HAYWARD, Wis. — For every fisherman who has ever caught a whopper or told one, this is where the best fish stories come true.
Hayward, a dairy-country town of 1,500, is the home of the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, a shrine to an estimated 50 million anglers.
Between Memorial Day and Labor Day an estimated 10,000 visitors weekly tread through hallowed halls in search of stuffed evidence and photos of world-record catches for 100 varieties of North American fish, as well as 25 foreign species, in all tackle- and line-test methods.
The 25,000-square-foot complex also houses almost 300 antique outboard motors and 5,000 classic and antique plugs.
Almost 1,000 reels and 400 rods are in glass cases, along with wood, leather and guaranteed-to-float tackle boxes. Other accessories, club patches and miscellaneous items are too numerous to count.
As for special fish, 300 are mounted, including state, national, Canadian and world-records.
If you want to know who caught the biggest catfish or crappie in 1975 in Massachusetts, or when and where a world record humpback sucker was reeled in, this is where you can find out.
The museum on a bank of the Namekason River is the official qualifier for all records, so if you think you captured a champ, these folks will decide on that, too.
Seven buildings spread over seven acres house the various exhibits. The centerpiece is a classic example of 20th-Century Americana, a walk-through fiberglass fish that's half a block long and 4 1/2 stories tall.
Thirty people can stand in the open mouth of this 500-ton muskie, presumably for a large worm's-eye view of the neatly landscaped property on the river side.
The latest addition to the property is a new Trilene Video theater, named for a type of fishing line.
Expansion plans call for the construction of a championship casting pool, complete with spectator seating for special events and instructional sessions.
The theater features the world's first continuous programmed fishing show, part of which teaches children and adults the best ways of fishing and use of equipment.
A new video is planned to show how rods and reels are manufactured, and an underwater video will attempt to show what things look like from a fish's point of view.
The hall of fame officially recognizes world-record catches of freshwater fish according to numerous qualifying rules. Every year a record book is issued. The book covers 125 species of fish in all-tackle and line-class records.
Lots of Tips
Included are lots of tips, rules and guidelines, along with fishing facts and record application forms. The book is free to members who pay a $12 yearly dues, or is available for $2 at the museum or for $3 by mail.
A library and an educational museum are open to tours. Anyone can sign up for various instructional programs scheduled all year.
Inside the giant muskie is a Hall of Legendary Anglers and a records Wall of Fame, where fishermen are lauded for the highest honors in the freshwater fraternity, in classifications of science, education, conservation, communications and technology.
In the last category a recent inductee was the inventor of the artificial worm.
The hall's philosophy is summed up outside the museum where it says:
"Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for life."
Maybe 50 million have the right idea.
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Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for teen-agers and 50 cents for children. The complex is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Yearly membership offers free admission and several publications.
A free reservation service is operated by the Hayward Lakes Resort, Motel and Campground Assn. For more information, write to Route 7, Hayward, Wis. 54843, or call (715) 634-4801.
The area claims 200 lakes and rivers, 300 resort motels and camping sites and many family restaurants. Hayward also is where the Lumberjack World Championships are held the last weekend in July.
For general information on Hayward, contact the Hayward Chamber of Commerce, Box 726-V Hayward, Wis. 54843, or call (715) 634-4440.