Chicagoland Muskie Hunters: Spanning the ages through 50 years
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Considering that 16-year-old Emmett Brown started Muskie Hunters in 1968, it makes sense that 12-year-old Layla Dawn Ellis stole the show at the 50 Year Celebration Banquet Tuesday.
During the awards portion of the banquet, Ellis described her first muskie — a 44½-inch tiger muskie from Crow Lake in Ontario — with well-acted details.
‘‘We were both sick, like, ‘Blaaa,’ ’’ she demonstrated. ‘‘We were like zombies.’’
Life came back when she thought she snagged a weed, but it was her muskie.
After it was released, grandfather Steve Statland said, ‘‘Smell your shirt.’’
Layla described her response as, ‘‘Wow! That smells good.’’
Muskie Hunters, eventually renamed Chicagoland Muskie Hunters, is important in Illinois muskie history and Muskies Inc. history.
Aptly, Muskies Inc. president Jim Ashton came from the St. Louis area for the celebration. As we talked beforehand, Ashton said: ‘‘That it has lasted this long says a lot about the people along the way. The challenge is getting the youth involved.’’
Chicagoland Muskie Hunters is better at that than most clubs. Attendees ranged from Ellis to 90-year-old Leah Rosset.
During his talk, club president Greg Denny said: ‘‘Our club hasn’t suffered erosion of members, and we have the best meeting location.’’
North Branch Pizza & Burger Company in Glenview is all that.
As the longest-standing member (1974), Statland emceed the event. He, Frank Loye and Kevin Butz pulled the celebration together.
In 1975, Statland and Larry Ramsell led the club as it became the third Muskies Inc. chapter.
‘‘We missed by a few days of being the second chapter,’’ said Ramsell, a pre-eminent historian of muskie fishing.
The chapter created Project Illini to start a trophy muskie fishery in Illinois. The first fundraiser packed the Taft High School auditorium and featured Al Lindner.
The club started a chapter challenge in 1977. Sixteen members, including two women, from three chapters participated in Minocqua, Wisconsin. That became the Gil Hamm Memorial Chapter Challunge.
Three club members — Bill Davis, Statland and Ramsell (after he moved) — were international presidents of Muskies Inc. Other notable members through the years included Don Dubin, Ted Takasaki, Brad Latvaitis, Bob Mehsikomer, Jim Saric and Spence Petros.
I sat across from brothers Ray and Warren Thompson, members in the 1970s. Both wore yellow club jackets from that era. Ellis proudly wore her grandfather’s. The Thompsons helped form the Southside Muskie Hawks. Ray has been the longtime chairman of the Illini Muskies Alliance.
At one point, Statland stopped to see John Ryan, his fishing partner for many years, and went over favored three-word phrases: ‘‘Get the net’’ and ‘‘I love you.’’
Dubin emceed the second half, including feting Rosset, who was presented with a big bouquet. Team Rosset, Leah and late husband Dean, were ‘‘the face of the Chicagoland Muskie Hunters for over 30 years.’’
Rosset described how she and Dean were roped into being officers in the club nearly 40 years ago, then said it turned into ‘‘a labor of love for us.’’
Ramsell, who has caught 14 muskies longer than 55 inches, finished the speakers portion and noted: ‘‘This is my 63rd year chasing these crazy green fish.’’
He described the old days, when all muskies were ‘‘thunked,’’ and how he won Muskies Inc.’s first release trophy with three muskies.
‘‘The good old days of muskie fishing are now,’’ he said.
All the same, I bought his latest book, ‘‘Mostly Antique Just Muskellunge (and related) Post Cards,’’ for its wonderful look back.