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WRMA Report Against Cal Johnson Proves Flawed !

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

Come See Cal Johnson's
World Record Musky

WRMA Report Against Johnson Musky Proves Flawed
New Photo Further Supports Fish

By John Dettloff

     In 2008, an organization known as the WRMA came out with a report that claimed Cal Johnson’s 67½# world record musky, measuring 60¼ inches in length, had been falsified in size and couldn’t have measured more than 54” in length.  However, after a thorough review of their report, it is quite clear that there were a number of errors in both their calculations and methodology (their approach)… errors which prove to nullify the accuracy of their report’s conclusions. 

     Some key errors in the WRMA report–which are further detailed in this article–are as follows:

1) The primary reference measurement of 5.669 inches that was generated by a computer program, from which they direct scaled length calculations of the musky, proves to be grossly in error by more than 9/16 of an inch.  An accurate laser measurement on the mount reveals this same measurement to actually be 6.25 inches.  This single error alone skews the report’s length calculations by some 5 inches.

2) Out of the three photos that were assessed in the report, in one photo (PHOTO 1) a considerable bend in the musky’s head significantly reduced the line at which the report’s calculated length was taken, thus giving an understated and inconclusive result.

Photo 2

3) Regarding the two remaining photos that were used (PHOTOS 2 & 3), because both photos were taken at a relatively high camera level, perspective caused the report’s length calculations on these photos to be understated, rather than overstated as the report claimed.

4) In PHOTO 2, the only actual photograph used in the report, the endpoint of the musky’s upper jaw is completed blocked by Johnson’s hand, thus greatly increasing the margin of error for any calculations that are attempted off of this photo.

5) Because the upper jaw to gill flap distance on the mount is not all encompassed within the same bone and there is an obvious stretching of this corresponding distance in the photos of the fish, using this as a reference measurement will yield inconclusive results.

6) The report incorrectly indicated the boundaries of the side width of the Johnson fish off of PHOTO 2 in the section where they discussed girth.  The side width of the musky was actually greater than indicated.   

Photo 1

The significant bend at the head of the musky makes the WRMA's method of length calculation very unreliable. Because of the bend in the fish, the distance calculation of the musky's length, as illustrated by the red line, becomes significantly understated.  This is not how one is suppose to measure the length of a musky.

     In February of 2009, the WRMA submitted their report to the IGFA, who currently lists the Cal Johnson musky as their organization’s official world record, with a request to remove the Johnson fish from record status.  After carefully reviewing the report and giving it their utmost scrutiny, the IGFA ruled to retain the Johnson record because they felt the report failed to prove their case. 

     There’s good reason for the IGFA to uphold their ruling: Cal Johnson’s record musky proves to be exceptionally well documented.  Much documentation exists supporting this historic catch: there are affidavits showing that a number of people witnessed the weighing and measuring of the fish; this fish was weighed on two different scales which were subsequently state inspected; there is an affidavit attesting to the catch from the angler himself; there are many quality photos supporting the catch to be the size it was claimed; and there is solid correspondence from Field & Stream (the record keeping body at the time) showing that they did indeed recognize the catch as a world record catch and thus gave the fish the full measure of scrutiny afforded to a world record fish entry.


     First, they took photographs of the mount of the Johnson musky with a calibrated camera, from which they used a PhotoModeler program to come up with two reference calculations off the mount.  The reference calculations they arrived at were: 1) the distance from the musky’s upper jaw to the eye (5.669 inches) and 2) the distance from the musky’s upper jaw to the point where the gill cover meets the fishes body (10.209 inches). 

     Secondly, they used these two reference calculations to extrapolate three sets of “partial” length calculations of the musky off of three photos of the fish by using direct scaling computations.  (See PHOTOS 1, 2, and 3)  It should be noted that the “partial” length calculations that were arrived at in the report did not include the total length of the musky; rather, they spanned the distance from the musky’s upper jaw down to the upper tip of its tail fin.  The WRMA then added 8/10 of an inch to that result to make up for the extra length of the musky’s lower jaw that wasn’t included.    

