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Phil Johnson's Account of the
 World Record Musky Catch of his Father, Cal Johnson

Come See Cal Johnson's
World Record Musky

Cal Johnson Biography
by John Dettloff
© 2010

     Although most of today’s musky hunters may recognize the name of Cal Johnson as the person who had caught the world record musky in 1949, time has had a way of dimming most of the other accomplishments of his prolific angling and outdoor career.  While the catching of his 67½# world record musky was certainly remarkable, that event was but the crowning achievement in the sporting life of one of America’s greatest outdoor personalities.

     Because Cal’s prime years occurred so long ago, most of today’s sportsmen have no idea of the scope of this man’s outdoor credentials.  Cal Johnson was a man of the caliber and fame of a Zane Grey or an Al Lindner; a man who had set up fishing trips for two United States Presidents; and a man who was famous for being a champion of conservation along with the founders of the much revered Izaak Walton League.   During the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, Cal Johnson gave fishing, outdoor, and conservation lectures all over North America; he had his own popular outdoor radio show on NBC radio which aired throughout the Midwest; and he even did one of the earliest television broadcasts in the Chicago area.   He was a champion bait and fly caster and instructor and one of the most prolific angling and outdoor writers of all time.

     Born on December 15, 1891 in Phillips, Wisconsin, Calmer Lansworth Johnson began following nature’s path early in life, often hopping trains to get to his favorite trout fishing creeks.  In addition to his interest in fishing, Cal was also quite the athlete during his younger days.  In 1910, Cal leadership abilities gained him the opportunity to be named as the captain of the baseball team that he played for.  Moreover, after dedicating himself to building up his body by the mid Teens, young Cal earned quite a reputation as a competitive wrestler.

     Just after World War I, after working as a clerk at a men’s clothing store in Ashland, Wisconsin, that he had an interest in had failed, Cal began working in the sporting goods industry.  In 1919, Cal served as a special game warden at large, during which time, it allowed him to study conservation conditions first hand, something that even further broadened a mind that was already brimming with a great store of outdoor lore.   It was around that time when he began spending many a late night studying books on journalism, eventually selling his first articles to the Milwaukee Journal and other magazines.

     After quitting his job in the sporting goods field, Cal finally realized his dream as a writer and took an editorial position with the Land-O-Lakes Bulletin under the name of “Wisconsin Cal.”  Over the years Cal also wrote under other pen names like “Capt. Jack Spar” and “What the old guide says.”  This led to bigger things and, by 1924, Cal had moved to South Bend, Indiana, and became a promotional writer for the South Bend Bait Company and the Johnson Motor Company.  It was while living there in Indiana that Cal and his wife Helen were blessed with their only son Philip.  Over the years, young Philip would accompany his father on many a fishing adventure.

     Serving as the director of fishing trips for Presidents Coolidge and Hoover and various other celebrities, Johnson was a nationally acclaimed bait and fly caster and was featured in several fishing expeditions by the Canadian Motion Picture Bureau.  Two of his feature films, “The Quest of the Bronze Back” and “Fishing Gamely for Game Fish” were wildly popular with fishing clubs across America during the late 1920s. 

     A man of the highest sporting ethics and an ardent believer in the ideals of the Izaak Walton League, Cal became that organization’s public relations director and editor of their official magazine, Outdoor America, around 1929.  As editor of this magazine, Cal courageously wrote about how the consequences of unbridled industrialization could threaten the future of our great woods and waters.  By that time, Cal was living in downtown Chicago, writing a syndicated column in hundreds of newspapers across the country.  Spreading the gospel of good conservation and sportsmanship whenever he could, Cal also served as the long time angling editor of Sports Afield magazine and has written many pamphlet books on fishing for various companies.

     On Valentines Day in 1929, while working as an outdoor writer for the Chicago Daily News, Cal caught wind of one of the city’s most infamous events, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, shortly after it had happened.  Being close to where this horrific event had occurred, Cal decided to go down to the garage on N. Clark Street, where the shooting took place, to check out the scene.  Cal had arrived so quickly at the scene, that the shot up victims were still lying mortally wounded where they had fallen.  For whatever reason at the time, Cal happened to have his young son Philip with him.  Philip, who was only about three years old at the time, inquisitively remarked to his father, “How come those men on the ground are sleeping?”  Little Philip was too young to grasp the reality of what he was seeing.

