray catches, we are confident that a young and perfectly innocent Rose Martin was asked without consent or prior knowledge to weigh what was in fact a heavily loaded fish.
Please note: The bumps in the following picture of Spray’s 1940 world record are consistent with what one would expect to see from a loaded fish.
Still More Spray Photo Mix Ups
Taken at face value and viewed separately, perhaps the following Spray photo “mix-ups” could be explained away individually. However, when considering all of the previously referenced Spray photo “mix-ups” together and the following additional “mix-ups,” a contrary truth becomes readily apparent.
1. The 1940 fish may be found listed as the 1949 record and the 1949 fish listed as the 1940 record on Spray’s personal stationary. When questioned by Larry Ramsell, Spray explained this apparent “mix-up” as representing a simple printer’s mistake.
2. The identical 1940 and 1949 reversal is also found on Spray’s postcards. When questioned about this related “mix up,” Spray again ascribed it to a second “printer’s mistake.”
3. This begs the question: if these photo “mix-ups” involving all-important world record fish were caused by the printer, why not return them to the responsible party and have the necessary corrections made?
When pressed on this point by Mr. Ramsell, Spray explained that since the postcards were already printed, rather than have the printer fix his mistake(s), he decided instead to just go ahead and use/sell them “as is,” with his record muskies listed incorrectly.
4. We found this identical reversal while examining Spray’s My Muskie Days (Spray, Louie, pp. 6). It is important to note that in direct contrast with Three Muskies in His Day and other secondhand accounts of the “era of embellishment” on the Chippewa Flowage previously described, My Muskie Days represents a primary source of historical evidence.
This time the reversal in question was contained in a photo collage of Spray’s record muskies prepared by Spray himself. Of particular interest: each picture is separately hand-labeled, thus removing any possibility of a “printer’s mistake” being responsible for this strange “mix up.”
It would appear a reasonable explanation for the above would be that at some point after 1949, Spray decided that the 1940 low-angle fish photo looked larger than the 1949 fish photo and started interchanging them – just as he had previously done with other muskie pictures in his past.
In the collage, the 1940 and 1949 reversal is hand labeled (no doubt by Spray himself). As noted above, this incorrect labeling is recorded in his own book, and on the collage. This simply cannot be explained away one more time as any type of printer mistake, as in the case of the Spray stationary and postcards.
Taken together, this series of photographic “mix-ups” can only be considered a deliberate act on the part of Spray.
It is just not plausible that this exact “mix-up” would occur in three separate places, one of which being an autobiographical account involving a hand-labeled photo collage, without the author’s knowledge and intent.
When one considers that Spray labeled yet another photo (see above) of his 1940 world record as a 42-pounder, a regrettable irony becomes clear: after years of carefully interchanging these photos, this historical record nonetheless conveys the true dimensions of Spray’s muskies – written by his own hand.
In the last analysis, it would appear that Karl Kahmann’s letter to the American Museum of Natural History has proven prophetic. The author, wishing to put the institution “on guard” from possible “Fisherman’s liberty,” advises, “I cannot see how you can do more than to rely upon affidavits and scaler’s record stubs, but these do not show whether the specimen was “’filled before weighing’.”
Kahmann’s lament reflects the reality of the times in which he lived. In his day, record-keeping organizations had little choice but to rely heavily upon eyewitness testimony when evaluating record claims.
The Spray, Lawton, and Hartman fish were all “properly witnessed,” and yet it is clear that the use of the signed affidavit as a tool for record verification hardly proved able in these cases to protect record-keeping agencies.
Fortunately, today we have at our disposal scientific methods of verification that do not put record-keeping organizations in the awkward – and often unreliable – position of having to “take someone’s word for it” when deciding whether or not to certify a record.
By Way of Analogy
Today, in a court of law, should confident eyewitness testimony contradicts indisputable scientific evidence, the former is disregarded in favor of the latter.
For example, regardless of how many eyewitnesses place an individual at the scene of a crime, should another man’s DNA instead be found present he will be exonerated of all charges.
