As they sit side by side at their dining room table, whittling pieces of wood into fish, Mark and Cole Bethel are carrying on a family tradition and engaging in some father-and-son bonding.
The men make and sell wooden spear fishing decoys under the business name Decoys by M & C.
The Bethel family has been making the hand-carved decoys for generations. Cole, a 15-year-old high school freshman, is a fifth-generation woodcarver.
Mark said it means more to him that his son carves with him.
“It’s a bonding between me and him that I didn’t really know was going to form,” he said. “It’s formed quite a bit.”
Mark first tried carving the decoys when Cole was born, but he hated doing it so he made one for each of his three children and stopped, he said.
He picked it up again about a year ago when he was between construction jobs. Now, he says he enjoys it and even finds the whittling process relaxing.
“It’s fun because I get to do it with Cole,” he said. “We’ll sit down in the evenings and do a decoy or two together.”
After watching his grandpa and then his dad carve the decoys, Cole said he wanted to try it.
“It’s nice that we’re doing it together because I can learn from him and he can somewhat learn from me,” he said.
The Bethels hand-carve the decoys, sand them and paint them. They also seal the wood and add a lead weight to make them sink. They insert galvanized steel fins and a tail, which when bent, rotates the decoy, making it seem to swim in the water.
“When I start painting, I don’t know what color it’s going to be,” Mark said.
The red and white decoys are popular. The one painted to look like a watermelon is also great at attracting fish, Mark said.
Mark’s wife, Julie, does the detailed painting, attaches the eyes and cuts the fins, “the same thing my mom did,” Mark said.
The Bethels also take custom orders.
Decoys come in four sizes: 3-inch, 5-inch, 8-inch and 10-inch. They also sell 3-inch magnets and Christmas ornaments. Prices range from $5 to $30.
Mark has made a little more than 250 decoys so far. Cole has done more than 25.
“I like knowing that they work,” Cole said. “I had my first northern (pike) come in and I’m like, ‘OK, these will work.'”
The Bethels take their fish to decoy carving shows. They also sell them on their website, www.decoysbymc.com, Etsy and at Delaney’s sporting goods store in Park Rapids and Longville Bait Co. in Longville, Minn.
Mark still has some decoys made by his dad, uncle and grandfather. He hopes the tradition will continue.
“I’m hoping to have a grandson to sit and carve with me,” he said.