May 10, 2023 at 3:08 p.m.
Middendorf creates spearfishing decoys
The fishing opener may be coming soon, but it is never too early to begin thinking about the ice fishing and spearfishing season, and Sauk Centre High School junior Keegan Middendorf is preparing by making and selling his own spearfishing decoys. He has started selling some of his creations, and he is looking forward to exhibiting at future decoy shows.
Middendorf’s interest in making decoys started during the 2020 lockdowns. He was watching the YouTube channel of Marlin Baits, who makes crankbaits, so Middendorf began by making bass fishing baits.
He eventually learned about spearfishing decoys. He had never gone spearfishing before, but his cousin, Lance VanHavermaet, took him on his first spearfishing trip.
“A month after I first started spearing, I tried making (a decoy),” Middendorf said. “I gave (one of my first ones) to my buddy. That one swam backward because I had the lead wrong.”
In spite of the decoy’s directional challenges, Middendorf’s friend still speared a 35-inch pike while using it.
For the decoy wood, Middendorf prefers to use white pine or cedar. From there, he cuts out the fish shape, adding a wood or metal tail. He uses tin for the fins, although he has also used metal from an old license plate.
“You can use any type of metal to do that, as long as it keeps (the decoy) from tipping side to side,” Middendorf said. “That’s the main goal, to make it swim in a big circle.”
Holes are then drilled in the bottom of the decoys so lead weights can be added.
“That’s the tricky part,” Middendorf said. “You’ve got to weigh them right so they glide forward and don’t nosedive. That takes a little bit of time to get done.”
A loophole is also needed to attach a string, but before it is added, the decoy needs to be tested first to make sure it swims correctly. The goal is to make the decoy glide forward without sinking too fast, and it has to go in a circle. Middendorf had help from another decoy maker, Dennis Bertram, with helping him figure out how to make the decoys swim well.
“The idea is that, when you spin them or if you have them just sitting there, the pike will be curious and come in to check them out,” Middendorf said.
Middendorf had woodworking experience prior to making his first decoy. He has helped his carpenter father, Kevin Middendorf, with shingling and other jobs since he was young, and for the past three years, he has worked for him over the summers. His father’s at-home wood shop is where Middendorf makes the decoys.
There is an artistic nature to making decoys as well, and Middendorf credits his mother, Laurie Middendorf, for helping him there. She gave him painting pointers when he started decorating his decoys.
“Some people like certain colors of a decoy,” Middendorf said. “For the most part, most fish will come to any type of decoy; they just get curious. The paint is more to catch the person’s eye than the fish’s eye. If you like a certain style of decoy, that’s the one you’ll use. It’s hard to know what (the fish) want to see in the hole, anyway.”
So far, Middendorf’s favorite decoys he has made are the three he is working on, which are smaller and have carved scales.
“That size seems to work well for smaller and bigger fish,” Middendorf said. “It’s not too intimidating.”
One of Middendorf’s favorite things about making decoys is how relaxing it can be, not to mention the feeling of accomplishment when one is successfully completed.
“If you’re having a rough day, you can just come out here and work on them,” he said. “The best feeling is when you put them in the water and get them to swim just right, where they glide perfectly.”
So far, Middendorf has only been to one decoy show in mid-March where he has sold decoys. He has also sold them to relatives and friends. In the future, he plans to sell at The Gathering, a big decoy show in Perham, where there are different types of competitions for the decoys.
Through his decoy-making journey, Middendorf has met plenty of people willing to give him pointers on how to improve his craft.
“If you’re starting out, the best thing to do is to ask people questions,” he said. “Most people are willing to help.”