Russell "Smity" Smith and Duane Horstman have been inducted into the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame as Legendary Fishing Guides. Ceremonies were held last Saturday.
Emmet Brown, executive director of the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, presented Smith with his award Saturday, June 2, at the Minocqua Park Complex.
Smith and Brown stood under a giant likeness of a Smity bait as the award was presented. An enthusiastic crowd looked on. Upon receiving the plaque commemorating his induction, Smith was thankful.
"It's a real honor for me to join the ranks of all the other ... guides that are in the hall of fame ... many great guides have gone before me and I really feel honored to join the ranks of all these others ... not just in Wisconsin, but all other states, too," he told the crowd.
Smith thanked those who worked to see to his induction, and also the many friends that traveled to witness the ceremony.
"I thank the Lord for giving me a job that I totally love to do," Smith said.
After Smith received his plaque, his friend, Kurt Kuhlman, of Chicago, read a poem that he had written in Smith's honor. A reception followed the award ceremony.
Learning of the induction
Smith received news of his induction last September. Being honored as a distinguished guide means he joins the ranks of other area legends such as Jim Peck, Chip Ross, Leon "Buckshot" Anderson, Tony Rizzo, and others.
Smith is proprietor of Smity Bait and Guide Service. He has been guiding on the waters of Oneida and Vilas counties for more than 30 years. Smith is known for muskies, but has helped many clients catch all kinds of fish, from walleyes to bass to panfish. Smith moved to Minocqua in 1976.
Smith caught his own first muskie on a handmade bait at the age of 13. This would help launch a career. Smith continued to make lures for himself, and then for friends. The "Smity" was a muskie producer, and local sport shops, gas stations and taverns began to ask for baits. It eventually led to the Smity Bait Company.
Smith also ties flies for muskie fishing. Fly-fishing for muskies is a specialty of Smith's. He even helped Tom Peterson get his name in the record books with three line class world records for muskies on a fly.
Monday, Smith was in his shop in downtown Minocqua working, but plans to be on the water are a constant for Smith.
Smith spends at least part of most days on the water, saying he tries to get out every day. A friend and client, Glenn Gunderson, was in town for Saturday's ceremony and they hit the water for muskies Sunday. A double was forthcoming.
Gunderson was using a Small Smity Jerk when he hooked a fish near the boat. Smity netted that fish, and during the process another fish took the trailing river chub that Gunderson had out. Gunderson landed that fish, too. Smith described the moment as a "fire drill." It was an action-packed day.
"It was in a spot that I had fished in the morning," Smith said. "I've caught a lot of muskies in there where a point sticks out ... [Gunderson] did have one other strike. I had a strike and rolled one over. We had action, actually, on five muskies [Sunday]."
Gunderson hit the double about 2:30 in the afternoon.
Discussing what drives him, and what fishing means to him, Smith said, "I look forward to every day. Like [Sunday], I was excited to see Glenn and be going fishing."
Smith added, "I'm an old guy, but I don't feel old."
Smith discussed the changes to the sport of muskie fishing over the years, most notably the catch and release efforts, something he believes has been good for the sport.
"In my old picture books, most of them were dead fish. I mean, that's just the way it was. You caught a keeper, you called it a keeper. You kept it."
Smith went on to say, "It was a big deal, and the bait shops had display boxes, you know, and they'd put the fish in there. The muskie clubs had big display boxes.
"About in the 70s ... all of a sudden, Muskies Inc. and everybody [began promoting catch and release] and I was all for it. I figured, let them get bigger."
Smith tagged muskies for Muskies Inc. for a while. A numbered tag went on the base of the dorsal fin. Smith recalled an instance when a client and friend named Paul was fishing with him and caught a 44-inch muskie with a lump. It was an old tag, number 2399.
"I caught that fish. Seven years before and it was 33 inches," Smith said.
Smith said, on future excursions, Paul would recall the fish. "Paul would always say, 'I wonder where number 2399 is?'"
Smith said he hasn't seen 2399 in about five years.
Smith discussed the new statewide 40-inch size limit on muskies, saying he doesn't mind it.
"It makes no difference to the muskie angler whatsoever. All of the fish that I see that are harvested are ones caught by people that aren't fishing for muskie. Those are the fish that are creeled."
Smith went on to say, "The only drawback I could see about the [40-inch limit] is if you would injure one that was smaller ... or the youth that get a first muskie ever caught."
Smith did note that reproduction mounts can be made.
Smith also said releasing such a big fish can be troublesome for an inexperienced angler.
"[For] people that don't know how to handle fish well, a 40-incher is a pretty tough customer."
Smith and staff are currently working on a commemorative lure for Musky Hunter in St. Germain.
"It's a real neat pattern. It's a baby duck pattern we painted. And we have to put the glass eyes and the gold-plated hooks on them," Smith said.
The lures are in progress, hanging on a rack in Smith's shop. The two-piece lure will be delivered in August and should go on sale in September. A limited number will be manufactured.
The bodies of Smity Baits are all wood, and Smith strives to buy the pieces and parts he needs from American suppliers.
A ceremony and remembrance for Duane Horstman, who passed away in 2011, was held in Boulder Junction at Gooch's A-1 Bar & Grill.
Emmet Johnson presented Horstman's family with a plaque commemorating Horstman's induction.
Smith was well acquainted with Horstman, having known him for more than 30 years.
"He was a really good all-around angler," Smith said. "He was great, like in the springtime, people wanted to hire him for crappies. He was real good at crappies.
"Really good walleye angler, bass fisherman, and of course he did really, super well at muskie, too. The one year, his client caught the number one muskie in the Vilas County Musky Marathon ... the mounted fish is in Northern Highland Sports Shop."
Smith said Horstman also caught a 30-pound-plus tiger muskie.
"He was always producing fish for his clients and had really good clientele."
Craig Turk may be reached at email@example.com