Photos and Text
By CARL GREEN
If you drive up to Wisconsin and keep going north about as far as you can go, you will find an actual theme park dedicated to one of the world’s greatest activities – fishing in lakes and streams.
No, the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame doesn’t have roller coasters or song-and-dance shows, but it has astonishing vintage gear displays, fanciful fish statuary and a heartfelt tribute to some of the finest anglers this nation has produced.
The Hall of Fame is located, appropriately enough, in Hayward, a small city in northwestern Wisconsin that serves as the gateway to an outdoor range with all manner of fishing opportunities – plus hiking, camping, hunting and winter sports, too. Hayward is where you get a room and breakfast and then replenish the tackle box before heading out.
The park highlight is a leaping muskie made of concrete, steel and fiberglass, 41/2 stories tall and half a city block long, visible from throughout the grounds. Visitors can enter the muskie and climb a long set of stairs to its gaping mouth, from where they can see the entire park, much of the city and the lake that runs through it, Lake Hayward. The open mouth alone holds about 20 people, and the interior is full of photos and displays.
GOT IT ALL
This “Big Muskie” looms over the actual museum complex, which holds more than 50,000 artifacts including collections of lures, rods, reels and motors and a nice selection of boats – not to mention more than 300 mounted fish, many of impressive size.
Big Muskie is surrounded on the garden-like grounds by other large fish depictions, mostly made of fiberglass and mostly a bit cartoonish, to help entertain the kids. Kids have another treat in store – they can fish in an 88,000-gallon pond right in front of the Big Muskie.
One of the most impressive collections has 1,000 vintage outboard motors surrounding a “Motor Graveyard” sign. Most look like they were pulled from the back of a boat in 1957 or 1965 and placed directly into the museum – well-used, well-loved and, now, well-preserved.
In the center is the actual hall that gives the museum its name, with photos and biographies of legendary anglers from all over, including some from the St. Louis region.
Visitors who have known great fishermen will want to leave plenty of time to linger in the Hall, alone perhaps, to get a good look at those who were honored and to see if they know any of them.
At least leave some time to check out the rods and reels and other collections. Maybe the kids can go for a hike or go swimming.
SUCH A DEAL!
Winter gets long in Hayward, so the Hall of Fame season runs only from April 15 through the end of October. During that time, it’s open seven days a week, including holidays. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in April, May, September and October. In June, July and August, hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Admission is $8 for adults and $6 for those 17 and under. There is no charge for active military personnel or kids 3 and under. The place is just off of Wisconsin Route 27 on the east side of town. Look for a big fish.
Annual memberships are available that come with a family pass, a name on a wall and the annual events calendar, at these levels:
• BRONZE – Basic membership for $30 also includes online access to Splash, the museum’s quarterly publication.
• SILVER – This membership, for $35, adds the Splash print version.
• GOLD – For $45, this level adds a subscription to either of the In-Fisherman or Fly Fisherman magazines, plus the Splash print version.
• PLATINUM – The deluxe membership, for $55, has all of the above plus a year’s membership in the North American Fishing Club and its website.
Lifetime, Club and Business memberships also are available. For details, see the Hall of Fame website at freshwater-fishing.org.
That website is also the place to go to find a nomination form to get someone entered into the Hall of Fame, and it’s where you can see photos and short biographies of all of the enshrined members – without making the long drive to Hayward.
Currently, the website has 450 of these bios; a few honor two people, so the total of those honored is a little higher. The inductions began in 1980 and have continued every year since then.
Several historical names pop up, such as Teddy Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway and Izaak Walton, but most are people who have done a lot of fishing and helped promote fishing as a sport or pastime.
The honorees include some whose names may be familiar to Outdoor Guide readers, such as John Neporadny, Jerry Pabst, Thayne Smith, Johnny Morris and Virgil Ward (see detailed list at right).
IT’S A RECORD
Bob Kutz of Hayward came up with the idea for the Hall of Fame in 1960 and worked with his wife Fannie to develop and manage it. A fund-raising group formed in 1969 raised much-needed money and found a major sponsor – whiskey distiller Jim Beam, which used collector fish decanters to contribute more than $300,000, giving the museum a crucial boost.
