One of the proudest moments in my life was when I was the first Southern fishing guide to be inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame at Hayward, Wisconsin as a “Legendary Guide” in 1993! Instead of having me travel to Hayward at that time, however, the Hall of Fame sent one of their directors and a good friend of mine, Larry Columbo, to the awards banquet of the Red Man All American Bass Championship at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. During the ceremonies that evening, Larry made a special presentation of my plaque in front of a packed house of my fishing peers and many of the top country music composers in the country. It was an unforgettable experience.
The idea of developing an attraction and museum to collect, preserve, and display artifacts of the sport of fresh water fishing, recognize famous anglers, and keep world record catches was explored initially by Hall of Fame Founder, Bob Kutz and his wife Fannie in 1960. Thanks to donations by individuals and a long-range program started by the Jim Beam whiskey distillers of Chicago and Kentucky to raise the necessary funds, the National Fresh Water Hall of Fame became a reality in 1970.
Today, the Hall of Fame sits on six, city-donated, beautifully landscaped acres of land strategically located in the heavily traveled vacation area of Hayward, Wisconsin. It annually attracts more than 100,000 visitors through its gateway building to view the inner part of the Hall.
Of course, the highlight of any visit, especially with the younger set, is a landmark “Shrine to Anglers”, which is a structure one-half a city block long and four and one-half stories tall. Concrete, steel, and fiberglass were used to hand-sculpture the likeness of a huge leaping muskie. After climbing the stairs into the belly of the big fish, one can enjoy the museum or climb the inside stairs to its gaping jaw, which is an observation platform that can accommodate up to twenty persons.
Across an open grassy area known as the “Sea of Fishes” that contains numerous, large fiberglass reproductions of popular fresh water gamefish is another four-building museum complex that houses thousands of antique lures, rods, reels, outboard motors, and mounted record fish. The museum also has a video theater that constantly shows educational and instructional films. Additionally, one can browse through the many pictures of those of us who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame over the years. Thank goodness that they don’t update the photos……..I looked much younger in 1993!
For more information about the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, contact them at: Box 33, Hall of Fame Drive, Hayward, WI 54843. Visiting the Hall of Fame or the gorgeous area that surrounds Hayward would be a memorable experience for anyone who loves fishing and the outdoors.