Offered by John Dettloff

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. And in a sense, he did continue to fish… but instead, he just did it through his clients.

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 say.

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 (a 37"er).

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 a word.

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 them there.

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 introducing.

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. He 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 many friends, a large and loving family, and most importantly… an extraordinary woman as a life partner.

Editor's Note:

As Muskie fishing people, we belong to a very unique community of anglers...So it is always a personal loss when a notable member of our Muskie community passes on. Bruce Tasker was such a person. Over the years as a guide, Bruce touched the lives of many people providing them with memories that will last them all of their lives. The loss of someone like Bruce Tasker diminishes us all...He will be sorely missed.

Craig Sandell