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Interesting Article on a Muskie Legend and a different kind of battle

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By DOUG SMITH, Star Tribune

George Wahl was doing what he loves most -- muskie fishing with his buddies on Lake of the Woods this June -- when it hit him.

"I told the guys something was wrong and I had to go home; I just wasn't feeling right,'' Wahl said.

Doctors discovered cancer in his brain, liver and bones.

Now time is likely short for Wahl, 65, of Minneapolis, a longtime ambassador for muskies and muskie fishing who helped make Minnesota a preeminent muskie fishery. He launched the Minnesota Muskie Expo in 1995 -- an annual three-day show that attracts thousands of muskie fanatics. Over the years, Wahl has donated more than $70,000 of the show's proceeds to Muskies Inc., the national group formed in Minnesota to promote muskie fishing.

He's a longtime Muskies Inc. member, past president of the Twin Cities chapter and was involved in the early efforts to stock muskies in Twin Cities lakes.

And for years he hand-made and sold the famed Eagle Tail bucktail muskie lure -- one of the most popular muskies baits ever.

"I got dealt a bad hand,'' Wahl said last week. "But the world doesn't owe me anything. I've had a good life. I've caught a couple of big fish and had a lot of fun.''

He's caught more than a couple.

Wahl is a low-key, unassuming guy who never boasts about his catches and doesn't have photos of himself with muskies he's caught. If he catches a big one, he savors the moment and quietly releases the fish. Years ago he figured he had landed upward of 400 muskies -- "but I stopped counting,'' he said. His biggest: a 56-incher and a couple of 54-inchers.

His addiction to muskies and muskie fishing has led him to make many friends over the years. More than 160 of them recently turned out in Prior Lake to roast Wahl and celebrate his life.

"George is just a wonderful guy,'' said Russ Peterson, 62, of Minnetonka, who Wahl introduced to muskie fishing. "He'll give you the shirt off his back.''

"Everywhere he goes, people know him,'' said Paul Hartman, 38, of Blaine, a longtime friend and fishing partner. "That's what happens when you're the guy selling the best big-fish bait made. The Eagle Tail has caught more 50-inch fish in muskie contests than any other bait.''

Wahl grew up in the Golden Valley area, where he still lives today with his wife of 39 years, Marlene. They have one daughter, Julie, 35.

He got hooked on muskies while fishing on Ontario's Eagle Lake in 1972.

"A muskie almost jumped in my boat, chasing a lure,'' he said. "It was a big fish, too; it scared me to death. You see something like that, it changes your life.''

It changed Wahl's.

"Since then there's been nothing but muskies,'' he said. "Since 1976, I've only caught one walleye, and that was by accident.''

He enjoys eating walleyes but has no interest in catching them.

"Walleyes are great -- you can catch them all,'' he quipped.

'That's living'

One of his favorite spots to fish muskies has been Whitefish Bay of Lake of the Woods in Ontario. For the past 30 years he's driven to Canada about a half-dozen times a summer, for week-long fishing trips with friends.

"That's living,'' he said.

"I figure I've crossed the border up and back about 252 times.''

Wahl was there with friends in June, where he caught a 52-incher and several slightly smaller muskies before feeling ill.

Muskie fishing is an addiction for many. "You literally eat, sleep and breathe muskies, period,'' he once said.

He was an auto body repairman until an accident forced him to change careers. He began making and selling his muskie lures, which he did for more than 20 years before selling the business. Wahl figures he made about 80,000 Eagle Tails and another 120,000 Little Eagles and Mini Eagle lures in his basement workshop.

He launched the Minnesota Muskie Expo to feed and help promote the growing muskie frenzy.

"We're the biggest muskie expo in the country,'' he said. Some 5,000 to 6,000 folks usually attend. The show, which has been held at the National Sports Center in Blaine, is moving next year to Concordia University in St. Paul. (It's scheduled for April 3-5.) Because of his health, he has turned it over to Hartman to run.

"If I'm still here, I'll be there,'' Wahl said.

He credits Muskies Inc. and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources with boosting muskie fishing in the state through stocking.

"Minnesota is the best state, period, for muskies,'' Wahl said. And the Twin Cities is one of the few metro areas where anglers can catch muskies.

No regrets

His health issues began last year when cancer was found in a lung. Doctors removed it, and Wahl said he thought he was cancer-free. Then came the discovery this June of tumors elsewhere in his body. He's undergone chemotheraphy and radiation treatments.

His prognosis isn't good, he said last week.

But after a lifetime of chasing monster muskies with many good friends, Wahl says he has no regrets.

"My life has been good.''

**************************************************

As a fisherman, George will be in my thoughts today.

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Met him at my first Musky Expo a few years ago. Super dude. I knew health reasons were forcing him to sell, but didn't know it was to this extent.

Sure hope he can be a cancer survivor and get a chance to boat a few more muskies.

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I like to look at fishermen

And often times I wish

One would be lucky now and then

And catch a little fish.

I watch them statuesquely stand,

And at the water look;

But if they pull their float to land

It's just to bait a hook.

I ponder the psychology

That roots them in their place;

And wonder at the calm I see

In every angler's face.

There is such patience in their eyes,

Beside the river's brink;

And waiting for a bite or rise

I do not think they think.

Or else they are just gentle men,

Who love--they know not why,

Green grace of trees or water when

It wimples to the sky . . .

Sweet simple souls! As vain I watch

My heart to you is kind:

Most precious prize of all you catch,

--Just Peace of Mind.

Good luck George.

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