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Feature Article: Fishing Hall of Fame

Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame Embraces the West

By George Kramer/WON BASS ContributorPublished: Aug 16, 2019

Recognition, for both achievement and legacy, is the role of a Hall of Fame. In the fishing world, that historical recognition is made even more relevant because so many of us share a piece of the sport and its legacy. That being said, the highlight of my summer was a trip to the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame (and Museum) in Hayward, Wisconsin.

Over the years I had read about it, got my quarterly newsletter, The Splash, and watched each year for the names of new inductees, but for much of my career two impressions of the Hall had stuck with me. One, it seemed so far away for a westerner. And two, we seemed to be so far away from it.

IT IS HUGE — The Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame’s replica musky spans 151 feet in length.

But then, when we only drive from a few minutes to a few hours to our regular fishing spots, that’s kind of how we think of things. But when we consider the fishing tradition in America for the last century and beyond, bass fishing was really a thin sliver of all inland angling.

One of the first, if not the first plastic worm from Nick Crème went on sale in 1949, but carved wooden baits and pork rinds were utilized long before that. The modern era of bass fishing may have began in the 1960’s, but freshwater angling in general has had many millions more participants. Thus, in my view, bass fishermen hold an even more elite position, when they’re recognized from among all freshwater anglers.

So who’s in there? From the West, Dee Thomas, “Father of Flipping” is one. And Mike Folkestad, three-time U.S. Open Champion is another. Likewise, Bill Siemantel, whose theoretical advances as well as practical successes were reason for his induction.

Of course, you’ll find the likes of Forrest Wood, the aforementioned Nick Crème, Cotton Cordell, Jack Smithwick, James Heddon and Elwood L. “Buck” Perry, “Father of Structure Fishing,” among others, each honored for their roles.

Hall of Fame Director Emmett Brown noted, “It was once called the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, and many people still prefer that, but we have so many anglers from Canada (and Izaak Walton from England) we dropped the word national.”

A PLAQUE DEDICATED to Buck Perry, Father of Structure Fishing, has been place in front of the replica largemouth bass on the grounds.

What makes induction special is every individual who has been included must have been nominated on an official form (see with the particulars of the candidate’s contributions, birth and death dates if applicable, and a quality photograph.

And anyone can submit a nomination, however, nobody gets in on hearsay. No one can be sponsored in. Then, from that point the nominee form goes to the induction committee who mulls the contents and checks the accuracy of the claims. Only a handful are picked each year for induction.

Interestingly, there have been some changes regarding designation of those accepted. Once there was a category for those “enshrined” such as Ted Williams and Curt Gowdy, both ardent anglers. Then there was a portion of inductees such as Bill Rice of WON/WON Bass fame, the late Stan Fagerstrom, and California radio man Sep Hendrickson, who gained attention as members of the media. Hendrickson was more of an angling generalist, but both Rice and Fagerstrom were press/anglers at the very first Bassmasters Classic held at Lake Mead in 1971.

More recently, said Brown, “The Board of Directors began to discuss the issue of designations, asking about the categories such as ‘enshrined’ or ‘inducted’ or under what headings such as Guide or Angler or Communicator might be proper. Some writers wanted to be known as anglers and some anglers wanted to be known also as writers. We settled on ‘inductees.’ If you’re in, you’re a Hall of Famer.”

smallmouthSMALLMOUTH BASS, of course, are also part of the displays.

At the risk of sounding like a tourist, I had to see what’s there. But it wasn’t just like stopping along the highway for the roadside dinosaurs or the world’s largest ice cream cone. Understand the role of geography with the Hall. “Around here, everyone fishes,” said Brown. But more than that, here the Muskellunge is king. It makes complete sense that the signature structure here is just that: a 151-foot, 3½-story, replica Musky, so big they have held weddings in its gaping mouth!

Around the seven-acre grounds are many other replicas including largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegill, walleye and kokanee. Each is as big as car, and most have related plaques addressing the import of the species, or Hall of Famers associated with them.

The museum, if you can leave your twitter account alone for a few hours, is a treat. Early sonars, rods, reels, and untold number of lures by unknown lure-makers, plus a whole wing of early outboard engines — some in remarkably good condition. Thinking about what they had, today, we never had it so good.

I didn’t fish my first plastic worm until the 1970’s so I’m kind of a short-timer in the greater scheme of things. In being on-site for roughly seven months a year, Brown’s take on the Hall is that it gives him, “an appreciation of how far along freshwater sport fishing has grown over the past century.”

THE BLUEGILL, FIRST catch for many current bass fishermen, is displayed behind Diana Kramer of Lake Elsinore.

But in honoring the past, there is still a desire to provide an updated presentation. When he considers what more could be offered, Brown contemplates, “an expansion of our grounds and displays as well as more technological interactivity.”

But you know what that means. Resources. And $8.50 a ticket probably won’t get it done.

There are three major fishing Halls of Fame today. The IGFA is one, which includes all of saltwater angling as well. Then there is the more recently created Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, which began in 2001 but only got a permanent site in 2017. And of course, we have the original FWFHOF, which began in 1960.

Today, in Springfield, Missouri, the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame sits plush in Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife Museum & Aquarium at Bass Pro Shops — for bass angling only. But you may not realize that as recently as 2013 the Hall’s selected site was going to be in Cullman, Alabama. The problem was that Hall needed to raise $10 million, which was then to be matched by the city of Cullman. Three years later the project was dropped — for lack of funds

The Hayward Hall has its own tales, of course, and it actually took Jim Beam Whiskey selling HOF decanters to help raise the funds to build the main museum. But costs have gone up quite a bit since the 1980s. Funding will always be an issue as traditions fade.

Yet, I had a great time there with my better half: reading the plaques of so many historic angling figures. And looking at so many antique lure designs (and chuckling about what fishermen today think are “brand new” ideas.) Still I submit, this Hall of Fame, regardless of its location, is ours. We’re a part of the freshwater fishing tradition. So maybe, just maybe, if you’re looking for a tax deduction next year, please don’t forget that tradition.

playingtouristPLAYING TOURIST, WRITER George Kramer waves from the mouth of the giant musky.

ancientoutboardsANCIENT OUTBOARDS, SONAR and tackle make up a number of displays at the Hall.

BIG BAITS, THE hallmark of musky fishing, are on display.

THE MUSEUM, WITH its three wings of honorees and displays, actually was funded by the sale of decanters.

DEE THOMAS, “Father of Flippin,” was a 2000 inductee into the Hall.

THREE-TIME U.S. Open Champion Mike Folkestad was inducted into the Hall in 2013.

BIG BASS angler and author Bill Siemantel has been inducted into the FWFHOF.

FORMER WON BASS Editor Bill Rice was inducted into the Hall in 2015.

Editor’s note — WON BASS contributor George Kramer was inducted into the FWFHOF in 2012. Photo hall shot is the image they used there.

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