By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” fishing is a big deal. And in some circles, so is fishing folk art.

Not many people know that collecting spear fishing decoys is an actual thing.

For Jim Krebsbach, it’s the most wonderful time of the year for other reasons.

“Some days they’ll come in perfect, and other days you’ll see a 10-pound pike at the edge of the hole who will sit there for 20 minutes and not move a centimeter,” Krebsbach said.

Spear fishing season has arrived. It is a one-man sport that requires Krebsbach to wait inside a completely-dark fish house so the sun lights up the lake through the ice — making the water look like an aquarium.

“I’ve had four or five times where a 50-inch muskie has come through the hole. You can’t spear a muskie, but boy, is it ever fun to see that guy come through the hole,” Krebsbach said.

It’s a sport that exercises patience and persistence. But the funny thing is it’s not always the fish Krebsbach’s after. It’s the decoys.

“I am just absolutely in awe, frankly, of the folk art nature of some of these,” Krebsbach said.

Off the ice and at his Eagan home, he’s surrounded by about 100 spear fishing decoys — some of them more than 100 years old. They are trophy fish that don’t weigh more than a few ounces, and they are all made out of wood.

(credit: CBS)

“It’s hard to find a 100-year-old, 80-year-old fish decoy that hasn’t been used. The reason I like that is when it comes time to sell them, it’s easy to sell condition,” Krebsbach said.

He first learned about vintage spear fishing decoys after graduating from college. The discovery opened up a whole, new world. The outdoorsman that made them were also artists.

“Frank Mizera was from Ely,” Krebsbach said. “He lived pretty much off the land. He was a guide. He was a real rugged person. His earlier fish have all the wonderful dots on them and they are extremely rare and desirable.”

Then there’s the work of Fred Lexow.

“He was born in Grand Rapids. His parents were immigrants from Germany,” Krebsbach said.

Legend has it that his daughter moved to California to work for Disney and sent him back certain supplies for his fish that made them more colorful than most.

“Supposedly, the fish are made with Disney cell paint,” Krebsbach said. “The problem with Lexow fish is if you buy one you never sell it. You just simply don’t sell it.”

Fish that were bought for $5 in the 60s can be worth thousands of dollars today. Krebsbach finds them mostly at duck decoy shows and also on eBay. He’s one of only a handful of vintage spear fishing decoy collectors in the state. That also makes him a bit of a historian. And because things are so rare and so old, in this hobby it’s more about catch than release.

“Why would you do this in 1930 to spear over? Why would you put all that time into it? That’s just folk art,” Krebsbach said.

Click here to visit the Minnesota Decoy Collectors website.

John Lauritsen