My Life As a Fish Decoy
Imagine an old farmer in a house located on what had been tall grass prairie. Once these picturesque grasses were turned under the soils became some of the richest farmlands in the world. The old gent's working on something in the kitchen. Along side him resides and old iron range stove and he slips a few pieces of wood in it about every hour to provide warmth in the kitchen. Overhead, a bare bulb in the ceiling keeps the room light enough for the work he's doing.
He grimaces, for he's nicked himself with that jacknife he's been using. A few shavings lie scattered on the floor. I'll give it a closer look. Whoa...he's working on me, a genuine, hand carved fish decoy.
Yep, I'm carved out of whitepine, about six inches long. Tapered to resemble a long skinny fish. My fins, four of them, and my tail have been cut out from the metal of an old Folger's coffee can. The metal fins have been inserted in cuts made in my sides. A most stylishly shaped tail was slipped into a cut my tail end. However, too much pressure caused the wood to split. To remedy the problem fine wire was tightly wrapped around my tail end to secure the metal tail.
Hey, I almost forgot an important task. A hole has been hollowed out on my bottom side. Old lead fishing sinkers have been melted in a can on the stove. The molten lead was then poured into the cavity in my bottom taking care not to breathe in any of the toxic lead fumes. Finally, metal eye was screwed into my top side. I was then painted white with a scattering of red paint along my sides.
Okay, my role in life will be to lure big fish...northern pike close in so they can be speared and served up at the dinner table. I'm really a member of a fishing team. Grandfather (Gramps) has built a small house which looks like an outdoor toilet. It has no windows, a small door and a square hole cut into the floor. Once moved onto a frozen lake its hole would be positioned right over a hole cut in the ice.
Wow! Looking down from the darkened house into the hole cut in the ice, we have a window into the world of fish. The water has a greenish cast to it and 7-8 feet down, just above the bottom, schools of crappies and walleyes glide by. Plants anchored to the bottom grow upward reaching for the sun.
"So lets get to it," says Gramps. His grandson, I call him the String Puller, has just tied a string to my metal eye on my topside. He'll hold the other end.
Now I'm ready to take the plunge. No more floating, for the lead weighs me down. The String Puller slips me into the water and I sink down about four feet. My metal tail...the rudder...has been bent, so when I'm pulled up, my rudder will direct me in wide circles. He'll pull me up and down trying to decoy in a northern.
Gramps and the String Puller have got it made. A small kerosene heater keeps them warm and a stack of sandwiches is at arm's reach.
Our goal is to take home a big fish. Northern pike can be huge—some weighing in at twenty pounds. One may come at me with an explosive rush, making a pass at me and then swooshing on by to disappear. At other times, they may tentatively approach, giving Gramps time to put one on the dinner table.
The three of us...our team, performed for a number of years. Today, Gramps is no longer with us. The String Puller is well into geezerhood and I'm a most interesting item of American folk art. The geezer has a nice house in the suburbs with an interesting collection on beautifully carved birds and other art objects displayed throughout the house.
However, I occupy one of the choicest locations on a prominent shelf, in an elegant walnut cabinet. I reside next to such wooden beauties as a wood thrush and a falcon. Often when visitors arrive the old String Puller always takes time to point to me and the role I played in putting fish on the table. Why is all this attention directed at me...an old beat up fish decoy?
I believe its because my presence reminds him of all those grand times he and Gramps had fishing and hunting in the lakes and woodlands of the North Country. Whoa! Visitors are arriving. Would somebody blow the dust off my backside? Thanks! I always try to look my best.
STORY TIME WITH KENT OLSON A Collection of Wildlife Short Stories