     The concept of direct scaling from photos is that if one reference dimension is known to be accurate, using that dimension and its corresponding length on a photograph, other dimensions on that same photograph (in this case, the length of the musky) may be able to be determined using ratio proportions.  The accuracy of direct scaling, however, is dependent on both how much perspective will come into play and on the accuracy of the known in the photo. 


     There are significant limitations that must be realized when using this method of direct scaling, especially when one attempts to use a comparatively short line segment as a known to measure a much longer object in a photo.  Keep in mind that whatever the error is with a shorter “known” line segment in a photo, the overall error of the final result will be multiplied by how many times larger the unknown object is.  For example: if you are trying to calculate the length of an object that may be 60 inches long by using a “known” which is only 6 inches long, if there happens to be just a ½ inch error in the known distance… the overall error in the final result will be (5 inches) or ten times greater than the original error in the known distance.

     This leads us to another important factor that must be considered when direct scaling an object on a photo: knowing where the horizon (or camera height) is in the photo.  Furthermore, once you know the camera height in a photo, the following rule of perspective always applies: For objects that are in the same plane, the further an object in a photo is away from the horizon (or camera height), the smaller it will appear relative to an object of equal size closer to the horizon (See on the right for an example of this concept.)  Note how the rulers, which each measure exactly 12 inches in length, progressively appear to be shorter beneath the upper blue ruler.  (Note that the camera level was at the junction of the upper black and blue rulers.)

     Relative to this issue of perspective, the WRMA report had stated that all of their length calculations resulted in an overestimation of the musky’s true length.  This statement proves to be in error because for two out of three of the photos used in their report (PHOTOS 2 & 3), the camera height was just below the musky’s head (close to where the “known” reference calculations were taken).  Consequently, their length calculations of the musky for those two photos were understated and NOT overstated.


     How accurate is the 5.669 inch upper jaw to eye calculation that the WRMA report used as one of their two reference calculations for direct scaling? Surprisingly, this critical piece of information was not included in the WRMA report.   The first thing I looked for in the report was to what part of the eye was this distance measure to?  Because the eye socket of the musky measures a full one inch in diameter, knowing the end point of this distance is crucial to checking the report’s validity. Remember, even a half inch error in this measurement will yield a nearly 5 inch error in the report’s length calculations.  When I contacted the people who did the calculations in the report and asked for this information, they refused to answer me. 

     Figuring out to what part of the eye socket was this distance measured to was not difficult.  It only required taking the proper proportions that were given in the WRMA report and then, using simple ratios, plotting on the photos to what part of the eye were these measurements made to.  Because their numbers were so specific, it was fairly easy to figure out and I encourage others to do the same.  After I discovered that the distance in question extended from the musky’s upper jaw to the posterior edge of the eye socket, I then went right to the Johnson mount to check up if this distance truly measured 5.669 inches. 

     Because there was glass on the case of the mount, I used a device with two parallel lasers to shoot the beams through the glass and onto the fish.  After checking this measurement five times, I found the upper jaw to the posterior edge of the eye socket distance to be 6.25 inches and NOT 5.669 inches!!  This error alone, of more than 9/16 of an inch, skews the report’s result by more than 5 inches and invalidates their conclusion that the Johnson musky couldn’t have been more than 54” in length.  And after realizing that for two out of three of the photos (PHOTOS 2 and 3) the high camera height even further understated the WRMA’s calculations of the musky length, it puts the length of the Cal Johnson musky right in the 60 inch class… which is what is was registered as being in the first place.

     With the WRMA’s proven error of more than 9/16 of an inch in arriving at the wrong upper jaw to eye distance of 5.669 inches, it comes as no surprise that their length calculations of the distance from the Johnson musky’s upper jaw to the upper tip of its tail fin in PHOTOS 1, 2, and 3 of 50.7 inches, 49.6 inches, and 49.3 inches respectively, were so far off.  Compounded with the facts that in PHOTO 1 the musky was bent so significantly, in PHOTO 2 the end point of the upper jaw was completely obscured, and in both PHOTOS 2 and 3 perspective understated their calculations to some degree, this explains why the WRMA report was so far off in attempting to calculate the length of the Johnson musky.

