Chapter Five


Revisionist History


In 1992, John Dettloff, a self-appointed muskie historian, Wisconsin resort operator, guide and active promoter of Hayward tourism, rocked the muskie world and upset the world record applecart when he submitted The Investigation of Arthur Lawton’s World Record Muskie to the record stewards. As a result of Dettloff’s challenge, the entire Lawton world record muskie file, by now 35 years old, was dusted-off and independently reevaluated by the NFWFHF and the IGFA. Subsequently, Arthur Lawton’s world record muskie, sanctioned in 1958 by Field & Stream following an extensive investigation that reportedly included use of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, was disqualified by the NFWFHF and set aside by the IGFA, pending further review.


Dettloff’s investigation included a challenge of the Lawton record photographs that likely helped focus the IGFA’s evaluation. However, their decision to set-aside the Lawton record was based on noncompliance with the IGFA’s 1992 record protocol for an appropriate photograph rather than disagreement with Field & Stream’s 1958 evaluation. The IGFA’s set-aside status encourages record reconsideration should a definitive photograph or photogrammetric analysis surface. On the other hand, the NFWFHF relied heavily on Dettloff’s investigation and disqualified the muskie as a falsified record. The Lawton record controversy is discussed in more detail below and in Part II.


Encouraged by his success in discrediting the Lawton record, Dettloff proceeded not only to challenge several of the former world record muskies but as historical editor for Musky Hunter magazine he independently “disqualified” several others! He was on a roll. His selective revisionist history questioned the legitimacy of world record muskellunge attributed to Percy Haver in 1939 and 1940 and Alois Hanser in 1947.  Dettloff privately criticized many other records and challenged all the large muskellunge catches of the Lawton’s and the Hartman’s.


Indeed, based largely on amateur photographic analysis, many of the record muskies appear to lack the length and/or girth as claimed. In fact, Len Hartman, Lawton’s contemporary, confessed that record muskies were commonly loaded with water and sand to achieve record weights! Soon many muskie anglers believed in Dettloff’s revisionist history, without realizing that Field & Stream has never disqualified an established world record muskellunge, the IGFA has set-aside only the Lawton muskie and does not recognize Louis Spray’s 1949 muskie while the NFWFHF has disqualified only Lawton!


Slowly, Dettloff’s muskie records bias began to surface. It became most apparent when the World Record Muskie Alliance (WRMA) submitted an investigation of Spray’s two heaviest muskies to the NFWFHF for consideration. Ironically, Dettloff was the NFWFHF Executive Board President at the time of the submittal and ultimately responsible for the review! The WRMA investigation of Louie Spray was not submitted to the IGFA because the IGFA does not recognize Spray as the holder of the muskellunge world record. The WRMA investigation included professional photogrammetric analysis of Spray’s two heaviest muskies and their mounts. The photogrammetric analyses identified that the reported length of Spray’s muskies was appreciably greater than their photogrammetric solution and that an analytical comparison of mount and fresh caught fish photographs support that the mounts had been enlarged.


Since the NFWFHF disqualified the Field & Stream sanctioned Lawton muskellunge in 1992 following a review of Dettloff’s investigation, the WRMA anticipated similar treatment and disqualification of Spray’s records based on their comprehensive protest. Instead, soon a double standard for record evaluations became apparent! Dettloff encouraged the use of selective criteria for evaluation of Spray’s muskies that differed considerably from the criteria used to evaluate the Lawton muskie. For example, Dettloff’s 1992 investigation of the Lawton muskie used his amateur photographic analysis to support a claim that Lawton’s muskie was shorter than reported, conversely; professional, peer reviewed, photogrammetric solutions that support shorter Spray muskies were dismissed.


As an Advisory Governor to the NFWFHF, I protested the inconsistent evaluation of records. Under Dettloff’s direction, in response to the WRMA’s protest, the NFWFHF undertook a campaign to support and maintain the 69-pound, 11-ounce NFWFHF all-tackle muskellunge world record, supposedly caught in the Chippewa Flowage in 1949 by Louie Spray within a few hundred yards of the Dettloff resort. I wonder how Art Lawton would have fared had a similar campaign been waged in his regard? I soon learned that Brad Latvaitis, a charter NFWFHF Advisory Governor and volunteer long active in resolving record matters also submitted a protest. Unfortunately, the NFWFHF Executive Board supported President Dettloff’s approach and Brad and I were not allowed to participate in review of Spray’s muskies. Undaunted, we independently detailed our concerns and submitted formal protests. When our concerns were summarily ignored, we independently tendered resignations and they were accepted. Dettloff told me with regard to my removal from the Spray record evaluation process ...that is the way I want it.


