By John Lauritsen

SCOTT COUNTY, Minn. (WCCO) — Brian Shallbetter doesn’t consider spearfishing an escape from reality, but rather a dive into it.

“It’s a neat, underwater world to watch,” the Scott County man said.

It’s the northern pike he’s after, but that’s not the only thrill. Shallbetter has learned that patience is a virtue both in his spear shack and in his shop.

About eight years ago, not long after he started spearing, he decided to make his own decoys by hand.

It’s not a lost art, but it is a rare talent. He starts with a pattern. Once it’s roughed out and sanded, the real fun begins.

There’s a tedious process to add eyes, tails and scales — to make the fish come to life. Some features are burned in while others are carved out.

“You need to not just be able to paint. Not just be able to carve, but you need to be able to weight a decoy,” Tony Stifter said.

Stifter is a spear fisherman who initially used Shallbetter’s decoys for sport. But these days, some of them never see the water.

“I never intended to be a collector, I just wanted to get fish that worked well. But eventually you end up with one more and one more and you end up with more fish than you can use,” Stifter said.

Carving camaraderie leads to competitions where decoys are judged on looks and their ability to swim. Since only six states allow spearfishing, creators and collectors come from all over to participate. To them not all trophy fish are pulled out of a lake.

“It’s relaxing for me,” Shallbetter said. “I’m like I can’t believe I did that kind of a thing, you know? We want to pass on this tradition. It’s such a neat tradition that we all really enjoy.”

To see Shallbetter’s decoys, click here.

John Lauritsen