What really gave the Hall of Fame some influence, however, was being recognized in 1974 as the official qualifier of world records for fresh water sport fishing, replacing an annual contest held by a magazine.
The record book now lists about 3,000 record catches from all fresh water species in America, now more than 125, and it has plenty of categories that have not yet been filled in, in addition to the expected walleye and largemouth records. New records are approved every year.
At first, the records were based only on weight, but in 1993, the Hall also began recognizing length records in the catch-and-release category, helping keep many record-setting fish alive and well and capable of setting new records in the future. Records are now broken down into categories including Rod & Reel, Fly Fishing, Pole/Line/No Reel Fishing and Ice Fishing.
The book comes out every two years, and the current one can be purchased for $15 from the same website, freshwater-fishing.org.
MORE TO DO
Hayward has every price range of hotels, shops and restaurants and no end of outdoor destinations nearby. The other big tourist draw, aside from the Hall of Fame, is Fred Scheer’s Lumberjack Show, presented several times a week in warm-weather months at the Lumberjack Bowl, site of the Lumberjack World Championships and just up the road from the Hall of Fame.
In the show, skilled lumberjacks perform log rolling, speed carving, pole climbing, canoe jousting, axe throwing and more in a large pond with stadium seating. Tickets are $13.95 for adults, $10.95 for seniors, $8.95 for 4-11 and free for 3 and under. The season runs from late May through early September. Go online to scheerslumberjackshow.com.
Just east of Hayward, on U.S. 63 at Trego, Jack’s Canoe Rental offers excellent family canoeing, kayaking and tubing on the Namekagon River, part of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. In town, Hayward Outfitters has a wide range of watercraft for sale or rent.
However you get to the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame from St. Louis, it’s going to be a haul. One way is to go north on I-55 to Bloomington, IL, and take I-39 northbound. At Portage, WI, go westward on I-90-94 and then follow I-94 north at Tomah. At Eau Claire, go north on U.S. 53 to Trego, then head east on U.S. 63 to Hayward. You’ve got to get up early to make it in a day!
Missouri is well represented in the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame by the following people – some famous, some not – listed in the order they were inducted:
• Don Latta, columnist, radio host and author of “The $500,000 Bass” humor book, inducted 1982.
• Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops and Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium, inducted 1992.
• Virgil Ward, host of long-running “Championship Fishing” show, inducted 1992.
• Denny Brauer, phenomenally successful bass pro, inducted 1999.
• Wallace Lea, bass pro, guide and marina operator, inducted 2000.
• Jim Rogers, founder of Rogers Lures and Flies and teacher at Bass Fishing Institute of Indiana University, inducted 2004.
• George Bayless, developer fishing equipment for the disabled and steel tackle to replace lead, inducted 2008.
• Tony Allbright, considered the ultimate expert on fishing Bull Shoals Lake, inducted 2009.
• Joseph Tomelleri, illustrator of anatomically precise fish in books, magazines and journals, inducted 2010.
• Sharon Ruston, developer of youth and family fishing programs, inducted 2011.
• Al Agnew, advocate for wild rivers and native fish and artist for stamps, license plates and posters, inducted 2013.
• John Neporadny, outdoors writer and developer of high school bass classes and fishing teams, inducted 2016. Appears in the Outdoor Guide.
• Bill Cooper, fishing educator who has written more than 1,500 articles and hosted radio and television shows, just inducted for 2018. Appears in the Outdoor Guide.
Among the many honorees from surrounding states are:
• John Shedd, of Illinois, department store owner who in 1924 founded the world’s largest aquarium for education and research in Chicago, inducted 1985.
• Bill Dance, of Tennessee, bass pro who created the popular Bill Dance Outdoors television show, magazine and fishing products, inducted 1986.
• Jerry Pabst, of Illinois, outdoors writer and television host, founder of Great Lakes Sport Fishing Council, inducted 2010. Appears in the Outdoor Guide.
• Thayne Smith, of Kansas, outdoors writer and editor, president of Outdoors Writers Association of America, inducted 2014. Appears in the Outdoor Guide.