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Article on spearing in Sunday's paper

9 posts in this topic

There is a nice article by Chris Niskenan in the St. Paul paper about spearing today... anybody else read it?

It's refreshing to see articles like that and forums like this to help keep the sport of spearing alive. It seems to be making a slight comeback and should be well past the days when no journalist would touch the subject with a 10 foot pole due to the pressures of some fishing orginizations and their zealot for no harvesting of pike.

I see the future as being bright and increasing the size of the fraternity of those we call sprearers!

Good Luck!


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I just checked it out, nice article. I agree, it seems to be making a comeback.

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Can I find the article online?

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Yes, thats where I read it. St. Paul Pioneer Press.

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this is a great artical, and i to believe that the sport is coming back in a strong way!!!!

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Good article about decoys. Looks like he should have used an Icesaw grin.giflooking at his ice block. Did you go through the slide show? Nice decoys and 1 big one! I put a comment on there. \:\)

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sell one

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Fish decoys: art of attraction

Fish are not the only creatures lured to these hand-carved decoys.


Outdoors Editor

St. Paul Pioneer Press

CROSSLAKE, Minn. - Once Kirk Schnitker settled into his fish house on Cross Lake, he opened a large, multilayered toolbox that contained dozens of hand-carved fish decoys, including some that looked nothing like fish.

One was shaped like a small brown animal with metal fins; Schnitker called it "The Beave." Another was shaped like a saucer-sized manta ray. And another looked like a large, patriotic-themed grasshopper.

He had carved all the decoys in his box.

Schnitker tied the grasshopper lure to a string and lowered it into the ice hole. When he tugged the string, the decoy's small, insectlike wings flapped. The fire-engine-red and white lure danced colorfully under the water.

"Some people call it a whitefish decoy, but it doesn't swim worth a [PoorWordUsage]," said Schnitker of Spring Lake Park.

Still, it wasn't long before a curious whitefish cruised under the ice to check out the decoy. Schnitker grabbed his iron spear, but the whitefish streaked away just as Schniker flung his weapon.

"They're always moving, so you have to be fast," he sighed.

Darkhouse spearing with fish-luring decoys is a time-honored sport in Minnesota, and some folk-art decoys carved by the old masters are worth hundreds, even thousands, of dollars. Schnitker is among a cadre of new carvers and anglers keeping the craft alive.

"I don't know why darkhouse spearing and decoy carving have experienced a resurgence, but it probably has to do with people's interest in nostalgic sporting art," Schnitker said. "I also like using a well-made, handmade lure. The things I make are one of a kind."

Some of Minnesota's best-known contemporary carvers recently gathered at Schnitker's cabin on Cross Lake for their annual Whitefish Chain Open, a competition to see whose decoys could lure the biggest fish.

It wasn't your typical artists' retreat. On the first night, Schnitker prepared three enormous meatloaves of seasoned bear meat. And throughout the weekend, there was a lot of snowmobiling, spearfishing and evening imbibing.

The carvers who showed up have created some of the most eclectic and beautiful fish decoys around.

Thayne Johnson, an unemployed Web site designer living in Minneapolis, is known for his cartoonish and inventive decoys. He showed a decoy without fins that nonetheless swims in a wiggling action.

His creations sell for $50 to $300.

"It drives the pike crazy," said Johnson of his squirmy fish, which recently won first-place in the experimental decoy category at the World Decoy Championships in Michigan. "It's all about how it is weighted. It's a trade secret."

Tim Spreck of Stillwater said he is probably the only person in the world who makes a full-time living buying and selling fish decoys. He not only operates a Web site ( but also carves offbeat and folksy decoys.

One of his decoys looks like a polka-dotted character from the movie "Finding Nemo."

"People collect Tim Spreck's decoys because they have a unique style," Schnitker said. "He has a good gift for the art."

Other Minnesota carvers have their niches, too. Bob Johnson, a high school art teacher in Brainerd, is known for his exquisitely painted decoys. Gary Hull of Baudette is known for his realistic fish that looked like they just jumped out of the water.

Mention Otis Lael of Pine River, and many of today's carvers nod in appreciation. Lael died several years ago but not before carving hundreds of otherworldly decoys.

"They can be crude and maybe they don't swim that well, but there's a lot to like about them," Johnson said.

Lael's decoys are often jointed or have large teeth and disproportionate heads.

Lael has reached nearly folk-hero status among today's carvers because he never speared fish himself, having fallen through the ice as a youngster and refusing to ever walk on a frozen lake. One of his sunfish decoys made in 2000 features a Copenhagen tobacco tin embedded in the side. It's listed for $95 on Spreck's Web site.

Schnitker, an attorney, said he carves decoys for relaxation and for the thrill of seeing a fish rush into his spear hole to snatch one of his creations. His decoys often have distinctive flame or wave patterns on their flanks.

He says he doesn't make enough money selling them to offset the hours he spends carving and painting them, but he hopes someday collectors will clamor for them.

"For now, I'm told I should keep my day job," he joked.

The fish on Cross Lake, it turned out, were curious and attracted to all sorts of odd-looking decoys.

One of Schnitker's flame-decorated lures brought in a northern pike. The Beave and the manta ray each drew in whitefish that weighed more than 3 pounds.

Schnitker missed all three whitefish, and the northern pike was too small to spear.

"I've never been known as the most accurate spearer," he said. "But I have some nice decoys."


Great article. Figured I'd put it up since the links tend to break after a couple weeks when the story is removed.

I saw a guy at the Ice Show who had been carving for a little over a year. Heck of a talent. If you saw the decoys you'd have remembered them. Amazing touch with paint. He also wasn't too excited about the protected slot on Lake of the Woods (where he was from and ran a resort), so he had an interesting cartoon on the side of a few of his decoys.

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