Muskie Rampage

A row of men standing on a shore with large muskies strung from a long pole - page spread of July - August 2004 Conservation Volunteer article: Muskie Rampage.

Many still remember the hot, calm week in July 1955 when Leech Lake gave up muskies like never before.

By Dan Craven

In 1955 one of the most famous photos in muskie fishing lore was taken: a stringer-shot of 20-some muskies caught in about a day and a half of fishing. A few midsummer days of 1955 became known as the Leech Lake Muskie Rampage, one of the most intriguing muskie "bites" of all time. The muskies on Leech Lake started giving themselves up like nobody had ever seen before.

The place was Federal Dam, a small town with a landing at the headwaters of Leech Lake River. The town was named for the dam that created the reservoir we now call Leech Lake.

Today Federal Dam has a population of about 100. It was a much busier town in the 1950s. Because anglers from all over the country used its landing, Federal Dam could support five launch businesses that owned a total of 15 boats.

The Neururer family owned and operated one of the launch businesses. The brothers did the guiding and launch operating; their wives handled most of the business in the office and at the cabins. "Tubby" (Sara) and Dana Neururer still live in Federal Dam today. Now in their 80s, the two women have clear memories of the rampage.

The year 1955 was a good one for the business. The walleyes had been biting consistently until a hot, calm spell set in. July 16, as walleye fishing slowed, guide Danny Chalich and Bob Neururer and his nephews Chucky and Peter set out for a morning's fishing.

Peter decided to troll a Red Eye Wiggler. He had only 40 feet of line on his reel, and he would need all of it.

The Chris-Craft made its way across Portage Bay and trolled the weedbeds out from Two Points. Before long, Peter was battling a 35-pound muskie. Danny and Bob used all of their skills to back the big boat toward the wild fish as the young boy held on. Amazingly, 10-year-old Peter won the battle. The fish was brought into the docks, and the "Muskie Rampage" was on.

Other muskies and heat-stressed tullibees had been seen surfacing, so a number of other launches went out to target the muskies. Witnesses recalled seeing muskies exploding on the baitfish. The second launch to arrive at Federal Dam had four muskies. So Peter's fish was more than a fluke.

For the next few days, the bite was on. Chucky landed a fish in the mid-20-pound range. Bob landed one about the same size as Peter's fish.

The Neururer women started calling newspapers all over the Midwest. Lucky anglers called their friends. WCCO radio carried daily reports on how many muskies were brought in.

Launches out of Federal Dam were running morning and afternoon muskie trips and frequently evening ones too. All rowboats were rented, and parking lots were overflowing with cars.

Each launch could carry about eight clients. Only four could fish at one time, so they'd take turns, usually trolling the weedbeds on the west side of Portage Bay.

The best fishing was during the first three days, when anglers hauled in about 50 fish. But Danny recalls boating one or two muskies on every trip during about a 10-day stretch. He says just about everyone had success. Most fish were caught on Red Eye spoons, KB spoons, and Pikie Minnows.

Fifteen-year-old Jerry Bader was a dock boy at the time. He was so busy cleaning boats for his father's launch service that he had little chance to fish during the pandemonium. But one day he did make his way across Portage Bay in a boat with a 7.5-horsepower motor. When he got to Moscripp's old homestead, he started trolling and hooked a muskie on a brass and silver KB spoon. It weighed in at more than 42 pounds.

By July 23, most local folks say, more than 100 muskies had been caught in Portage Bay alone. But Tubby and Dana say the true number will never be known, because many people simply threw their fish into the back of their vehicles and went home. Most fish were probably 25 to 35 pounds. Many people recall Jerry Bader's fish being the largest, while others remember a 49-pound muskie being weighed in.

Danny said that around July 23 a massive storm blew in and put an end to the muskie fishing. The rampage was over.