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Roland Steinhauser, who organized muskie ‘hunters,’ dead at 72

Muskie master Roland Steinhauser. | Family photo

On the day his grandpa opened his big metal South Bend tackle box and recited the names of the lures, Roland Steinhauser said the ichthyological incantation bewitched him for the rest of his life.

His grandpa showed him the Bass-Oreno.

The Vamp. Twin Spinners. Pikie Minnow. Injured Minnow. The Basser.

When the aromatic treasure chest opened, “I think I was hooked and destined to be a fishing addict,” Roland Steinhauser wrote in a column for the Outdoor Notebook and the FATC [Florida Antique Tackle Club] Newsletter.

Mr. Steinhauser, a South Sider who grew up to be an ardent angler, water skier and outdoorsman, wound up heading the Midwest Muskie Club. He helped organize Illinois’ many muskie-fishing associations to form an umbrella group, the Illini Muskies Alliance, that worked to promote the sport and communicate with the state Department of Natural Resources.

“He pulled the resources of all the clubs to work with conservation, DNR,” the Department of Natural Resources, said John Sutton, president of the Midwest Muskie Club.

That coordination contributed to successful re-stocking programs by the clubs. The Muskie Alliance also worked with state officials to help determine size limits and fishing quotas for the fish.

As a result, “the Department really listens to us,” said Ray Thompson, chair of the alliance. “The department always contacts us with any changes regarding muskies before they enact them.”

Mr. Steinhauser, 72, died on March 3 in hospice care in Florida, where he retired. He had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

He was fascinated by the muskie, an apex predator that can swallow a duckling. “They’re much like a northern pike or a freshwater barracuda,” Thompson said. “They’re long and slender with a protruding snout with big canine teeth.”

“They’re ‘the Fish of 10,000 Casts,’ ’’ Thompson said. “In other words, you have to make 10,000 casts with a lure in order to catch a muskie.”

With muskies, “It’s like hunting. You don’t just throw a bobber on a pond,” he said. “You have to know the fish, know their habits, know the lures, what will entice them. It’s more like stalking.”

Back in the early 1970s, muskies were tough to find in Illinois because of overfishing and their long maturation curve, Thompson said. Muskie fishermen and women pushed to re-stock state waters, but the state DNR, then called the Department of Conservation, was skeptical. “They said they wouldn’t survive in Illinois waters and it was a waste of time,” Thompson said.

In 1982, Mr. Steinhauser and others worked to form the IMA. It bought nets to stretch over stocked ponds that reduced depradation by birds from 80 percent to 20 percent, Thompson said. That meant 1,000 fry might result in 800 fingerlings, instead of only 200 survivors.

"Rol" Steinhauser was the head of the Midwest Muskie Club and a founder of the Illini Muskies Alliance / family photo

“Rol” Steinhauser was the head of the Midwest Muskie Club and a founder of the Illini Muskies Alliance | Family photo

He grew up on the South Side and went to Harper High School and the University of Nebraska. At the Chicago factory where he worked, he met Mary Hanson, a “tomboy” who grew up a fishing and moose-hunting guide on the boundary waters between America and Canada. She liked what she saw. “She wrote her phone number in the machine grease and he called her the next day,” said their daughter, Katherine Erhardt. They were married from 1969 until her death last year.

Mr. Steinhauser worked as a history teacher at Bogan, DuSable and Senn High Schools. After retiring in 2002, he also worked for the state DNR, where he promoted fishing for city kids. “They were in Marquette Park, Garfield Park,” Erhardt said. “His slogan was, ‘Get Kids Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs.’ ”

When his own kids were little, he used to take them fishing all day on a channel of the Fox River, said another daughter, Phyllis Steinhauser. Patiently, he taught them to bait a hook and remove fish from hooks.

The Steinhausers urged their children to be good stewards of the wilderness, telling them, “Leave it as you found it,” said another daughter, Rebecca Quinn. They pointed out loons, hawks and the way muskie “peek” above the water.

Their home in Evergreen Park was filled with fish lures, paddles and duck decoys. He even set up an aquarium with bluegills and northern pike. Their cats were Falcon, Sparrow and Evinrude, whose moniker came from a boat motor.

Mr. Steinhauser had a number of boats. His favorite was “Wooly Bully,” named for a 1960s garage rock classic he liked.

Mr. Steinhauser also is survived by a sister, Phyllis Collins, and a brother, Gary, and four grandchildren. A daughter, Karen, and a grandson, Sean O’Keeffe, died before him. A Chicago memorial is being planned. His daughters plan to scatter the ashes of Mr. Steinhauser and his wife at a favorite fishing spot in Minnesota.