Back in 1963 I bought a used Johnson 5 ½ horse outboard motor. We were living in Fargo, North Dakota and in the general area of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, just 40 miles to the east, were lots of lakes and most lakes, it seemed, had a resort of some kind where, for a few dollars, you could rent a boat for the day.
That outboard motor was our summer workhorse for a number of years, reliably taking us around many lakes in search of fish. When we moved to Butte in 1988 we gave it to our son in Minot, North Dakota, figuring he’d have more use for it. Unfortunately, it hasn’t run for a long time as it needs a simple part that hasn’t been available for years.
Memories of that old Johnson Sea Horse motor came flooding back as I poked through rooms full of outboard motors at the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame museum in Hayward, Wisconsin last week.
We took a detour to Hayward after spending a long weekend in Duluth, Minnesota for the annual conference of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, held June 23 through 26.
Our good friends, Keith and Josie, who were college classmates years ago, live in Rhinelander, Wisconsin and they suggested an outing to Hayward for a fun day before we headed back west.
The Fresh Water Hall of Fame is a major attraction in the tourist-oriented town of Hayward. The grounds of the museum boast the world’s largest muskie, a huge representation of the trophy fish, often called “the fish of a thousand casts.” There are some somewhat smaller reproductions of other fish, such as walleye, salmon, perch, and sunfish.
The heart of the museum is the Hall of Fame, where famous anglers, guides and even outdoor writers are honored with Hall of Fame membership. Honorees include author Ernest Hemingway, baseball player Ted Williams, champion flycaster Joan Wulff, and hundreds of others.
The museum maintains records of freshwater fish, and there are mounted fish all over the place, though the muskellunge remains the star attraction. The facility includes examples of thousands of lures, flies, rods, reels and memorabilia. It’s truly America’s, particularly the Midwest’s, fishing attic.
But, it was the two rooms full of outboard engines that really caught my attention. Going back to Ole Evinrude’s first outboard motor that he made in 1909, there are hundreds of various outboard motors demonstrating the development of power boats. Some of them jogged memories, and others needed memories that go back much farther than mine.
There were Johnson, Evinrude, and Mercury, as we might expect. But there were countless brands that exist mainly in long memories, such as Firestone and Goodyear, Scott-Atwater, Scott-McCulloch, Montgomery Ward Sea King, Sears, and Sears Ted Williams, Eska, Hiawatha (sold at Gambles stores), McCulloch, and Clinton. Probably a number of those motors were built by the big name companies, and then sold under private labels at those tire and hardware stores. There was even a Spiegel motor, presumably sold by the old catalog company. There might be a few of those old kickers still in use in some backcountry lakes, but most of them are long-forgotten.
There were battery-powered electric trolling motors going back to the 1930s. Before inventors came up with the battery-powered motor, other people came up with crank or foot pedal-powered trolling devices. In a small shed apart from the main museum was a boat from the early 1900s, with a 1904 inboard gasoline engine.
The Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame was the brainchild of local community leaders back in the early 1960s, and has long gotten financial support of whiskey company, Jim Beam.
The Hall of Fame and museum is open April through October and is a great way to spend a couple hours browsing through the history of American fishing. For more information, check their website at www.freshwater-fishing.com.
Of course, we might mention that Hayward is well known as a fishing destination, especially for that iconic fish of a thousand casts, the muskie.