By Steve Heiting, Managing Editor
With the legendary Chippewa Flowage literally in his backyard when he was a kid in the 1960s, Dave Dorazio idolized fishing guide Ray Blank. In fact, he called him his hero.
“There was such a group of good fishermen on the Flowage at the time. Frenchy LeMay you think of right away, and of course Bruce Tasker, and Ray Blank and Joe Jasek were two of the best fishermen I’d known. Then there was the Gutsch brothers [Wayne and Randy]. But Ray Blank was my hero,” explained Dorazio.
“Ray was a man’s man. He hunted deer and he didn’t sit in trees, he walked. In his garage was a pile of antlers because he killed a lot of deer. Same thing with fishing. He always caught fish. And when he was done fishing for the season up here, he’d trailer his Lund guide boat … what were they, 15 feet long … to Florida and fish sharks. I once asked him what was the biggest shark he’d ever caught, and he said ‘Oh, about 15 feet long.’ He did that from a 15-foot boat!” Dorazio continued.
Early in October, Dorazio joined Blank and other fishing legends when he was voted to the 2019 class of inductees to the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame. His son, Michael, of Bloomer, Wisconsin, submitted the nomination.
Dorazio, now 65, and his wife, Nancy, live in Hayward, Wisconsin. He was born in nearby Shell Lake and grew up at his parents’ Arrow Resort, which once stood on the shore of what is now known as Dorazio Bay — just a long cast or so from Herman’s Landing, a business almost as famous as the Flowage itself.
During a recent interview, Dorazio reflected on his 50-plus-year guiding career and admitted the hall of fame induction came as a surprise. “It never occurred to me. I never once thought about it. When my son showed it to me I was pretty shocked. It really pleased me that he did that. He didn’t need to do it, because I already liked him anyway. And here I thought I was getting by on my looks. I didn’t know I needed to be famous, too,” he quipped.
Dorazio caught his first musky when he was eight years old. Fishing with his cousin and another kid who was staying at the resort, Dorazio hooked the 32 1/2-inch fish on a crappie minnow and successfully battled it to the boat. “Unfortunately for the musky, fish fries had been invented long before catch and release,” he joked.
Dorazio caught the musky bug when he was about 10 years old. “I went out with my dad and his client. I knew enough at that time to just go along and not be a pain in the butt. My dad’s client hooked this big musky and the fish jumped and all this stuff, and when it couldn’t get any neater my dad took out a gun and shot it. What more fun could you have?” he recalled. “Then the next year they outlawed shooting muskies, but catching them was still fun.”
It was around 1966 when a 13-year-old Dorazio began guiding some of the resort’s regular clients. “It was easy. I just took them out and showed them spots they didn’t know. We didn’t have trolling motors back then, so somebody had to row the boat. If you caught a few walleyes you often got a $5 tip, and if you caught a nice musky you could get a $20 tip. Back then, that was a lot of money,” he said.
As his business grew, Dorazio expanded his service to fish other waters in the Hayward area. “Clients say they want a big musky, but you know that can be a lot of work at times so after two hours or so they’d want to see a 30-incher. The Flowage has always been a great water for big fish but never had a lot of them in it, so I started going to nearby lakes that had more muskies in them. There were some days we caught six, eight,10 fish out of some of those other lakes,” he said.
Dorazio was among a group of Flowage regulars who saw the need to promote catch and release long before it was the “thing to do” in musky fishing. “It was pretty apparent that if you kept them all there wouldn’t be any,” he recalled. “I thought if you took them out of the lakes, there would be fewer you’d be seeing and catching. It made sense to put them back in and see if they get bigger and catch them again.”
Musky fishermen are more skilled and better equipped nowadays, Dorazio said, which makes catch and release even more important. “The best reel years ago was the old Pflueger Supreme, and if you got a backlash every half hour while using one you were pretty good. And nobody thought about sharpening hooks back then,” he said.
You’d never guess it, but Dorazio credits Polaroid cameras with helping spread the idea of catch and release. “When they came out you could get a photo of your musky right away, and people became more willing to release them. Nobody could say you didn’t catch one if you had a photo to show them,” he said.
Dorazio’s largest musky, a 53-incher caught from the Chippewa Flowage on a green-and-black Bootail, bore a tag from having been caught and released by another fisherman years before. “The tag was grown over and we couldn’t read it. I released it, and then 18 days later a kid caught the same fish on a sucker and kept it, and the taxidermist was able to take the tag out. When we looked up the number, it had been tagged when it was 40 inches long,” he said.
Besides guiding, Dorazio owned two musky bait companies. He and a client, John Winter of Deerfield, Illinois, bought the Eddie Bait Company from Eddie Ostling in 1980 and ran it for 20 years. He also tied Bootails for a while after buying the company from fellow Hayward guide Bruce Shumway. Dorazio has also been a field editor for Musky Hunter magazine for about 20 years.
Musky fishing today is much different from when Dorazio was young, and he admits to missing some of the old traditions because they were fun. “Herman’s Landing had a big bell outside and when people caught a musky they’d ring the bell and people would come to see the big fish. It would let people know there were big fish in the lake even if they weren’t doing well themselves that week. And the Flowage was always a great lake for evening fishing, and I remember many times guys bringing a big musky in and throwing it up on top of the bar. That was expected when you caught one, and that’s just the way it was,” he recalled.
Over the years, Dorazio has become well respected in the fishing industry. Rich Belanger, promotions director of St. Croix Rod, called the Hall of Fame induction well deserved. “It’s been an honor to have Dave on our factory team for the past 25 years,” Belanger said. “He’s been a true asset to St. Croix. He isn’t just a guide, he’s an educator. His clients become better fishermen. He showed me the finer points of deep water livebait fishing and I caught a big musky with him doing just that. Plus, he is a hoot to fish with.”
The Chippewa Flowage has long been one of musky fishing’s most famous waters. And Dave Dorazio, who grew up on its shores and earned a living on its waters, has joined its rank of legends.