(by Glenn Harriger 2005)
My dad was born in rural Luce County in 1929. His family lived on and operated a small farm of multiple mix (beef critters and dairy as well as the usual barnyard mix) Both
of his parents worked in various capacities with the logging industry, my grandmother was a “camp cook” and my grandfather worked as a “log jammer” (used a pike pole and blasting caps to break up log jams in the river ways). My dad’s favorite stories are when he would have the occasion to go out with them and would sleep in one of camp’s bunkhouses with all the loggers. He had anticipated card playing and fish stories but all he encountered was loud snoring
and the strong smell of a hard days work. My dad also recalls his father carving various decoys and started my dad caring around age 6 or 8. Some of my favorite decoys were the very early ones done by my grandfather and father.
After graduating from the 8th grade, my dad became the family farm foreman (it was common for 8th grade to be the senior year in early 40’s in that area!) He was married at 18, 1948 and moved south to the East Lansing area until the 60’s when he moved us back to Luce county where he still resides today just south of McMillan. (He’s about 200 yards from where he was born and raised; hospital births were uncommon there until the mid to late 40’s)
During his entire life he has fished, ice fished, hunted duck, geese, bear, dear, trapped beaver, mink. He always returned to several of the lakes he fished as a kid, most of which were surrounded by logging camps during the first part of the 20th century. Loggers often stocked these lakes during their time there. He knew these lakes very well, what areas were moss or pike grass on the bottom as well as depths.
Based upon this info and current barometer readings would determine where he fished in the summer as well as where he put his shanty in the winter. Growing up in this area with my family, I didn’t understand everyone didn’t know how to do “these things” I was astonished when an acquaintance of mine didn’t know how to fillet a bass he had caught or in conversation, didn’t have a clue how to set a trap line, or navigate his way out of a cedar swamp. As I left at 17 years old and spent 13 years in the Air Force, the whole world was new to me and it was at least 5 years before I lost my “yooper” accent, ya know eh?.
I always marveled at my dads carving, his control of blade, quirky details and some of the wild paint combos he would come up with. I would always eat my words as I would tell him it was “BUTT UGLY” and would then watch a 44” northern come into the hole and nail that decoy at fully speed. He would often lead weight them slightly to one side or the other in order to give them a “wounded” swimming action. Kind of a side note, after loosing a few decoys to “strikes” we mounted an open bail reel on the back wall and once you lowered the decoy, half-hitched the line around a stick so that you could retrieve the decoy if a strike took the decoy stick out of your hand. These bad boys (northern pike and muskees) have such force when they slam into and grab that decoy; there is no way you’re going to hold onto that stick!
Wood selection was crucial for making good decoys; his preference was the bottom panel of a window frame. It’s just over 2” thick, 3 plus inches vertical. He often salvaged all the windows he could find out of houses ready to be demolished. This wood was premium because the grain tightness of the lumber from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s absolutely blows away any new woods as well as the fact any shrinkage has already occurred and is completely weather cured. Commercially grown timber in the mid/late 20th century is at best 30 - 40 years old where as his preference of woods were a few hundred years old! Other woods will shrink or split when hot lead is poured into it as well as exposing them to prolonged cold water will make them swell or split.
You will notice all of my dad’s decoys are clear-coated. This was to keep them sealed thus keeping any effects of weather/water to a minimal. The big difference also between his decoys and many I’ve seen is the swim function. Most swimming decoys I’ve seen, you have to move your stick in a circular motion to get the fish to swim in a circle.
My dad’s, you simply need to pull the stick upward steadily and then relaxing down and it will swim a nice pattern circle, climbing and diving. If you have never used one of these, it is pretty amazing to see one work. The combination of the fins for balance, the lead weight provides ballast and the tail provides direction to pattern (otherwise it would swim straight forward and then float back to the starting point.
The photograph of my dad is kind of a “bravado” thing as he would have been 17. The bridge he’s on is the “Cut River Bridge” not far from the straights of Mackinaw.
Well, I’ve rambled long enough.
Glenn Harriger (www.flatland-artisan.com)