Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s addition to my suddenly burgeoning Felix collection is an oddity which I admittedly know very little about. It is an ice fishing decoy. These are said to be handmade by Native Americans, or so I have read in more than one description. The carving appears to be executed by hand, but the glass eyes and metal “fins” as well as the overall design seem to have been a pattern. I have seen a couple of these before albeit not many, and I have not run across one for sale until now. I purchased it from a seller who deals in fishing lures and offered little information, his being a fishing lure site, not a Felix one.
An online listing for a previous auction which promised decoys in the likeness of Felix and Mickey Mouse explains that such a decoy would have be jiggled on stick in the water, via hole cut in the ice and this would attract the fish which would then be speared. This answers my question about how a lure with no hook held a fish, not understanding it was more decoy than lure as such. Felix’s tail moves and presumably his size, shape, the shining glass eyes and the moving tail was enough to tempt a fish into making a move in the dark water under the ice.
I found the Mickey on Pinterest, below, and as you can see it is the same general design with additional Mickey-esque details added. Mickey seems to be more or less as rarified as Felix in terms of availability; there are some listings for both for past auctions, but not many images or any currently for sale. One photo of a Felix lure shows some small differences in the carving, making him slightly more Felix-y if you will. Mickey has fingers and a bit more detail seems to have been added to him – although his tail is more nominal. Unlike the vast majority of my Felix items which tend to skew to Great Britain as their place of origin, this is a resoundingly American item and shows how ubiquitous Felix and Mickey items were here as well.
I paid up for this Felix – ask me my age all you want, but do not ask what I have paid for my high priced Felix items! However, I would say at a quick look it is in line with what hand carved ice fishing lures go for – although I suspect that if one was really hunting them you might find one going for sufficiently less, but probably not from a lure specialist. Since this was the first I have ever seen available I jumped in and now will not need to devote future years to thumbing through fish lure auctions. (Unless of course I want that Mickey Mouse.) I purchased him uncontested on eBay, although an odd thing did happen as I was notified that the item had been removed from sale. I was therefore surprised when my bid won him a week later.
While I may not know the details of ice fishing as such, I come from fishing lure making stock. My grandfather (Frank Wheeling, my mom’s dad) had a workshop in his garage where he made lures and repaired outboard motors for extra money. As a small child I was mostly forbidden to enter beyond the doorway (think hot lead for sinkers, metal hooks and who knows what else I could have gotten into) so I do not remember any of the specifics beyond the smell which was a mixture of petrol, paint, wood and innumerable other things I guess. Sadly he died when I was still very young so my memories of him and his shop are very early. (I have written about their house and yard in posts that can be read here and here.)
The beach community I grew up in was at one time famous for ice boating and along with that there were always some ice fishing huts. Although I lived on a river on the ocean side of the peninsula, there is a second river, the Navesink, to the west of us on the Shrewsbury, and it froze solid on occasion. We would go skating there (it was a glorious expanse of ice to skate on) and also watch the wooden ice boats race. These wooden boats go incredibly fast and because they are made of wood they make a certain wonderful sound on the ice.
When skating we would pass small ice fishing huts, but I never was inside one nor do I know precisely what they were catching that was worth sitting out there in the cold. I assume it was the same fish we caught in the summer with less trouble? I have been told that in Minnesota people set up on the ice for the long haul and have very elaborate huts that are brought onto the ice or erected. These were simple and tiny for the most part, just a bit of protection from the wind I guess.
Looking carefully at Felix I would say he has been much used – the metal fins have some use and rust on them. He has wear marks, on his ears in particular. His tummy has these wooden inserts and I would guess this is how he is filled with lead there to give him the heft that was needed for him to sink in the water. He has a small rusted hook behind his ears for attaching him to the stick or pole and as mentioned, his tail moves side to side and his eyes are glass. His come hither fishing days are behind him and he has come to rest here in the Pictorama collection with his less hardworking Felix brethren.