Information regarding the WRMA Spray muskie Protest is available at


Why, I wondered, was this course selected? Why was a recommendation by a group of esteemed mathematicians to impanel a group of experts on mathematics and photogrammetry for the purpose of obtaining a more definitive length evaluation of Spray’s muskie ignored? Why had  Dettloff’s critical eye ignored challenges to the Hayward area’s record muskellunge, namely; the Spray and Johnson records? There had to be more to it. So, in early 2006, after the NFWFHF rendered their decision to uphold the Spray record, I decided to conduct a lengthy and more detailed review of Dettloff’s Lawton Investigation. As a result of my review, Lawton investigation oversights were identified and Dettloff’s motives became clear as additional supportive data was accumulated. I submitted my extensive review and a long overlooked photograph to the IGFA and proposed the reinstatement of Lawton’s record. The review will be excerpted in Part II of this book and can be found on the Internet in its entirety at

In addition to my review, I discussed Lawton archive photographs and duplicated several of Dettloff’s exhibits at a meeting with IGFA officials in Dania Beach, Florida. I demonstrated that Dettloff’s calculations and methodologies were inconsistent and self-serving, at best! Nevertheless, the IGFA Executive Board voted against reinstatement of the Lawton world record based on the uncertainty regarding the existence of a photograph of Lawton’s record muskie, which was the basis for their set-aside of the Lawton record in 1992. While the IGFA agreed that the photograph I submitted was not of the commonly known Lawton fish, to them it was inconclusive. A photogrammetric analysis of the Lawton photographs has not been commissioned.

Interestingly, the current officers of the IGFA concurred that the Dettloff investigation was inadequate to disqualify the Lawton record, however; the record remains in set-aside status! Why? Because when the IGFA reconsiders a record they use their current protocol and their current protocol requires an acceptable photograph for all records. The fact that a photo was required only if available when Lawton submitted his record application to Field & Steam was not a consideration. Even though photographs had been tendered by Lawton, it is uncertain all these years later if the correct photograph of Lawton’s record fish was submitted or published. Likewise, the IGFA rejected the Spray muskie because it was shot; although legal at the time of Spray’s catch, shooting is contrary to retroactive IGFA protocol, as is the number of hooks used by Spray.

Interestingly, several notable IGFA freshwater records, including George Perry’s largemouth bass and Dr. C. Abbot’s yellow perch, hold prestigious IGFA world records despite the fact that neither a verified photograph nor documentation is part of the Field & Stream file in their custody. Evidently, if challenged several current IGFA records would not meet their retroactive protocol!

The Lawton’s were deceased at the time of Dettloff’s investigation so we will likely never know the entire story regarding the photographic history of Lawton’s muskie. Fortunately, the “door is still open” should new photographic evidence surface.

Currently, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, keepers of NY State fish records, rejects the 1992 Dettloff Investigation and steadfastly maintains the Lawton muskellunge as the state record.


In summary, Dettloff’s rewriting of muskellunge history is self-serving and independent. The application of primitive, amateur photo analysis compared to professional photogrammetry, the inconsistent application of amateur methodologies to summarily dismiss all but the Hayward area fish as records, and the blatant arbitrary acceptance of data such as affidavits in upholding some records, while ignoring both original eyewitness affidavits and updated affidavits in others is not acceptable. It is my considered opinion that Mr. Dettloff has allowed his obsession with Hayward area muskies to seriously jeopardize his NFWFHF responsibilities and that he has violated his fiduciary responsibility to true muskellunge history. Accordingly, Dettloff’s findings should be ignored and all historic records discredited by him should be reinstated, each the responsibility of their sanctioning body. This book’s revision supports my proposal. The sordid details of the Spray controversy are provided in Part II and the Appendix.


When I published the 2nd Edition of the Compendium I believed in Dettloff’s sincerity regarding muskellunge history to the extent that I welcomed his contribution of a chapter entitled Musky Crimes of the Century. I now deeply regret this decision and, in fact, it keeps me awake some nights. The “crimes” were his! Although numerous people reviewed Dettloff’s Lawton investigation in 1992 and likewise accepted Dettloff’s calculations and logic at face value, I sincerely regret my previous incomplete review of the Lawton matter. I also regret my prior support of it and his subsequent “selective” record investigations and bogus discrediting of same. My current reasoning will become clear as you read Part II beginning with the 1939 records.


Time for the Truth!