How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Muskie Rampage

Here's an interesting article about the Muskie Rampage on Leech Lake in Minnesota in the 50's.
By Dan Craven

Many still remember the hot, calm week in July 1955 when Leech Lake gave up muskies like never before.

In 1955 one of the most famous photos in muskie fishing lore was taken: a stringer-shot of 20-some muskies caught in about a day and a half of fishing. A few midsummer days of 1955 became known as the Leech Lake Muskie Rampage, one of the most intriguing muskie "bites" of all time. The muskies on Leech Lake started giving themselves up like nobody had ever seen before.

The place was Federal Dam, a small town with a landing at the headwaters of Leech Lake River. The town was named for the dam that created the reservoir we now call Leech Lake.

Today Federal Dam has a population of about 100. It was a much busier town in the 1950s. Because anglers from all over the country used its landing, Federal Dam could support five launch businesses that owned a total of 15 boats.

The Neururer family owned and operated one of the launch businesses. The brothers did the guiding and launch operating; their wives handled most of the business in the office and at the cabins. "Tubby" (Sara) and Dana Neururer still live in Federal Dam today. Now in their 80s, the two women have clear memories of the rampage.

The year 1955 was a good one for the business. The walleyes had been biting consistently until a hot, calm spell set in. July 16, as walleye fishing slowed, guide Danny Chalich and Bob Neururer and his nephews Chucky and Peter set out for a morning's fishing.

Peter decided to troll a Red Eye Wiggler. He had only 40 feet of line on his reel, and he would need all of it.

The Chris-Craft made its way across Portage Bay and trolled the weedbeds out from Two Points. Before long, Peter was battling a 35-pound muskie. Danny and Bob used all of their skills to back the big boat toward the wild fish as the young boy held on. Amazingly, 10-year-old Peter won the battle. The fish was brought into the docks, and the "Muskie Rampage" was on.

Other muskies and heat-stressed tulibees had been seen surfacing, so a number of other launches went out to target the muskies. Witnesses recalled seeing muskies exploding on the baitfish. The second launch to arrive at Federal Dam had four muskies. So Peter's fish was more than a fluke.

For the next few days, the bite was on. Chucky landed a fish in the mid-20-pound range. Bob landed one about the same size as Peter?s fish.

The Neururer women started calling newspapers all over the Midwest. Lucky anglers called their friends. WCCO radio carried daily reports on how many muskies were brought in.

Launches out of Federal Dam were running morning and afternoon muskie trips and frequently evening ones too. All rowboats were rented, and parking lots were overflowing with cars.

Each launch could carry about eight clients. Only four could fish at one time, so they'd take turns, usually trolling the weedbeds on the west side of Portage Bay.

The best fishing was during the first three days, when anglers hauled in about 50 fish. But Danny recalls boating one or two muskies on every trip during about a 10-day stretch. He says just about everyone had success. Most fish were caught on Red Eye spoons, KB spoons, and Pikie Minnows.

Fifteen-year-old Jerry Bader was a dock boy at the time. He was so busy cleaning boats for his father's launch service that he had little chance to fish during the pandemonium. But one day he did make his way across Portage Bay in a boat with a 7.5-horsepower motor. When he got to Moscripp's old homestead, he started trolling and hooked a muskie on a brass and silver KB spoon. It weighed in at more than 42 pounds.

By July 23, most local folks say, more than 100 muskies had been caught in Portage Bay alone. But Tubby and Dana say the true number will never be known, because many people simply threw their fish into the back of their vehicles and went home. Most fish were probably 25 to 35 pounds. Many people recall Jerry Bader's fish being the largest, while others remember a 49-pound muskie being weighed in.

Danny said that around July 23 a massive storm blew in and put an end to the muskie fishing. The rampage was over.

Other Rampages.
Truth be known, the Leech Lake Muskie Rampage of 1955 has probably repeated itself a number of times.

As we check out statistics gathered by individuals and Muskies Inc., we find Leech Lake has had other extremely good years and periods. The lake can be the "dead sea" one week and offer tremendous catch-and-release fishing the next. Leech gives up fish in bunches. Guides and fishermen long gone such as Chan "Doc" Cotton and Dick "Perchy" Pence knew this. Guides and muskie anglers know this today.

Set the time machine. . . . Don Pursch recalls fishing a 10-day stretch in September 1986 when he boated multiple big fish every day. Leech was not fished very heavily in September in those days, and he was not saying much about the hot fishing. In November he happened to be eating breakfast with some other muskie addicts and learned that they had experienced similar results on the same dates on different parts of the lake.

Set the time machine. . . . Late July 1999 found guide Rusty Lilyquist's boat landing 14 fish between 47 and 53 inches long in five days. Four of those fish were over 50 inches! Others on the big lake were doing well at the same time.

July 16 -19, 2002, Leech Lake muskies were in a very cooperative mood again. In a wonderful half-day trip July 16, a client and I landed four muskies over 42 inches. The next morning we boated three fish in the mid-40-inch range, and on July 18, a muskie of 53.5 inches. I called Lilyquist to share my excitement (and brag a little). Rusty and a friend had been fishing that day. Together they had landed seven fish between 42 and 46 inches. He said Bob Landerville, a guide out of Huddle's Resort, had boated four. Al Maas, a very well-known guide and Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame angler, called me that evening and said that his boat had landed two muskies. He also informed me that guide Gary Trimble had boated a 48-inch fish. Whew!

From reports by these guides and anglers, it appeared that during four days, more than 30 legal muskies were boated by four or five boats in Walker Bay and the Pelican Island area. Had another "rampage" occurred?

What would the tally be if every muskie caught on Leech Lake during this period had been counted?

We muskie anglers tend to think and operate in the here and now. We are quite an egocentric bunch. Just because we figure out a successful pattern, we usually think nobody has been there before us. There is nothing further from the truth. Neururers were probably there. Perchy Pence, Doc Cotton, Homer LeBlanc, and Frenchy LeMay were there, as were others before them. Learn from the voices of the past and respect them. Appreciate what they have to say about the history of your region.

Leech Lake gives up muskies in bunches. Have there been other muskie rampages? You can decide for yourself. Oh, and by the way, you might want to think about being on Leech Lake in the middle of July. You never know what might happen.


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