Like DNA evidence, photogrammetric solutions of the kind provided by DCM Technical Services are also admissible in a court of law. Further, it is clear that much of the key eyewitness testimony pertaining to the 1949 Spray record…
- Asserts the physically impossible: “That he would estimate that it took Mr. Spray approximately 50 minutes to land the fish…and the fish was finally landed at about 4:00 p.m.” (George Quentmeyer); “At about 3:30 p.m., I knew Ted was freezing because he was not dressed for the cold, so I suggested we go in and have some hot drinks and get warm at a nearby resort…the battle had lasted about forty minutes and we finally landed the fish at around 4:00 p.m.” (L. Spray).
- Displays strong witness bias: Inez Spray notary to Spray affidavits. Nixon Barnes, known friend of Spray, witness to all three Spray records.
- Displays substantial influencing of witnesses: common themes and obvious formatting of Spray affidavits.
This abridged review of problems pertaining to the Spray affidavits leaves us with a more appropriate analogy – the case of a modern court of law being confronted with shaky, biased, and often internally contradictory eye-witness testimony coming into conflict with indisputable scientific evidence.
It has been shown conclusively that (1) the muskellunge Spray entered for record consideration in 1949 as being 63.5” in length and 31.25” in girth was in fact 53.6”+- 1.5”, with a width of 8.7”, +- .5” and (2) that the 1949 Spray mount had been augmented (lower jaw measurement) an incredible 14.47% in length, and 8.51% in depth.
With regard to the muskellunge Spray entered for record consideration in 1940 as being 59.25” in length and 32.5” in girth, it has been shown conclusively that (3) this specimen was in fact 54.84” +- 3”, with a width of 9” +-1” and (4) that the 1940 Spray mount had been augmented (lower jaw measurement) 8.17% in length, and a whopping 21.29% in girth.
We find no ambiguity here; when viewed in light of the above, the Spray affidavits testify to an altogether different reality, serving as indirect proof for the fact the mounts of both record fish were augmented by Spray and his associates.
That indeed if “Chin Whiskered Charlie” had ever pushed the scales to 69lbs 11oz, it could not have been without the aid of the kind of “fisherman’s liberties” alluded to by the taxidermist of Spray’s first two records, Karl Kahmann himself.
In sum, we feel strongly that the vast majority of people who signed off on the Spray records were deliberately misled by Mr. Spray and his associates. Much like the Lawton and Hartman records, these good people likely witnessed the claimed weight at the scaling. However, in each instance artificial weight was added before weighing, and outside the presence of most of the witnesses.
It is hard to believe that it has been over 15 years as of this writing since Art Lawton’s 69lb 15oz former All Tackle World Record was disqualified. It is the same standard for independent and unbiased muskellunge research that the WRMA has striven to follow.
From expert peer-reviewed calculations, it is evident that Spray’s 1949 FHFHF All Tackle Record Muskellunge, initially claimed to measure 63.5” in length by 31.25” in girth, in fact, measured 53.6” +/- 1.5” in length and 8.7” +/- 0.5” in width, and therefore lacked the dimensions necessary to weigh 69lbs, 11oz.
Further, it is conclusive that the skin mount of Spray’s 1949 FHFFH All Tackle Record Muskellunge was augmented by an average of 14.47% in length, and 8.51% in belly width. It is our considered opinion that should one for whatever reason choose to ignore the results of the 1949 fresh fish photo analysis, it is nonetheless necessary to conclude, as have we, that mount augmentation of this magnitude could only have been performed to help perpetuate a fraud of historic proportions on the part of Spray.
Lastly, the various affidavits and other paper documentation long said to support 1949 All Tackle Record Muskellunge lacks the necessary credibility in authenticating Spray’s 1949 record claim.
Moving forward, it is clear that for record keepers, the scientific analysis must trump eyewitness testimony whenever the two stand in conflict. This is not to say that eyewitness testimony lacks value.
However, just as in courtrooms of today, it is necessary to recognize that eyewitness testimony has fallen to a position of secondary importance relative to hard scientific evidence.
We at the WRMA believe that the burden of establishing adequate proof that any angling record should be retired or disqualified falls squarely on the shoulders of the protest, the WRMA has certainly met this burden and proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that all of Mr. Spray’s record fish fail to meet an established process of authentication.
We know that adding Mr. Spray’s patently false muskellunge records to the already long list of “Muskie Crimes of the Century” represents yet another historic disillusionment for the entire muskellunge community. Nonetheless, it is our hope that the authentication process presented has added to the overall credibility of our beloved sport, and in this spirit humbly submit this research to the public.
Richard Delaney, President Jerry Newman, Trustee