Old muskie record catching attention

December 7, 2005


The assault on Louis Spray's world-record muskie is a matter of perspective.

I'm not sure the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wis., wanted to see or hear the one given by Doug Arnold. Using projective geometry, the director of the Institute for Mathematics and Its Applications at the University of Minnesota suggested Spray's muskie comes up short.

But other perspectives have come in supporting Spray since the World Record Muskie Alliance filed a protest Oct. 20.

The NFWFHF records committee meets Thursday for the second time since the WRMA filed its 93-page protest. The records committee is expected to make a preliminary report on the protest for the Dec. 15 board meeting.

Executive director Emmett Brown Jr. expects a decision on Spray's record by early next year.

"Only I don't want to be pinned down to early January,'' he said. "The approach I have taken with this, we have to be open to all [information]. There has been some additional information submitted.''

Brown had not seen Arnold's report. Scott Allen, a member of the NFWFHF's executive board of trustees, asked for Arnold's input on determining the size of Spray's muskie from photographs.

Arnold concluded it was "not possible to estimate the size of the fish from the photo.'' But he clarified that "the only conclusion that we can draw with certainty is that the fish is shorter than 63 inches, perhaps considerably so.''

That's precisely the crux of the case against Spray's muskie, recognized as 69 pounds, 11 ounces with a length of 63-1/2 inches. Fish records generally are kept by weight, but length helps verify the truth.

Spray caught his muskie from the Chippewa Flowage in northern Wisconsin on Oct. 20, 1949. It burned in a 1959 fire.

The WRMA, based in suburban Woodstock, built its case against Spray's record through photographic analysis 55 years later, then sent its protest to the NFWFHF.

To summarize 93 pages of lawyer-ese, the WRMA extrapolated the size of Spray's muskie from several photos. It counted the pixels of Spray (a known length), then compared that with the number of pixels of the muskie he was holding (an unproven length). The conclusion was Spray's muskie is far shorter than recognized, perhaps by as much as 10 inches.

The WRMA also concluded Spray used bogus reports of the size of his muskie for personal gain. That corollary argument is important because the WRMA backs its photographic analysis over collaborating witnesses from the time.

Arnold is a fly fisherman who was unaware of the controversy surrounding Spray's record before he took the problem as an unpaid challenge, both as a fishermen and a mathematician. His conclusions appear to back the WRMA's contention that Spray's record is "physically impossible.''

After Arnold drew his conclusions, he Googled the subject and found out about the controversy.

"I'm glad I am a cautious man,'' he said. "It seems it is quite a hornet's nest.''

For fishermen, projective geometry translates to "Hold the fish out and make it look bigger.'' For Arnold, it is "how an arrangement of objects will project onto the film in a camera, depending on the size and positions of the objects and the position of the camera.''

The myth grows.

"Bowman's Outdoor Line'' is heard on "Outdoors with Mike Norris'' (3-4 p.m. Thursdays on 1280-AM).

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