It was a jubilant Mark Abramoff who answered the phone at Ralph Marlin & Co. of Milwaukee, the exclusive manufacturer of fish ties -- the exclusive manufacturer now, that is, by order of a Milwaukee court.

Fish ties resemble ordinary neckties, except they bear the markings of tuna, salmon, muskie, rainbow trout, walleye or northern pike. Hanging tail-up from the collar, they stare at astonished beholders with dead eyes.

Abramoff's fish ties make people laugh, few with more gusto than Abramoff, who has sold about 500,000 since he founded Ralph Marlin in May 1986. But their success inspired imitators, including an Arizona company. That prompted Abramoff's decision to press a suit.

When the action came before Judge Terence T. Evans, he denied a defense motion for dismissal, saying: "Holy mackerel! What a case!" and telling the defendants they would have to "fish or cut bait."

In ruling for Ralph Marlin the other day, Evans said: "The designer fish tie ... is a faddish item with a limited market and a short life span. In fact, it may not have much life left. What little it has, however, should be enjoyed by the people who perfected it."

Although Abramoff had no quarrel with the outcome -- the Arizonans, he said, "stole our tail and we kicked theirs" -- he believes the judge may have underestimated the fish tie's potential. "There are 60 to 70 million fishermen," he said. "I won't be happy until we've sold a million ties."