By PAUL LEVY
Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune
HAYWARD, Wis. -- This is the fish tale of a record that almost got away _ 56 years after the fact.
The 69-pound, 11-ounce, 631/2-inch muskellunge caught in 1949 by Louis Spray, a known Prohibition-era bootlegger, is probably the most scrutinized muskie ever caught, said Emmett Brown, executive director of the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward. And despite those who have cried foul, it's a catch that will continue to be recognized.
Spray was recognized as the Babe Ruth of muskie anglers. But other than photos and signed affidavits from people who claim they saw the fish, that's all that's left of Spray's prize catch.
Chin Whiskered Charlie, caught in the Chippewa Flowage in northern Wisconsin, was destroyed in a fire in 1959. Spray, too, is gone; he committed suicide at the age of 84 in 1984.
But the controversy lives on, and came to a head last October when a group known as the World Record Muskie Alliance presented a report to the Hall of Fame, alleging that the size of Spray's fish had been falsified and should be expunged from the record books.
The group said that Spray likely forced 25 pounds of ice inside the fish to balloon it to a record weight, knowing that the ice would have melted before a taxidermist was given the muskie to preserve.
Adding to the dispute were the published observations of a University of Minnesota mathematician, who concluded after looking at a photo of Spray and Charlie that the fish couldn't have been as tall as Spray claimed.
"I don't know how you dispute a record that has stood since 1949," Doug Arnold, director of the University of Minnesota's Institute for Mathematics and its Applications, said before members of the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame met Monday to draw their own conclusions.
Members of the Hall of Fame may not have agreed with Arnold's measurements, but they agreed with his logic. Of the 11 prospective voters, eight upheld Spray's record, two declined to vote, and one voter abstained.
"The all-tackle world record will not be overturned," Brown said. "In many ways, it's further validated."
Brown said it would have been impossible for Spray to stuff the fish with ice because, in 1949, there were no bags of ice cubes and it would take hours to chip 25 pounds off a block of ice and place the chunks inside a fish.
The challenger to the record is a 671/2-pounder, also caught in 1949, by the late Cal Johnson, a former Minneapolis sportswriter.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com.)