Tom Potisk, of Franksville, displays a 45-inch, 26-pound muskie caught recently on an Eagle River area lake. A 44-year vacationer and angler in the Eagle River area, Potisk recently wrote to the paper inquiring about the story behind the behemoth “Magnum Musky” replica mount at Trig’s in Eagle River. —Contributed Photo
Tom Potisk, of Franksville, displays a 45-inch, 26-pound muskie caught recently on an Eagle River area lake. A 44-year vacationer and angler in the Eagle River area, Potisk recently wrote to the paper inquiring about the story behind the behemoth “Magnum Musky” replica mount at Trig’s in Eagle River. —Contributed Photo
“Dear Lord, give me the serenity to accept the size of fish I catch, the courage not to lie about it and the wisdom to know that none of my fishing buddies would believe me anyway!” —Fisherman’s Serenity Prayer

They say the notoriously difficult-to-catch muskellunge, a fickle biter, is “the fish of 10,000 casts.” Not surprisingly, it’s safe to say that muskies, the largest North American pike and the subject of much boat and bar talk, are also the fish of 10,000 tales. And in the North Woods, that means tales of Paul Bunyan-esque proportions.

Think of the new 18-foot fiberglass musky outside the chamber of commerce in trademarked “Musky Capital”?Boulder Junction or the centerpiece 45-foot-tall, 143-foot-long walk-through fiberglass and steel muskellunge at the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward — the world’s largest fiberglass fish — and you get the idea of the size of some of the whoppers being swapped out there about “the one that got away.”

According to the International Game Fish Association, the largest muskellunge on record was caught by Cal Johnson on Lake Courte Oreilles near Hayward on July 24, 1949, a monster 60.25-inch lunker that weighed in at 67 pounds, 8 ounces and logged a 33-inch girth. 

News-Review subscriber and longtime Eagle River visitor Tom Potisk, of Franksville in?Racine County, recently sent an email suggesting we reel in “the story of the giant muskie mounted on the wall at Trig’s Grocery in Eagle River.”

“I love the anticipation of muskie fishing, knowing that any cast can result in a sudden tight line, then a boil, perhaps a leap, and a rare monster in the net,”?wrote Potisk, an avid 44-year musky angler on Eagle River area lakes. “Stories abound that record-breaking muskies are out there. Imagine my surprise when shopping at Trig’s and discovering a whale of a muskie mounted on their wall. That motivates me to keep fishing. I’ve always wondered the story behind that behemoth. I’m sure many would enjoy that read.”

Grabbing my spiral-bound reporter’s notebook, News-Review press pass stuck in my fedora’s grosgrain ribbon hat band, I sauntered over to Trig’s on Wall Street to get, as radio news commentator Paul Harvey would famously warble with his dramatic pauses, quirky intonations and staccato delivery, “the REST — of the story.”

Hello, North Woods. This is Eric Johnson! Stand byyy for newwws! 

Scouring the store high and low, eventually my eyes spotted the Moby Dick of muskies, a mount created by Long’s Taxidermy in Sayner, installed overlooking the checkouts above the staircase leading to a mezzanine snack bar area over the service deli.

If the plaque for “Magnum Musky” is true, it is indeed a whale of a muskie — an alleged 102-pound lunker of all lunkers “netted from a northern Wisconsin lake by a conservation crew.” 

Besting Cal Johnson’s certified world record musky by 35 pounds, you would think the 102-pound behemoth mounted at Trig’s would be as famous as author Herman Melville’s literary whale. But it’s not.

Like a lot of fish tales, Magnum Musky’s provenance is, shall I say, a little sketchy.

Page Two . . . 

A blur of motion in the busy North Woods summer tourism season as he zips around the Eagle River Trig’s, I’m grateful for my athletic shoes as I catch up with store director Terry Tryggeseth as he makes his way from the bakery to produce.

“It was a looooong time ago,” he said of the mount’s 1970s arrival at the Eagle River Trig’s, with Magnum Musky dating back to the original Red Owl branded Trig’s, where the muskie was displayed “above the meat counter.” 

Tryggeseth’s brother-in-law was a meat-cutter at the original Eagle River Trig’s — “the old store” — in 1979. Magnum Musky made the move to the current Eagle River Trig’s, 925 E.?Wall St., when it opened in August 2001.

Tryggeseth said the mount was once mentioned in Field & Stream magazine.

“An old meat-cutter, Johnny Williams, gave me the article,” he recalled. “It’s pretty neat. I wish I could find it. They claim it was netted in a Vilas County lake up by Lando. It (the article) just connected the dots with the darn thing. If I can dig it up, I’ll give you a shout.”

Like all things spectacularly ginormous, Magnum Musky is an attention-grabbing attraction.

“People ask about it all the time,”?Tryggeseth noted. “I had a couple snapping pictures of it just the other day. I would say it’s probably the most photographed item in the store.”

This time of year, Tryggeseth said he fields “inquiries a couple times a week” regarding the muskie, noting he usually offers the curious a “catch-and-release . . . fishing story.” 

Tryggeseth said the mount provides inspiration that a record-setting muskie is out there in North Woods waters, ripe for the landing.

“I have not casted 10,000 casts; I’ve never caught one,” he said. “Have I really tried diligently, no . . . I know a lot of folks that do. Obviously, a muskie like that would be a dream for anybody.” 

And now, Page Three . . .

Call it the journalistic skeptic in me, but I’m thinking the prospect of a 102-pound muskie would tax the credulity of even the most gullible of muskie anglers. 

If there ever was such a lunker, there’s gotta be a paper trail as wide and long as Chicago’s Eisenhower Expressway. As it turned out, the paper trail was more of a goat path.

A bit of due diligence research back at the News-Review pulled up just one internet hit — a link to a May 1980 Sports Illustrated Vault archive story, “That Musky Madness,” which noted that “exaggeration is the underpinning of all fishing stories,” with the muskie “the subject of more exaggeration than most fish.”

As a case in point, the SI article referenced a May 1, 1902, Minocqua Times “front-page photograph — eight columns wide — of what the accompanying headline called THE?LARGEST?MUSKELLUNGE?EVER?CAPTURED,” a 102-pound giant “netted by none other than a superintendent of the State Fish Hatchery.”

Noted the SI staff writers, “Obviously, it couldn’t qualify as a world record, having been netted, but considering who caught this monster, it would seem that the weight was authentic.?Except that 102 pounds is an unbelievable figure.”

Page Four . . .

Trying to get as close as possible to the original source, I figured who better to testify to the veracity of the claims on the mount’s plaque than?Magnum Musky’s creator, Sayner taxidermist Neal D.G. Long. 

But as it turns out, Long passed away in 2017 at age 92.

The search goes on.

Now — for what it’s worth . . .

The following day, Trig’s founder and board Chairman Trygve “Trig” Solberg is calling me from Phoenix, Ariz., responding to my inquiry about Magnum Musky. 

“The best recollection that I have is somebody found it washed up on some lake around here,” Solberg said, attesting to Tryggeseth’s recollection that the mount has been a Trig’s fixture in Eagle River dating back to the 1970s. 

“It was kinda disintegrated, skeletal — and then they did a mount of it. That’s the best story I got. That’s the best I can tell you, Eric. I don’t know any more than that. I wish I did. It just showed up — and that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. It might be a fish story in its own. I wish I could tell you that I caught it,” said Solberg.

Shop talk . . .

In the great tradition of classic journalism, dear reader, you have one mount of an alleged 102-pound leviathan muskie and multiple stories. Fish tale or a legendary lunker? I’ll let you decide.

And now you know… the REST of the story. This is Eric Johnson — Good, dAY.