     During the early 1930s, Cal Johnson had become known as a famous outdoor radio personality.  Because the newspaper that he wrote for, the Chicago Daily News, owned WMAQ radio station in Chicago, Cal was chosen to host his own fifteen minute outdoor radio show at WMAQ.  After the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) purchased WMAQ in 1931, Cal Johnson continued on with his popular show, which was then broadcasted to an even larger audience.  It was at that time that Cal met and worked along side other popular Chicago radio acts such as Amos ‘N Andy and Fibber McGee and Molly.  In 1931, NBC also acquired WENR radio, where they gave Cal Johnson another outdoor show, entitled “Cal’s Johnson’s Outdoor Lore”, to be aired on that station’s regular Monday evening line up.  So, by the early 1930s, Cal Johnson’s radio show was on two different stations and was reaching listeners all throughout the Midwest. 

     On November 28, 1931, Cal Johnson was also featured on one of Chicago’s earliest television broadcasts.  Although few people had television receivers at that time, this early broadcast, which featured Johnson with a musky, serves as a groundbreaking achievement in the annals of outdoor broadcasting.  In all likelihood, this musky was the first musky in the history of television to ever be aired to the public.   

Cal Johnson and His Son Fly Fishing

     Clearly one of the most prolific angling writers of all time, more than seventy years ago Cal had already written about many of the same angling methods which some of today’s professional fishermen have claimed that they have only recently discovered.  Topics like fishing deep for suspended muskies, night fishing, using smaller hooks and barbs in order to have better hooking potential, and not using live bait swallow hook rigs because it causes more mortality in one’s fishing: were all things that Cal had written about many years ago.  In reality, much of what we are doing today had already been done and talked about by our predecessors like Cal Johnson.  Those “old timers” knew much more than we sometimes give them credit for.

     In addition to his many years as Sports Afield’s fishing editor, Cal also wrote for Outdoor Recreation, Esquire, and Liberty magazines, as well as writing books on fly fishing for bass, night fishing, and fishing tips.  During the 1940s, Cal also served as a representative for Champion Motors and Aluma-Craft boats.   During World War II, even though he was past fifty years of age, Cal Johnson answered the call to do his part for our nation by serving in the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary.  Around 1943, Cal Moved to Minneapolis Minnesota, where in addition to his other enterprises, he also acted as the master of ceremonies for the Minneapolis Sport Show.

     Because he had rheumatic fever when he was younger, around 1947, Cal’s doctor informed him that he had a serious heart condition and likely had only months to live, recommending that Cal quit his job, get out of the big city and move to the place he loved the most, and take it easy.  So Cal did just that and moved to the one spot that always held a special place in his heart, Teal Lake near Hayward. 

     But Cal wasn’t about to sit around and wait to die; rather he decided to spend whatever remaining time he had enjoying what he had always written about–the outdoors.  Defying his doctor’s orders, Cal remained active and spent much of his time fishing, hiking, and hunting.  During the weeks that followed, Cal’s only son, Philip, began to notice an amazing thing after each successive visit to see his ailing father; all of the activity seemed to be improving Cal’s health.

     Many months, and then a year, went by and it became apparent that Cal–who eventually would outlive his own doctor–was going to stick around for a while. And so it happened… a couple of years later, on borrowed time, Cal Johnson ended up catching the world record muskie, 67½ pounds and 60¼ inches of fish!  This muskie, caught on July 24, 1949, out of Lac Courte Oreilles, a 5,039-acre lake near Hayward, currently ranks as the second largest muskie ever caught and is currently recognized as the International Game Fish Association’s (IGFA) official world record muskie.

     During his remaining years, Cal Johnson continued with his writing; he made public appearances at sport shows and for fishing groups upon request; and he enjoyed sharing the great outdoors with family and friends.  Cal passed away after a heart attack in 1953, at the age of 62.

     Ironically, as outstanding an angling accomplishment as it is, the catching of this world record musky stands as but the crowning achievement at the end of a most incredible and honored career in this outdoor writer’s life.  Famous throughout North America for more than 30 years as one of the most respected authorities on sport fishing and outdoor life, Cal Johnson was first and foremost one of the pioneers in the conservation movement, a gifted and impassioned writer, a much sought after public speaker at countless functions across the country and into Canada, a well known outdoor radio personality in the Midwest, and one of the first to be featured in a number of motion pictures on fishing. 

     It was pioneer outdoor writers like Cal Johnson who have broken the trail and paved the way for the likes of outdoor writers like A. J. McClane, Jason Lucas, and Jerry Gibbs; television personalities like Gadabout Gaddis, Virgil Ward, and Al Lindner; and guides and tackle manufactures like Homer LaBlanc, Tony Rizzo, and Joe Bucher. 

     Yes, Cal Johnson is today probably best known as the man who caught the world record musky in 1949, but there was so much more to this man than merely this lucky achievement.  This website, hopefully, will give you the reader just a taste of the other accomplishments that have lead up to this crowning glory of a most fascinating angling career.

This Is The Official Website of Cal Johnson

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