•Why was the muskie skinned and stuffed so quickly? (Malo wanted to go home.)
•Why was it shot? (At the time, it was legal—and almost traditional—to shoot big muskies. In fact, Louis Spray shot his world-record fish.)
•Was the fish weighed on a certified scale? (Uh, no.)
The last was a legitimate gripe. Ever the optimist, Boroo thought all he had to do was show that Flaim's bathroom scale was as good as any certified one, enter Malo's muskie in the annual fishing contest conducted by Field & Stream magazine, have it judged the world record and sit back for the crowds and the money to roll into Sportsman's Lodge. So, on June 9, three days after the catch, Boroo took Flaim's scale to Marlowe Axell, a weights and measurements inspector for the State of Minnesota.
Axell's news was both bad and good: Flaim's scale was not accurate; it was weighing one-half pound low. The fish weighed not 69 pounds 12 ounces, but 70 pounds 4 ounces. In other words, Malo's muskie bested Spray's record fish not by one ounce but by nine.
The extra ounces made no difference, though, for on July 28, Field & Stream disqualified the Malo muskie because of the inaccuracy of Flaim's scale. "As you undoubtedly realize," the magazine's representative wrote to Malo, "any other course would immediately involve us in endless controversies."
But no one was going to get off the hook that easily. On Aug. 5, Boroo made Axell test Flaim's scale 15 times. And 15 times Axell swore that the scale was exactly one-half pound light. Field & Stream still would not change its decision. (When, at last, Spray's record was beaten, in 1957, it was but another slap in the Malo muskie's face. The fish that took the record was a 69-pound, 15-ounce muskie hooked by Art Lawton—five ounces lighter than the Malo muskie.)
World record or not, Boroo believed in the Malo muskie, and he dedicated his life to it. If he left town for a weekend, he would first drop the fish at a lodge in Duluth for safekeeping. But if the fish brought Boroo anything, it was a heap of bad luck. In time, Hilda left Hank, who then married Irene, and, as Malo puts it, "everything on Hank's side of the scale went down. His business just dropped until it was nothing." Boroo sold his property, cabin by cabin, and lived on the proceeds. Then one day in 1959, when Boroo was out of town and the muskie was on display in Duluth, his lodge burned to the ground. Boroo died of a heart attack not long after, and Irene inherited the fish, which she stuck in her basement and left there for 25 years.
When Johnstone finally got his hands on the fish, bombast became the byword. Right away, he swept away a quarter of a century of silence with his road sign. Then he posted a $100,000 reward to the person who could top his fish. It might not be a world record but, thus far, no one has caught a bigger muskie.
For all the hype, though, Johnstone and his muskie seem doomed by their association with one another. And, of course, once it surfaced again, the Malo muskie wasn't the most popular fish in town. Both owner and fish had such strong reputations that it wasn't clear which one would suffer more by the alliance.