Five world-record muskellunge -- freshwater fish known as "muskies" -- have been caught in the waters of Hayward. One wouldn't be shocked to see at least one of them mounted on a wall somewhere around here. In fact, you can see three giant mounted muskies in and around this sport-fisher's mecca, each with its own set of fans.
The largest -- over 70 lbs -- is 17 miles east of town, displayed in the cocktail lounge of the Dun Rovin' Lodge. But the accuracy of the scale used to weigh it was never verified, so this fish will forever remain unofficial. Also, it wasn't caught around Hayward, and the Dun Rovin' is a little too showy for a fisherman's taste, so it isn't a favorite with the locals.
The second largest muskie is in town, at the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. But it's only a replica, as the original 69 lbs. 11 oz. monster was incinerated in a bar fire in the mid-1960s. And the Hall really doesn't need this fish for bragging rights, as it already has a fiberglass muskie that's 143 feet long.
That leaves fish #3, and while it is a shade smaller than its rivals, it still has much to offer. Cal Johnson's muskie -- 67 lbs 8 oz -- was caught in 1949 while he was a guest at the Moccasin Lodge on Hayward's Lake Court-Oreilles. "The Lord was with me when I caught this fish," he supposedly said afterward. It was preserved, set in a glass case, and mounted into the wall of the Moccasin Bar, only a half-mile from the muskie at the Hall of Fame.
What makes Cal Johnson's fish so special is that it is in The Moccasin Bar, the kind of place where you'd expect to see a giant, dead fish on a wall. It's dark and smoky inside, with a big jar of pickled eggs next to the beer taps and The Hallmark Channel on the TV.
When we stopped by, at ten in the morning, it already had three patrons, one wearing a "Muskie Capital" sweatshirt. Everyone knew about the muskie and could defend its worthiness, principally with the arguments that it is real (unlike the Hall of Fame fish) and that it was landed, not shot. "They all shot 'em back then, everybody did it," one of the patrons explained with a hint of disdain. Not this one. A big plaque above the fish makes it clear: "Fish fought for one hour and was landed by beaching."
The muskie is the centerpiece of what the Moccasin Bar advertises as a "wildlife museum." This encompasses several additional dead big fish and a number of absurdly complex stuffed animal dioramas. One, "Seven Come 'Leven," has chipmunks wearing little hats that are drinking, singing, gambling, and fishing -- but mostly drinking (One patron pointed out that the cop in the diorama is actually a weasel.).
Another diorama, "The Winnah!," shows the aftermath of a boxing match between two raccoons, with skunks as seconds and a groundhog as the referee. One appreciates the artistry that went into these, as well as the attention to detail that only come from long, long winters.
The lady behind the bar pulls us aside. "We made Trivial Pursuit," she announces, pulling out a card whose lettering has been worn away from years of similar showcasing. To our surprise, the question is not about Cal Johnson's muskie, but about Seven Come 'Leven: "What Great Lakes' State Moccasin Bar in Hayward claims its stuffed animal diorama features the world's only yodeling chipmunks?"