Felix the Muskie

Welcome to Discovering the Northwoods from the Manitowish Waters Historical Society. We will take you on a journey through our local history with the help of primary source documentation. To learn more about this rich history or about the historical society – check out our website at mwhistory.org for blog posts, show notes, our YouTube Channel, and a full transcription of this episode!

As with many historical works from this era, there are phrases, terms, and descriptions that are inappropriate to our modern sensibilities. The Manitowish Waters Historical Society in no way condones these offensive remarks or passages. For this article, some offensive and outdated terminology have been changed but the rest of the publication remains in its entirety for educational purposes and accurate historic context.

We would like to introduce the story of Felix the Muskie. These two articles help capture the life and allure of Felix on Little Star Lake in the late 1930s. The first article was originally published in the Chicago Tribune on August 13th, 1939. And the second story was written by Michael Dunn in 2017. This episode is read by me, Brenna Reilley.


Here’s Story of A Muskie Which Enjoys Visitors

A tame muskellunge which waits near a dock in a lake for persons to throw him live minnows is attracting considerable attention among tourists and fishermen visiting Little Star Lake in the Manitowish chain of lakes in northern Wisconsin. About 33 or 34 inches long, this well-fed muskellunge spends his daylight hours close enough to the dock to see the arrival of visitors who like to toss live minnows and watch the muskie gobble them up.

Little Star Lake landing where the boat launches met passengers arriving from the Powell stage for transporting them to area resorts, circa 1910s -1920s, catalog number 2018.2.199.

Mr. and Mrs. Jens Larson, who have a home on Little Star lake, noticed last season that every time they cleaned out their bait boxes and threw away the dead minnows a muskie rushed out of the depth to take this free offering. Mr. Larson, a fishing guide who knows the habits of the muskellunge, decided to encourage this fish to stay near the dock by throwing it live minnows as well as dead ones. It didn’t take Mr. Muskie very long to learn that someone on the dock waving an arm usually meant a handout, because after the arm waving and activity near the water a fat minnow plunked into the lake near his nose.

Within a few weeks, the Larson’s had this smart fish staying close to their boat dock patiently waiting for visitors and the opening of the aquatic breadline.
This summer the fish has become tamer and bolder. It isn’t afraid to come into quite shallow water to seize the minnows that are tossed to it. Sometimes it rewards spectators with a spectacular leap out of the water as if it would like to catch the minnow on the fly and thus be spared the effort of chasing it for a few feet after it has landed in the water.

This tame muskie has achieved something of a reputation as an aquatic performer that rarely fails his public. The Larson home on Little Star lake has been a popular place for tourists and fishermen. People are coming from many nearby lake regions just to see this fish. But the influx of visitors who want to see and feed the hungry muskie also has brought about certain complications. The visitors do not bring their own minnows to feed the muskellunge so Mr. and Mrs. Larson have found it necessary to go into the business of vending small fish so that their pet muskie is able to perform for the public.

Image of a musky below the surface of the water.

The second article explains the popularity of Felix the Muskie.

Felix the Muskie by Michael Dunn.

The Manitowish Waters chain of lakes had an unusual “celebrity that was not a person. It was a fish! The fish was called Felix and its haunt was the bay of Little Star Lake that faced the road to Alder Lake just past its intersection with Powell Road where Jens and Lenore Larson had a little barn where Mrs. Larson milked a couple cows who milk she sold to regular customers, each cow of them she called simply Bossie with a twist of the name that she pronounced, “Baaah-see.” The enterprising couple had an unroofed icehouse where they kept and sold ice that Jens put up in winter when they could not do his regular work, guiding fishermen. In addition, they had a bait business, selling minnows and suckers—suckers were preferred bait for catching muskies at the time.

That time was the late 1930s or early 1940s. The Larsons happened to see that a muskie often appeared off their dock and realized that he would appear regularly about the same time. People were fascinated by the notion of a self-trained muskie and they began visiting the bait stand and buying a sucker to toss to the fish, and their reward was always a violent swirl as Felix shot around to snatch the sucker. Felix even had his picture in the Chicago Paper!

Netting fish for either data collection or milking the eggs for the hatchery, circa 1934, catalog number 2018.2.77.

The muskie’s unique career lasted for more than one summer but ended abruptly when some not-very-sportlike fisherman caught their beloved muskie. They had a suspicion who had done the villainous deed—even I as a little kid had heard who the suspect was—but never had a way to follow up.

It turned out too that Felix should have been named Felicia! At the time the town was still maintaining the fish hatchery near the dam or the Conservation Department was, and in season the employees would net muskies to milk them for the eggs or sperm and then release them. And Felix showed in the net and surrendered….eggs!

Felix was a female! A possible mother of little Felixes or Felicias but never so engaging as their mother whom we thought was a father.