Photo 3

This poor quality magazine clipping photo is another photo that is very difficult to assess, especially when determining where the gill flap meets the body.

     How accurate is the other reference measurement that was used for direct scaling in the report, the upper jaw to gill flap measurement of 10.209 inches? 

     Because this measurement is not contained within the same single bone but rather has cartilage, flesh, and more than one bone running between its two endpoints, comparing this measurement between the mount and the actual musky yields a significant variance… especially when the fish is hung vertically with its entire weight pulling downward and thus stretching the fish at the junction where the body meets the head. 

     This variance is especially evident by a quick examination of two of the three photos of the musky (PHOTOS 1 & 2).  Note how the connecting or hinge point between the body and the head is pulled downward and is in a different position than it is on the mount. 

     Because this reference measurement is obviously stretched on both PHOTOS 1 & 2 and it is not fully in view in either PHOTOS 2 & 3, attempting to use the upper jaw to gill flap reference as a “known” to scale off of would yield only inconclusive and questionable results.


    The poor quality of two of the photo images (which actually were newspaper/magazine clippings), the differing positions of the fish (one of which showed a significant bend in the musky’s head), and the fact that in the only real photo (PHOTO 2) the end of the musky’s upper jaw was totally blocked from view makes the validity of the WRMA’s method of length calculation questionable from the start. 

     There are two other photos of great quality that the WRMA never used in their report.  The first, shown here on the left, shows a great image of Cal holding his fish on a gaff.  Clearly, this quality photo shows how thick and well proportioned this musky was from head to tail.  To think that this was merely a 40# class fish is absurd.



     The photo shown above shows a newly discovered photo of Cal Johnson holding his musky, which had been tucked away amongst his personal papers and photos for nearly 60 years.  This photograph provides us with an additional piece of evidence which indeed further supports the documented length of his musky.  For pictured just to the left of Cal’s musky, standing nearly vertical and very close to being in the same plane as the fish, is the actual rod (a SouthBendor 411) that he used to catch his fish.

     It has been very well documented in many different places that Cal had caught his record musky on the SouthBendor 411 rod, a rod which is well known to have been a 4 foot 11 inch long fishing rod (58¾” to be exact, when measured with a tape measure).  Actually, whether or not Cal caught his musky on that rod is irrelevant.  The only thing that matters when attempting to use the rod in the photo to scale the fish against it…. is that it is indeed a SouthBendor model 411 rod. 

     As you can see by the left hand photo above,, which shows the butt of the SouthBendor 411 model rod close up, if you compare it to the zoomed in image of the rod butt in the photo with Cal and his musky, there is no doubt that it is the same model rod.  While this rod is slightly angled against the sign that it is leaning on, although it does indeed lose some of its vertical height on the photo, we are talking about the rod only losing from ¾” to 1 ½” at most.  It is pretty easy to see that the rod butt is kicked away from where the base of the sign post meets the ground by about a foot (give or take a couple of inches).  When you assign an approximate adjusted vertical height of 57¼” to 58” to the rod in the photo and use that distance to direct scale the length of the musky, the musky length still comes out noticeably longer than the rod and remains in the 60” class (59” to 59.8” to be exact).

     This is an easy approximation for you to check out at home by taking a 59” long stick and leaning it against a wall with the butt end pulled 12” away from the wall.  Measure the vertical height of the rod above the floor and you will see that the rod only lost about 1” in height.


     The report falsely stated that because a larger musky (the Louie Spray musky) was caught 3 months after the Johnson musky, Cal’s fish was never given the full scrutiny that a world record entry would have normally received.  This couldn’t be further from the truth because I have original correspondence between Cal Johnson and Field & Stream that shows that Field & Stream not only identified his musky as a world record fish only two days after it was caught, but they also requested all the required documentation that was expected of a world record entry at the time.  Keep in mind that Louie Spray didn’t register his musky until nearly 3 months after Cal had caught his fish.  The Spray catch never happened yet and Field & Stream certainly could not have foreseen into the future that someone would catch a larger fish.  Of course they gave Cal Johnson’s musky full scrutiny, as evidenced by the following letters on July 26, 1949 and August 16, 1949. 


