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Art Form
Brooks Big John

Ojibwe Fish Decoys
Lac du Flambeau, WI

Brooks Big John working on decoys. Photo by Rick March.One of Brooks’ first steps in getting ready to go ice fishing in the winter is to make decoys in the summer.

Brooks carves his decoys out of a tight-grained wood like basswood. Most parts of the Lac du Flambeau reservation that are not covered by lakes are covered by forest, so Brooks has plenty of wood nearby. He carves the wood in the shape of a fish that muskies and pike like to eat. The decoy might look like a perch, a sucker, a cisco, a crappie or even a frog.

Next, Brooks cuts a rectangular hole in the belly section of the decoy and fills it with melted lead. Then he uses acrylic paint to color the decoy to look like a real fish.

Brooks’ next step is to make fins for the fish. He makes the fins out of the sheet metal used for stove pipes. Most of his decoys have four metal fins along the belly to make them move like a real fish moves.

He attaches an eye-screw to the top of the decoy. Then he ties one end of a cord to the metal loop and the other end to a “jigging stick.” Brooks makes the tail of the fish curve to one side. The tail will act like a boat’s rudder and steer the wooden minnow to swim in a circle when it is put into the water and jigged.

Fish decoys by Brooks Big John. Photo by Rick March.Decoys are different from lures. Decoys have no hooks to catch fish. Brooks uses decoys to attract muskie, walleye or northern pike so that he can spear them. Brooks lays on the ice and lowers the decoy into the water. He jigs it with his left hand. Brooks lays the spear near his right hand so it’s close enough to reach if a fish comes. Usually he hits the fish right behind the head and pulls it out of the water. If he catches a fish, his decoy worked!

A lot of time and patience is needed to make a useful fish decoy. Many important steps must be done correctly to make sure a fish decoy will “swim.” After the decoy is made, it takes even more patience to spear a fish.

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“Decoys don’t have hooks. Decoys are just to trick that fish into coming up.”

– Brooks Big John

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