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Michigan Heritage Awards

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Photo of Dave Kober

Photo of Dave Kober and friends ice fishing
Photo courtesy of Dave Kenyon

Photo of Dave Kober's fish decoys
Photo by Al Kamuda

Dave Kober
1990 awardee, Bear Lake (Manistee County), ice-fishing decoy carver

Ice fishing is a well-established activity in Michigan. Dave Kober represents one of four generations of his family's passion for fishing and for making distinctive ice-fishing decoys. Born in 1938, Dave was introduced to ice fishing by his grandfather, Lester Ballard, and by his uncle, Myron Ballard. His memories of his grandfather and ice fishing are strong: "Whenever I pick up a piece of wood or set out across a frozen lake, I can't help but remember him." (1) "Uncle Mike" nurtured Dave's carving by giving him his first equipment; Dave was nine years old when he made his first decoy. Both men were instrumental not only in showing him the finer points of fishing and carving but in passing along many family fishing stories.

Ice-fishing decoys vary dramatically in appearance, use of materials, and theory. Dave has developed a visual style that utilizes the natural grain of the wood to replicate the look of the fish. He applies acrylic paint over the grain of the wood and then sands and waxes the decoys, which allows the wood grain to show through the paint. In addition to this painting technique, Dave developed a tradition of creating decoys that position the carved fins so the decoy "stands" on these fins when out of the water. Whereas most carvers choose not to place the fins below the fish in the natural position, Dave insists on this practice.

Dave took an early retirement as a construction foreman to do what he likes best: make decoys. Working out of a studio next to his house located at Bear Lake, Dave's decoy making has become a full-time business known as The Wooden Fish. He makes 45 species of inland fish, carving a total of about 250 a year. Dave now sells his decoys at wildlife art shows around the country and was even twice featured on the HGTV network. His decoys can be found in numerous public and private collections around the world.

Like his grandfather and uncle, Dave also loves to share his carvings and his stories with others. He takes special pride in the fact that his son, Travis, also makes fish decoys and ice-fishing jig-sticks.

(1) Kober, Dave. Dave Kober Decoys. 30 June 2002.

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