     Take special note in the letter of July 26th that, contrary to the report’s claim that Field & Stream never acknowledged Johnson’s musky as a world record, Field & Stream identified Cal’s fish as a world record only two days after it was caught.  In that letter, Field & Stream acknowledged they had given Johnson a fishing contest entry blank to fill out and return and they also were very specific in requesting photographs and an affidavit attesting to the scales that were used, as well as an affidavit from 2 or 3 additional witnesses to the weighing and measuring of the fish.  On that letter, Johnson himself recorded that he sent in the requested info on August 2nd

     The next letter from Field & Stream, dated August 16th, acknowledged they had indeed received the information from Cal along with his response letter of August 2nd

     The WRMA report has a number of other sections that make additional false or unsupported claims against the Johnson fish.  While many of their statements that are speculative, trivial, or irrelevant don’t even warrant comment, I will address a few points that should be corrected.

    In a section where the report compares the side width of the Johnson musky to the side width of the Gelb musky (a 53” long fish), they not only reduced the Johnson musky’s length (and correspondingly its side width) down to the same scale as the Gelb fish for comparison purposes… but they also incorrectly indicated the boundaries of the side width of the Johnson fish on the photo.  Such a comparison gives the false impression that the Johnson musky’s side width was less than the side width of Gelb’s fish.  However, once you enlarge the Johnson fish to the proper scale of 60¼” and once you realize that the shadowed area alongside the right edge of the Johnson musky in the photo is actually additional side width that the WRMA missed, it becomes evident that Johnson’s fish does not have a smaller side width than the Gelb fish.  This extra side width that was missed by the report gives the Johnson fish conservatively an additional ½ to ¾” of side width and, consequently, more girth.

     Furthermore, in a section where the report assumed an (incorrect) lesser girth measurement off of a photo of the vertically held Johnson musky, the WRMA completely failed to realize that a girth taken on a musky while it is lying down on the ground and having its belly distended always measures significantly more.  I’ve measured and girthed many hundreds of muskies over the past 38 years and know this to be true. 

     Lastly, the section in the WRMA report that used up five pages worth of space talking about silhouette comparisons to the Johnson musky proves nothing because there are far too many unknown variables involved and assumptions made to yield anything which could be considered as reliable evidence.

     They give this section far too much credibility when none exists.  They have no idea of the focal length or camera distance or even how far out the musky was held by Johnson to come up with anything but more speculation…. speculation which is easily dispelled by all of the overwhelming above mentioned supportive facts on the Johnson fish.

     Regarding the silhouette comparisons that I included in my Art Lawton world record musky report back in 1992, the WRMA has wrongly attached far too much importance to a mere visualization exercise that I had included.  The Lawton musky was disqualified for only two reasons: 1) the primary weight witness recanted his story and said he did not weigh or measure the fish, and 2) a new photo of the musky that Lawton claimed as his world record musky dramatically proved that this fish was much smaller than claimed.  If either of these two very specific things wouldn’t have happened, the Lawton fish never would have been disqualified.

     By comparison, there have been no recantations of any of the affidavits supporting the Johnson musky.  In fact, Cal Johnson’s son, who was witness to both the catch and the weighing & measuring of this fish, signed an additional affidavit in 1993 that pointedly attested to his witnessing of this catch and weighing and measuring of this fish.  The affidavits stand as very strong documentation that can not be just casually dismissed and cast aside.

Click Here To See The Affidavit For The Cal Johnson World Record.

     Secondly, the photos of the Johnson musky all support his catch to be in the size class he claimed it to be… with absolutely no solid proof of any kind showing that the fish was smaller than claimed.  In fact, the newly released photo even further backs up the fish to be a 60” class fish.

