Decoy carvers show benefits community fish house

The Park Rapids chapter of Minnesota Darkhouse & Angling Association also supports a spring children's fishing seminar and other causes out of proceeds of its annual celebration of spearfishing decoys.

Chase Bozovsky, right, of Park Rapids checks out the fish decoys carved and painted by Paul Sparks of Wadena, at left, during the decoy carvers' show Dec. 3, 2022 at the Park Rapids American Legion. Sparks recommend swim-testing his decoys if you plan to fish with them, adding, "You'll see a 16-inch pike come up and look at an 18-inch decoy. My theory is, the big, bright ones they can see farther. So, it gets their curiosity. Besides being a predator and being curious, it draws them in."
Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise
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The Minnesota Darkhouse & Angling Association’s Park Rapids chapter held a decoy carvers’ show Saturday at American Legion Post 212.

“This is our 25th show,” said chapter president David East, “and it’ll be, I believe, the 13th year that the house will be on the lake.”

He meant the community fish house, for which the MDAA chapter raises funds at its annual decoy carvers’ show, along with a children’s fishing seminar in the spring.

“And then we donate to a whole lot of other stuff,” East added.

Annette and Mark Bethel of Park Rapids represent Bethel Decoys at the decoy carver show Dec. 3, 2022 at the Park Rapids American Legion. Decoy carving is a five-generation family tradition, including Mark's great-grandpa Andrew, grandpa Pearl, dad Rod and their son Cole.
Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise

Decoy carvers from around Minnesota showed their wares, coming from as far away as Granite Falls as well as Avon, Garfield, Little Falls, Sauk Centre, Frazee, New York Mills, Detroit Lakes, Perham, Wadena and right here in Park Rapids.


“Most of them are repeat-and-repeat-and-repeat” exhibitors, said East, noting that some of the decoy carvers brought plaques from previous years, when they won awards for the best workable and/or collectible fish decoys. That is, decoys that swim well and ones that are best appreciated as works of art.

Winners in the working category were Paul Sparks, first place; Sandy Reed and Howard Pfeil, second; and Samual Coalson, third. Winners for collectible decoys were Sparks, first; John Peters, second; and David Rasmussen, third place and best of show.

Rick Wirth of Detroit Lakes holds one of the fish decoys he displayed during the decoy carvers' show Dec. 3, 2022 at the Park Rapids American Legion. Many of Wirth's decoys are painted in a stained glass-like design.
Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise

“We’ve got a good crowd,” East added. “They’re a good bunch of people, nice place.”

More than just carved and painted, wooden fish were on display. Some exhibitors brought carvings of ducks and shorebirds, turtles and mice, as well as watercolor paintings, block prints, fish made from hardened epoxy and a few wooden specimens that were stained and, in a few cases, decorated with wood-burning patterns.

The carvers ranged in experience from David Rasmussen of Detroit Lakes, who has been at it since he retired in 2000 – “I’ve made 5,061 decoys as of today,” he said – to Lucas Borgerding, 19, of Sauk Centre, who started learning the ropes a year ago from fellow exhibitor Howard Pfeil of Little Falls.

In addition to fish decoys, Keith Petersen of Cambridge, Minn. (originally from New York Mills) also uses his wood carving skills to create fish-shaped cribbage boards and signs with such slogans as "Spearing pike is like sex: When it's good it's REALLY good and when it's bad, it's still REALLY good."
Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise

Borgerding’s small number of carvings (“I’m in college,” he explained) show promise. “I plan on keeping it a lifelong hobby.”

Mark and Annette Bethel of Park Rapids were there, representing their family’s five-generation tradition of decoy carving, from Mark’s great-grandfather to their son, Cole.

Mark related how his grandfather carved decoys to put food on the table and shoes on his kids’ feet when they went to school.


“Some of the Bethel decoys, the older ones, are worth thousands of dollars,” East hinted.

David Rasmussen of Detroit Lakes hung his tiny fish decoys on an abstract tree during the decoy carvers' show Dec. 3, 2022 at the Park Rapids American Legion. "They're not ornaments," he stressed. "They're fish decoys," adding that he has carved more than 5,000 decoys since the year 2000.
Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise

“I’m doing it mainly just to keep the tradition going,” said Mark, recalling the slogan of Bethel Decoys: “Attract fish or get wet trying.”

One of his most popular designs is painted like a slice of watermelon, and Mark said he’s even repainted some that the owners brought back for a touch-up, suggesting that they’re used as well as appreciated.

Park Rapids High School graduate Sharon Thomas came back from Frazee to show her fish decoys, which she said are all swim-tested and user-friendly.

Robert Hedlund of Garfield, Minn. shared some of his secrets of fish decoy creation during the decoy carvers' show Dec. 3, 2022 at the Park Rapids American Legion. Some of his decoys are made from an epoxy and have to be turned on a rotating machine for eight hours, resulting in a very hard shell that can then be painted.
Robin Fish / Park Rapids Enterprise

“We have a lot of people out there, using these decoys,” she said, adding that it’s always fun to come back to town for this show.

“If somebody hits you up to donate to the fish house, please do,” said East. “The insurance kills us on that.”

He also noted that the darkhouse club is very short of members. “If anybody wants to help with the community fish house,” he said, call him at 218-255-3040. “It’s not physical work. We’ve got that taken care of. It’s brain work and computer work.”



Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at or 218-252-3053.
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