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Dave Kober Decoys - History of ice fishing decoys carving.
Lester Ballard and a Ballard decoy

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Lester Ballard 1881 - 1956

When my Grandpa Ballard began decoy carving in the 1890's he was following a tradition that goes back thousands of years.

Decoy making and ice fishing go back to the very beginning of human history.

Early native peoples of present day Alaska and Canada have left us intricate examples of carved wood, bone and ivory spears, barbs and decoys - tools produced even before the iron age.

In my own neck of the woods, the native peoples of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan produced some beautiful but highly effective spearing decoys.

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Dave Kober collection early ice spear head This spear head is from my personal collection.

Examples of three tined wrought iron spear heads go back thousands of years.

In the late nineteenth century, with the advent of steel, spears could be forged and welded and the number of tines and designs blossomed - as proven by the number of U.S. registered patents!

Ice spears have to have some weight to them. One of mine is over 7' long and weighs over 15 lb.

Ice fishing is confined to just a handful of northern States these days but earlier this century it was practically a commercial enterprise.

In places such as Saginaw Bay, MI whole towns of ice shanties sprouted up come winter. Buyers would drive out to buy the days catch from fisherman who often spent weeks at a time out on the ice.

If you are interested in learning more about ice fishing I suggest you get hold of an excellent resource "The Fish Decoy" by Art, Brad and Scott Kimball. This book is sadly out of print now but should be available through your local library.

This bible of fish stuff has an excellent resources section.

Also the Minnesota Historical Society has an on-line catalog of most of it's collection along with photos.

Myron Ballard Perch decoy
c. 1980's 7" long.