Karl Kahmann     On top of all of this indisputable evidence, the mount of Cal Johnson’s musky is impossible to ignore and the WRMA’s only response to its existence is coming up with wild conspiracy theories that aren’t even possible as to how this mount was greatly augmented.  Although some modern taxidermists who don’t want to accept the Johnson fish may claim it is possible to pull off such a feat in less than a month, taxidermists who are familiar with the methods that were employed to mount the Johnson fish have stated emphatically that creating the Johnson fish out of a much smaller fish (40# class) within the narrow time frame that was available without having the augmentation be evident would have been basically impossible.

The Cal Johnson Mount Proves to be Authentic

     Regarding Cal Johnson’s mounted world record musky, some individuals have made the observation that the paired set of fins located on the bottom mid section of the fish (known as pelvic fins) appear to be further forward on the mount of the fish than they do on the photographs of the fish.  From that observation some people have jumped to the false assumption that a six inch or more section must have been added behind the pelvic fins to add extra length to the fish, in an effort to turn a 52 inch to 54 inch long fish into the mount (which today measures close to 59 inches in length).  This unsupported theory, however, proves to be totally without merit.

     While this observation that the pelvic fins seem further forward on the mount is correct, there is a logical explanation for this.  After a careful comparison of the of pelvic fin locations in each of the five photos of the fish, perspective proves to distort where those fins appear to be located by as much as 4%.  This translates to making the pelvic fins appear to be up to1¼ inches further forward in one of the photos.  Obviously, the fins are in the exact position on all the photographs; however, they appear to be 1¼ inches further forward in one of the photos

     This photographic illusion is proven by measuring the distance of how far forward the pelvic fins are located between the anal fin and the pectoral fins in each of the photos of the Johnson musky.  Then compare the proportions of that distance to the overall distance between the anal fin and the pectoral fins.  The proportions range from 34% to 38% forward, hence the 4% or 1¼” photographic illusion.  The laws of perspective dictate that the photograph taken from the furthest distance away will be the least distorted and thus will give the most accurate pelvic fin location of 38% forward.

     This photographic illusion explains only part of the observation why the mount’s pelvic fins appear to be further forward.  Because the pelvic fins are 46.7% forward on the mount, there needs to be an explanation why those fins are 8.7% (or 2.7 inches) further forward on the mount than what is shown on the photograph of the fish with the least distortion.  The first logical question to ask regarding this observation is, “Does this forward pelvic fin drift occur on other mounts?”  The answer is, “Yes, it does.” 

     The first thing I did when I made this forward fin drift observation was look at my own musky mounts and measure how far forward their pelvic fins were.  Sure enough, they indeed were noticeably further forward on their mounts than they were on the actual photos of the same fish.  I asked my taxidermist, Al Smith, about that and he responded, “You could easily have the pelvic fins end up forward an inch or two, depending on how you stretch the skin. It is never my concern on where the fins end up positioned on a mount, rather I do my best to fit the skin on the form.”  Other taxidermists have also confirmed that the pelvic fins can drift further forward, depending on how the skin is stretched over the form.

     Further checking up on this pelvic fin drift issue, I checked another of Karl Kahmann’s musky mounts that is on public display at the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame Museum: Rollie Meister’s 41½ pound 53 inch long musky.  (See the photos above of both the mount and the actual fish.)  Sure enough, it is obvious that the pelvic fins of this musky are indeed further forward on the mount than they appear in the photo of the same fish.  Simple ratio calculations of this variance reveal the pelvic fins to be 2.7 inches further forward on the mount than they are on the actual photo of the same fish.   Not only does is this the same forward pelvic fin drift distance show up on the Cal Johnson mount, but forward fin drift is known to occur on other taxidermist’s mounts as well.  So there is nothing unusual about the pelvic fins on the Johnson mount being 2 to 3 inches further forward.

     Finally, had 6 inches or more been added to the Johnson mount behind its pelvic fins to augment its length (as claimed by the naysayers), the additional forward position of the pelvic fins would have been much more than a mere 2.7 inches.  In order for this significant claimed addition to have been made, the pelvic fins would have to be much closer to the pectoral fins than the anal fin…. and they are certainly not.  The impossibility of their [WRMA] theory only serves to disprove itself by virtue of its own implausibility.

Click Here To See The Des Moines Iowa News Item About Cal's World Record.


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