Musky Legend, Verlin "Frenchy" LaMay
Dead at 83
A Personal Perspective by John Dettloff

On the evening of August 14th,2005, Verlin Henry "Frenchy" LaMay, a dedicated musky angler for nearly sixty years and well known for his hand crafted musky lures, died at the age of 83. Frenchy LaMay’s prowess as a lure maker par excellence and successful musky hunter has made him one of the most recognizable names in top water musky fishing. During his years on the water, Frenchy has boated nearly 300 Muskies, two of which were in the 40 pound class. He has made a significant contribution to the sport of top water fishing for Muskies and has greatly influenced, either directly or indirectly, many of today’s top water lure makers.

Frenchy had a deep love for the wilds of the Chippewa Flowage, where he had fished from 1946 through 2002. Over the years, Frenchy had introduced many to the Flowage and the sport of musky fishing, serving as a great inspiration and later sagely advisor to his many "students."

Born most likely on the Schilling family farm near Altoona, Wisconsin, Verlin Henry LaMay came into this world on June 19, 1922, the son of the late Paul and Lillian (Schilling) LaMay. Verlin’s ambition while he was attending Eau Claire Senior High School, where he graduated in 1939, was to become a chemical engineer.

In 1940, Verlin enlisted in the Army Air Force, proudly serving his country during World War II until being discharged on January 28, 1946, as a first lieutenant. Verlin served as an instructor at Lowry Field, Denver, Colorado, for three and a half years, instructing in the use of arms and bombsites such as the Nordan Bombsite. He was later sent to Yale University to be commissioned as a second lieutenant, serving in Japan immediately following their surrender.

Under the GI Bill, Verlin received his Bachelor of Science Degree in Education at UW Eau Claire in 1949, and later his Masters at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1960. It was during his first year of college at Eau Claire that Verlin struck up a friendship with classmate Bruce Tasker, already a dedicated musky angler by that time. It was there that, because of his French surname, Verlin began to be called "Frenchy" by his friends. The name stuck.

Because his friend Bruce would mysteriously disappear every weekend Frenchy asked, "Where in the hell to do go during the weekends?"

Bruce replied, "Musky fishing up near Hayward. Would you like to join us?" Frenchy took Tasker up on his invitation and the rest–as they say–is history. The year was 1946.

That first day out musky fishing produced nary a follow in fourteen hours of fishing. However, on a back cast, Frenchy did hook Bruce’s hat. Frenchy later commented on that day, "We didn’t see any fish and I was wondering what the magnetism was, but eventually I saw some fish and got going." Frenchy LaMay eased into the sport on the action packed waters of Callahan Lake with Tasker and his cohorts. On occasion, Frenchy would venture onto the more sprawling waters of the Chippewa Flowage in search of the big one. In the fall of 1952, Frenchy witnessed his friend, John Zueg, guide someone to a 45 pounder. By 1955, Frenchy shifted his sole angling efforts onto the Flowage, where he was a regular presence until the mid 1990s.

Having a degree in Education, and because he loved his fishing and wanted his summers off, Frenchy pursued teaching as his vocation, getting his first teaching job in the fall of 1952. In 1954, Frenchy landed a position at the Oshkosh High School, where he taught science courses and was later elected department head at Oshkosh West High School. He retired from teaching in 1982. Frenchy was united in marriage to Nan E. Bachkal in Green Lake on August 27, 1960, and together they were blessed with one daughter, Ann, in 1962.

During his first full season of fishing the Chippewa Flowage, Frenchy stayed in a remote cabin tucked away in Yankee Joe Creek. He quickly developed a deep love for the serenity of the Flowage and grew to become as much of a fixture there as the very stumps to which he cast. Successive seasons were spent in the laundry house or chore boy’s quarters at Indian Trail Resort, where he built many of his closest friendships.

Although it was a short lived venture, Frenchy did a bit of guiding for a time. Walter J. Roman, one of Indian Trail’s guests, was one of his first clients and caught a 31 pounder while fishing with Frenchy in 1956. The pair became close fishing buddies for the next 30 years. In 1957, Frenchy caught a 41 pounder out of the Flowage, a feat which had surpassed his mentor’s largest catch and solidified him as a respected musky angling presence.

With his friend Bruce Tasker having established himself as one of Herman’s Landing’s primary musky guides, Frenchy began staying at Herman’s Landing in 1959, putting a trailer in at that resort’s newly established trailer court in 1960. Herman’s Landing’s trailer court housed a tight little band of musky fishing "bums" that fished hard… and partied hard. However, Frenchy kept his ties with the gang at Indian Trail and often would fish his way between the two resorts so he could revel with both sets of his musky fishing friends.

After Herman’s Landing’s trailer court closed down in 1967, Frenchy pulled up stakes and moved back to Indian Trail, where he based his fishing from then on. Although the last time Frenchy wet a line in the Flowage was in 2002, he continued to be active in the sport by going to lure swaps, making appearances at baits shops & fishing clubs, and dispensing stories & advice to the many visitors that would stop by his home.

Frenchy began crafting his own musky lures as soon as he began fishing in 1946. He couldn’t afford to buy many lures so he carved out a homemade Suick, the very lure that he caught his first musky on. He enjoyed the challenge of trying to make lures that made a deeper sound and were larger than those that were available. By the mid 1960s, Frenchy had shifted into high gear with his lure making and through until 1995 he grew to set the standard in the making of top water musky lures. After health problems forced him to quit making lures himself, Frenchy and some of his friends formed the LeLure Tackle Company and mass produced high quality lures that were patterned after his long-proven. Some of Frenchy’s one-of-a-kind homemade lures have commanded more than $1,000 from the serious collectors. LeLure Tackle is again making lures at the current time.

Frenchy’s deep love for nature and the sport of musky fishing is best demonstrated by his comments on the sport:

"Musky fishing is probably as different as any kind of fishing that you could get into. It’s hard work and you never stop learning. You can go long periods of time without action – even if you’ve been at it for quite a while – and there can be many days of frustration. That’s what basically happened to me. I had a bad start, but once one throws a pail of water in your face, it gets to you. It really does."

Verlin will be forever missed by his only daughter, Ann and her husband Paul Narveson of Oshkosh; his sister Eileen (Schuyler "Bunk") Van Gorden of Eau Claire; his dear friend Larry Cockrum of Oshkosh; and the legions of students that he had taught…both in the classroom and out on the water.