Spearfishing decoys have been used by native ice fishermen for thousands of years and were copied by our pioneer ancestors, primarily as a method of providing essential winter table food. Eventually, this method developed into large commercial fishing activities. After the turn of this century, spearfishing was banned in Canada, but is still legal in six of the United States. In most cases, a very small fish hut (or shanty) was used to protect the fishermen from the icy winter blasts on the lakes and rivers and to allow better viewing into the watery depths below.

USE: Secured by a short jigging stick and line, the weighted decoy was lowered to the desired depth through a hole cut in the ice. Gently raising and lowering the stick caused the decoy to circle and glide, which in turn attracted the fish. Because the decoy had no hooks, the alert fisherman used a long spear to seize the fish.

BODY: Most common varieties of dry wood can be used such as pine, cedar, basswood, willow, etc. Trace fish pattern onto wood and cut out with a power or handsaw. Carve to basic shape, then add details such as mouth, gills, etc. If using a metal tail, saw the slot.

FINS: May be cut with snips from thin tin, copper or brass. Be sure to file the edges to remove any sharp burrs. Attach by cutting thin slots with a knife in the fish body. Press fins into place, holding with a vise or pliers. For convenience, commercially made metal spinner blades can be used as a substitute.

EYES: Can be made from common upholstery tacks, nail heads or hand painted dots. Some carvers use plastic or glass taxidermy eyes for a more realistic effect.

BALLAST: Traditionally, poured lead was used to weight the fish as required to sink the decoy. Today, lead-free metals such as environment-approved fishing sinkers or heavy steel slugs can be used. Carve or drill ballast cavity, secure ballast with epoxy or putty, and smooth out to follow the fish body outline.

PAINTING: This is where the real fun begins. You need not be an expert artist or painter to accomplish a good-looking decoy. Many types of oil or acrylic paint provide excellent protection from the elements and can be used to paint your decoy. Use a primer if desired, then paint in realistic or abstract colors to suit your wildest tastes. In folk art decoy painting, stripes, spots and bright colors are permissible. Several light coats of an appropriate sealer or varnish are recommended to completely protect and seal the finished product.

Note: Acrylic folk art paints are water soluble and make clean up of the brushes or accidental spills easy to do.

HAPPY CARVING: With encouragement from envious friends, you will want to carve more fish decoys as your experience and knowledge of this historic and almost lost art form increases.

L.O.A. 6-1/2 in.
Material: Pine, Basswood, Cedar
For Lee Valley Tools Ltd.

Antique Spearfishing Decoys

Lake Simcoe – Makers unknown

by Joe Fossey – Barrie 1997

– J.F.