Front end of the two-story giant Muskie building.
Notice the guard rail for protecting
exuberant or suicidal children.

by Jeff Mulder

A Four-Story Muskie
is Reeling Them In
The National Freshwater
Fishing Hall of Fame

One of the glass cases at the National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, displays a piece of slippery elm bark from Clear Lake, Wisconsin, birthplace of pitcher Burleigh Grimes. The accompanying plaque explains that this is the type of bark Grimes chewed during games "to increase saliva for throwing the spitball. When wet, the ball sailed to the plate in a deceptive fashion."

Exhibits like this one show the obsession for minutiae among baseball fans. No item is too trivial. Museum visitors scrutinize the piece of slippery elm from Clear Lake, then whisper to one another, "So that's how he did it. I'll be damned." If the case wasn't locked, they'd stick it in their mouths like curious infants.

Apparently, people who fish share the baseball fan's obsession for their sport. Every year more than 100,000 people visit the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, located in Hayward, Wisconsin. The National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame archives freshwater fishing minutiae with the same enthusiasm Ken Starr archives presidential panky.

For starters, the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame displays 5,000 lures across two rooms collectively serving as the world's largest tackle box. Other rooms hold "classic" reels and outboard motors, several hundred apiece. (But no "classic" fish finders. Perhaps the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame considers them unsporting. Really, though, what's the difference between Burleigh Grimes dropping a loogie on the pill and fishermen running radar-aided sorties?)

Some of the largest fish caught in U.S. waters hang on the walls of the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame's trophy rooms. Most of them rival grade school children in size and weight. They're so big that the taxidermists didn't bother mounting them in leaping poses, as they do with smaller catches. These fish hang straight, looking like rows of muscle-bound body builders, commanding the eye with their bulk alone.

Each fish has its own plaque filled with statistics about its type, size, and weight, and also with information about the person who caught it - who he is, where he caught the fish, when he caught it (to the exact minute!), what bait he used, etc. Visitors, of course, study the plaques, then turn to one another and say, "So that's how he did it. I'll be damned."

But these aren't the largest fish at the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. Which brings us to the photos accompanying this article and what may be the single most effective piece of tourism marketing in Wisconsin.

The National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame crowds its fishing exhibits to one side of its property to make room for "The Muskie," a four-story fiberglass replica of a leaping muskie, the favored catch of those who fish in northwest Wisconsin. Following the marketing philosophy that the public responds to size or skin, the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame board of directors won a zoning variance that makes The Muskie the tallest building in Hayward. (To passionate fishermen, it may score on both counts!)

Management smartly keeps an unobstructed view of The Muskie from Highways 27 and B, the two busiest roads in Hayward. That view drives attendance better than any advertising campaign could. Children who ordinarily rebel at the prospect of any museum visit clamor to attend this one, expecting an amusement park experience. Likewise, adults with little interest in fishing but a few hours on their hands visit to find out exactly what is inside The Muskie.

Nothing could satisfy such high expectations, and the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame doesn't even try. Like a Hollywood star pushing a political cause, The Muskie is attractive but empty, except for a stairway spine leading up to the mouth, which serves as an observation deck.

It doesn't photograph well, either. Amateur photographers struggle with The Muskie's size, especially when they try to include people in the shot. The height discrepancy triggers Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, adapted for photography: The farther mom backs up to fit everything into the picture, the more uncertain she will be later on about who actually appears in the photo.

The absence of good photo opportunities is death to a tourist trap, and here again, the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame applied its marketing genius. Scattered on the grounds around The Muskie are several fiberglass replica fish eight or ten feet high - perfectly sized for fish/human photography. A couple replica fish are even hooked onto fake fishing gear so that the person being photographed can pretend to be reeling in a big one. Simple to the point of being foolproof, these fishy settings ensure that every idiot tourist leaves the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame with some great photos.

I should know. Whoa, nellie! Check out that giant rainbow trout on my line!



Below are websites with photos of The Muskie,
listed in order of photo quality:







Article and photos copyright 1999 Jeff Mulder



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