THOMPSONVILLE — Dave Kober got to the point where he was a year behind on orders.
Tom Izzo knows him, but in case you didn’t, Kober makes wooden fish decoys.
You can’t buy them in stores (but you might find one in a local restaurant). Each one is unique, collectible and can sell for several hundred dollars.
Izzo, the Michigan State basketball coach; Pete Nelson, the host of the Animal Planet show “Treehouse Matters” have all bought their own decoys. There’s a 10-foot muskie hanging off the roof of Boone’s in Long Lake. Next to Kober’s carpenter’s desk is a signed MSU basketball by Izzo.
“To Decoy Dave!” it says.
“It got overwhelming. I couldn’t work. I had too much traffic and people coming in,” Kober said.
“My wife got upset with me because I was staying out in the shop down 10-, 11-, 12-o’clock at night trying to get an order done. It takes the fun out of it, you know, and then it got to be a job again.”
So last year Kober downsized. He sold his shop and moved to a house on a gravel road in Thompsonville to be closer to relatives in Interlochen and Crystal Lake, built a new shop out of scratch half as large as his two-car garage in Cadillac, and is turning jobs in about six weeks. He works on them as he can and no order has a date that it will be ready.
Now, if Kober thinks one is too big of a job, too hard, or too heavy, he says “thanks, but no thanks.”
“I want to keep it fun and be creative,” Kober said. “I like to go to the U.P. and Canada fishing ... I love to fish, I’m a walleye junkie, big pike. But now we can’t go to Canada (because of the coronavirus), so we have we go to the U.P. quite a bit in the summertime.”
There’s a photo of an ocean fish Kober can’t even pronounce sitting on a table for a woman that lives in Honolulu, Hawaii who wants a decoy of it. Hanging from the ceiling is a stringer with four polar bears in flight. To the left, you’ll find stringers of wooden perch and crappie dangling that would weigh a pound if caught in real life.
Kober said he sold decoys to residents in all 50 states and prefers customers pick up fish in person — even ones from Alaska. He recalled a time the manager of a ski resort in Aspen, Colorado drove 1,500 miles to pick up their fish at his Cadillac shop.
Collectors still have found Kober in his new shop. Now he’s crafting wooden muskellunge baits with hooks that float.
“The fun is getting a piece done and then having the people come and pick it up and having them excited to see it,” Kober said.
Lately people have said Kober’s fish are more detailed in their painting than they have been in the past. He experimented with glitter for scales, carving the fish’s movements out of the grain of the wood.
Thought Kober has won a handful of awards from art associations in Michigan, he doesn’t consider himself an artist. He grew up on a dairy farm near Sparta, Michigan then got hurt, went to school and worked for an environmental company in the late 70s.
His brother, now retired, was a commercial artist; his sister, also retired, taught art in Madrid to children whose parents were in the military. Kober’s grandfather, dad, and grandson all have made fish decoys themselves.
“Dad and Grandpa were really handy. They could make anything with their hands — Gramps with those primitive tools and stuff,” Kober said. “Christmas time we’d get a nightstand or something, he was always making stuff like that for his kids.”
Kober, 81, has no interest in retirement. “I can’t sit still in the Lazy-Boy, I’d go nuts,” he said.
“I knew I was going to have a place to putter,” Kober said. “Some guys like to work on cars and stuff in a garage, and I like that too, but this is my love. It’s just working with wood.”