In the window of
the Tasker’s home is a sign that reads, "Bruce
Tasker, Muskie Guide." Bruce wasn’t just a guide…for many
of us, he was the personification of the very word. A good guide must be a
teacher; and a teacher is exactly what John Bruce Tasker was…both in the
classroom and on the water. We all know that Bruce was a teacher in Gilman and
a guidance councilor in Rice Lake, but I’m here to review his other
career in guidance…in the guidance of muskie fishermen…a craft that he
dedicated nearly 50 years of his life to.
The first time Bruce guided me, I was 17 years old. I remember the
excitement and anticipation that I felt, to be going out with Bruce. I knew of
his reputation, of course. I had heard all the stories about Bruce & his
clients tangling with all of those big fish over the years…and now I was
actually going to go out with him. What a treat it was!
By day’s end we had raised 13 muskies, but more importantly, I had
developed a deep respect towards this white haired gentleman on the oars.
As with many other fishermen before me, going out with Bruce turned
into an important annual event for me.
During the 15 years that I fished with Bruce, he had taught me a lot about
muskie fishing and the Chippewa Flowage. The way his stories kept me
going, how he shared his knowledge with me, and how he kept his
boat in perfect position for me to cast…it was a first class guide job
from start to finish. In essence, Bruce had taught me by example…of
how to become a guide myself.
No… he didn’t have a fancy boat and all the gadgetry. In fact, he had
no depth finder; he didn’t need one. He was one with the Flowage…and he
knew where the muskies were.
During the years that I had fished with Bruce, he wasn’t able to fish
because a stroke that he had several years earlier pretty much put an end to
his own muskie fishing. An undaunted Bruce took it all in stride though.
in a sense, he did continue to fish… but instead, he just did it through
Although Bruce was from the old school, he stayed current. Sure, he had
his favorite haunts and lures, but Bruce wasn’t afraid to be versatile. Patience
was another of Bruce’s traits. In fact, in all the time I fished with
him, I don’t think I ever heard him complain once about the fishing. "You
just have to be on the water when they go on their feed," he would
The years that I fished with Bruce represent but a fraction of his 65-year
angling career. His story begins when the Chippewa Flowage was still young…
when Bruce was about twelve and he started fishing with his father out of Pat’s
Landing. Bruce recalled about those times, "We started out using a
wooden row boat; motors were still kind of extravagant items at the time. On
occasion, someone who did have a motor at Pat’s would tow us out towards
Tyner Lake, and then we’d fish our way back to the resort. At the end of the
day, we’d get towed back in at a predetermined time."
But it wasn’t there where Bruce caught his first muskie; it was in
the Chippewa River with his long time friend, Neil Zeug. The
boys were only about twelve years old – and all by themselves – when
they made an 8 day float trip from Ojibwa all the way down to Chippewa Falls,
fishing and camping along the way. Bruce caught his first muskie on that trip
After Bruce graduated from high school, he attended UW Stout for a
while, and then worked for General Mills in Minneapolis. In 1940, he joined
the Navy. Bruce served as a Chief Yeoman on the ship the "Alcor,"
and he even had a hand in helping to prepare the orders for the invasion of
North Africa. Not even World War II could completely keep Bruce away from
his love of fishing.
One such outing while he was on leave in 1942, served as a special
memory for Bruce. While returning from a fishing trip on Lake Superior, Bruce,
his cousin, and his father decided to fish for muskies on the Turtle-Flambeau.
Not far from the landing where they rented a rowboat, Bruce’s father hooked
onto a 50" muskie, and Bruce helped him land it by beaching it.
Upon resuming his schooling after the war, Bruce befriended a fellow named
"Frenchy" LaMay. Frenchy noticed that every weekend, Bruce
couldn’t be found. So he asked him, "Where do you sneak off to every
weekend?" "Muskie fishing," Bruce answered, "Would
you like to come?" The first time Bruce took Frenchy muskie fishing,
it was a hot, flat calm day…and they never saw a fish. The only thing
that Frenchy almost caught…was Bruce himself. On a cast, Frenchy had
accidentally hooked Bruce’s hat and casted it out into the lake. Frenchy
quietly reeled in his hat, put it back on Bruce’s head… and nobody said
Callahan Lake was one of Bruce’s favorite haunts. It was a
great action lake for him to share with such friends as Frenchy and Miles Zeug.
But it was the promise of the big ones in the Flowage that eventually lured
In 1949, Herman Ceranske persuaded Bruce to get a guide’s license, so
he could have him guide out of his resort. It was during that period that
Herman began furnishing Bruce and Miles with a boat and provisions, and told
them, ‘just bring me back some muskies.’ Bruce remembered, "We
fished for a week and caught 14 muskies, spending all our time either
sleeping, eating, catching muskies on the Cranberrys, or motoring back to
Herman’s with the fish." One memorable day in 1951, Bruce, John
Kondrasuk, and Cliff Husberg raised 46 muskies in one day and caught 9.
They released all but the two biggest fish.
The biggest muskie Bruce had ever seen, was during the Labor Day
weekend of 1952, when he, John Kondrasuk, and Miles Zeug teamed up and hooked
into a world record muskie on Cranberry Bar. Kondrasuk fought the muskie for
quite some time, until the fish finally hung the lure up on a stump. He
happened to be using a Bon-net, a lure that Bruce actually had a hand in
One of Bruce’s favorite stories about the Bon-net
was when he
witnessed Rocky Carl and Russ Clagett (who were in the process of landing a
36#er) get into a rather sticky situation. As the men were lifting the
fish into the boat, the Bon-net lure snagged into the crotch of Russ’s
pants. Bruce, who promptly went over to help, recalled, "So Rocky’s
got this big fish by the gill covers, I’m hitting the fish with a club, and
Russ is frantically cutting the crotch out of his pants." "What a
picture that would have made," Bruce said.
This just gives you just an idea of what it was like to step into Bruce’s
boat. Stories galore and always the promise of getting into
some great muskie action. And along the way, we (his guide clients and
fishing partners) have learned much from his guidance and teachings.
taught us how to fish and how to respect our environment.
The old muskie records at Herman’s Landing are filled with the names of
Bruce’s fishing partners. Names like Miles and Neil Zeug, John
Kondrasuk, Frenchy LaMay, Cliff Husberg, Elvord Bartz,
Harry Wurbricki, Dr. Wasick, Doc Dekker, Bruce’s son’s,
Tom and Jim, the Brekke’s, the Curtis’s, the Arnold’s,
the Chinnocks, Bill Janney, Charlie Thompson, and the
hundreds of others whom Bruce has welcomed into his boat over the decades…we
all sincerely thank him.
Bruce has moved onto the next stage of his existence now. We are sad
because we can no longer be with him, but we rejoice because we know
that he is with God. We are also thankful because we know that Bruce was granted
a full and rich life. We are thankful that Bruce was blessed with
friends, a large and loving family, and most importantly… an extraordinary
woman as a life partner.