Chippewa Flowage Legend Ray Blank Dies
Reprinted from the Sawyer County Record
Peter Raymond “Ray” Blank died Monday, September 6. He was born June 5, 1929, in Kenosha. His parents, Peter and Ann Blank, introduced him to fishing at a very early age. Ray was about one year old when his parents would come to the Hayward area to vacation and fish. He began his fishing on Grindstone Lake and soon began fishing the newly created Chippewa Flowage in about 1934 at the age of 5. The technology of today was not available, so he used a cane pole and dropped the minnows down between the logs to catch large walleyes in the 3 to 4 pound range. The motors in those days were started with a rope, not a recoil starter, which was soon to be marketed. It was still better than rowing the boat as many fishermen did in the early years.
When Ray caught his first musky, a 31-incher, at the age of 11, he knew immediately that it would always be his favorite recreation. As the years went by this proved to be true. At the age of 16, he got his guide license and began his guiding and doing odd jobs around Pat’s Landing on Chief Lake, where he stayed. He began to hone his skills, which would enable him to support himself as a guide. He still was in school and after graduating from Mary D. Bradford High School, started to work for the Cooper Company in Kenosha. The Korean War was going on when Ray graduated and was drafted into the U.S. Army and received his boot training in Fort Sheridan. He went to Korea and served his tour of duty and soon returned to Kenosha. He returned to the Cooper Company, but the call of the Northwoods was deeply embedded into Ray’s mind.
In 1953, he decided to move to Couderay to continue his career as a fishing guide, and after 46 years of guiding he also became a historian of the Chippewa Flowage. From 1953 until 1966, he guided hunters in the fall and ice fisherman in the winter. From 1966 to 1976, he guided for the salt water fishermen in the Florida Everglades. This sharpened his skills and broadened his experience as a fishing guide. In 1971, Ray married Ruth Robards and they have two children, Peter, who received his Eagle Scout Badge on July 7, 1966, and Annie.
Reel, rod and lure companies recognized his expertise and he joined their field testing teams, including Wright and McGill, whose rods, reels and lures he tested. A short time later, he joined the Pflueger team, testing their reels, and he also tested baits for the Heddon Company. He was also on the Pro Staff of the Tuffy Boat Company and was on the pro staff of the Lakeland Boat Company.
Testing this equipment inspired Ray to evaluate the possibility of improving the bucktail and possibly to begin making his own. In 1953, he started to engineer and develop a bucktail that was somewhat smaller than the normal bucktail of this time and that was larger than the smallest that were available on the market. After several years of research and development, he began to actively manufacture and market his new product., the “Devastator” Bucktail. They are still on the market today.
Most importantly, all the years of guiding and fishing made him realize the fact that the musky is not as readily caught as in the first years of his guiding. The “catch and release” programs were in their infancy and Ray quickly joined the group, determined that this is the only way that the musky could flourish as they did in the early days of the flowage. Using his patience and focusing his thoughts on releasing fish his clients caught would finally begin to show results on the musky charts that kept by resort owners on the Flowage. In the 1970s, his releases averaged over 80% and in the 1980s over 90% of the fish his clients caught were returned to the water for someone else to receive the thrill of catching one of these treasured fish. In the last five years only two fish were kept and both of these were young boys catching their first muskies. In the last two years, Ray released two muskies over 50 inches in length. He tagged fish that were released, and his records show that many of these fish have been caught again and released, some as many as five times. So the “catch and release” program is working and it is increasing the population of the larger muskies, largely because Ray was dedicated and his clients have been practicing “catch and release.
As a premier guide, he had the opportunity to fish with many dignitaries from the Chicago area and from the state of Illinois. They also supported the “catch and release” program. Ray carried out his civic duties in the Hayward and Couderay areas in guiding for Fishing Has No Boundaries, assisting in the Birkebeiner race and also the Boy Scouts of America. He also helped instruct children in Bill Koch’s cross-country skiing program for children. He also was a charter member of the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, Muskies Inc. Hayward Chapter, and a member of the Hayward Guide Association. Ray taught many anglers more than the fundamentals of fishing and inspired them to join the “catch and release” program. He believed the conservation of the musky should be demanded for all lakes, not only musky, but walleyes and bass also. He inspired other anglers to follow the example that he set by releasing the fish, so they can be caught again. He was also very meticulous on how the fish are released, which is so important to maintain a high survival rate, another one of his high standards.
Many articles have been written about him, some of the later ones are in the August 1995 issue of the Muskie magazine and the May 1996 issue of Trail Blazer magazine, as well as an article in the Chicago Sun Times in 1984.
Ray was nominated and elected by the Fresh Water Hall of Fame as a Legendary Guide.
A celebration of life gathering will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16, at the Hayward Funeral Home, 15571 W County Highway B in Hayward. A private committal with military honors will be held at the Northern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Spooner.
Online condolences may be shared with the family at bratley-nelsonchapels.com
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