Based on facts, either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
“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.”
1/12: Fish decoys carved by Keith Petersen of Cambridge, Minn. are stained rather than painted, but that doesn't keep them from having a unique character and a splash of color. Petersen's creations were on display during the decoy carvers' show Dec. 3, 2022 at the Park Rapids American Legion.
2/12: Some of the decoys displayed by Wayne Leaderbrand of New York Mills during the decoy carvers' show Dec. 3, 2022 at the Park Rapids American Legion were of a froggy persuasion. Leaderbrand, a farmer with 200 head of beef and 200 sow farrow to finish, said he carves decoys to have something to do in the evening and when he retires.
3/12: Terry Martin of Park Rapids checks out the fish decoys by Sharon Thomas of Frazee during the decoy carvers' show Dec. 3, 2022 at the Park Rapids American Legion. "I graduated from Park Rapids High School," said Thomas, "so it's really fun for me to come to this show."
4/12: Sharon Thomas of Frazee showed these decoys during the decoy carvers' show Dec. 3, 2022 at the Park Rapids American Legion. "They're user friendly, and everything is swim-tested," she said. "We've sold a lot of them this year, and we're not really to spearing yet, with the weather being – it hasn't been cold enough so far. But we're making ice now."
5/12: Paul Sparks of Wadena displayed fish decoys in a variety of shapes, colors and levels of realism during the decoy carvers' show Dec. 3, 2022 at the Park Rapids American Legion. He said his decoys have gotten up to 22 inches long.
6/12: College student Lucas Borgerding with You Betcha Baits, Sauk Centre, learned to carve fish decoys about a year ago, applying paint with an airbrush and adding hand-painted details. Asked if he fishes them, Borgerding said, "Yes, I did pretty good last year."
7/12: Fish decoys by Mark Bethel of Park Rapids come with a wide variety of colors and markings, but often sport a cheerful grin. He said past purchasers sometimes bring their decoys back to him to touch up the paint, indicating that they are well used and enjoyed.
8/12: Lucas Borgerding, 19, of Sauk Centre represents his fish decoy creations as You Betcha Baits during the decoy carvers' show Dec. 3, 2022 at the Park Rapids American Legion. Borgerding said he started carving fishing lures about four years ago, and Howard Pfeil of Little Falls introduced him to carving decoys about a year ago. His decoys, some of them hinged in the middle, are all painted by water-based airbrush with some hand-painted details. "I plan on keeping it a lifelong hobby," he said.
9/12: The Lachowitzer family – parents Kate and Andrew and children Easton, Wyatt and Lauren – vote for their favorites in the "Collectible" category during the decoy carvers' show Dec. 3, 2022 at the Park Rapids American Legion. There was also a table of finalists in the "workable" category, which requires decoys to swim well.
10/12: Howard Pfeil of Little Falls used a system of dowels and hooks to display his fish decoys during the decoy carvers' show Dec. 3, 2022 at the Park Rapids American Legion. "I make them out of white cedar," he said. "My partner, Sandy, does the painting on them." Asked if he fishes them, Pfeil shared an album of photos showing fish they've speared using their decoys, including a 30-inch northern pike.
11/12: Some of the fish decoys carved by David Rasmussen of Detroit Lakes feature woodburning designs and stain, instead of the traditional paint. "I've probably done close to 100 of these," said Rasmussen during the decoy carvers' show Dec. 3, 2022 at the Park Rapids American Legion. "I don't do it any more because of health reasons."
12/12: Brad Lange of Perham carved these spearfishing decoys, displayed at the decoy carvers' show Dec. 3, 2022 at the Park Rapids American Legion. Lange has kept so busy carving decoys for about 20 years that he says, "Don't have time to go fishing is my big problem."