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