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Bru-ell fish decoys have changed over the years

'Tis the season, but I am not referring to the holidays. It is prime time for spearing northern pike.

By the time your read this, many men and women will be on lakes all over Minnesota trying to spear an evening meal or a possible trophy for their wall. Spearing is easiest and usually most productive with early ice.

With that in mind, lets talk about Bru-ell fish decoys. This particular company is well represented in Detroit Lakes and easily available in many stores that sell spearing tackle.

First, the Bru-ell decoy name originated with Bruce and Helen Wakefield. The Bru is for Bruce and the ell is for Helen. They were from Watkins, Minn. The company began when Bruce suffered a broken back due to a falling tree. He could no longer manage their farm or raise mink and cattle.

For whatever reason, Bruce decided to make and market fish decoys. Since the company's conception, thousands of their fish decoys have seen action beneath the ice. The Wakefields made a multitude of colors and sizes ranging from three to 14 inches in length.

Over the years, their decoys have evolved with very noticeable body style changes and construction. As a collector, it is imperative you know, understand and have the ability to recognize those changes, which are your clues to the age of a Bru-ell decoy, what drives the price of a Bru-ell decoy.

The earliest models were made with taxidermy eyes. The best way to describe a taxidermy eye to you is if you have any old wooden fishing lures, such as Heddon or Creek Chub and those lures have glass eyes, make note. You're looking at what many of us call taxidermy eyes.

Also, earlier models had more than one line tine. More recent Bru-ell fish decoys have a single lied tie, including those currently being made. The tail fin had a more pronounced and sharper indentation in the tail fin. The fins on some of the very first models were nailed to the body. Current models have fins inserted into the decoy body.

Note that paper boxes were made available for Bru-ell decoys, but they were easily destroyed. A Bru-ell with a mint box is worth substantially more money than the same decoy without it.

Most of us, when we were young, simply threw out the box. If you have one, consider yourself lucky and be very careful to part with it. It would be very difficult to replace.

Finally, a very easily recognizable trait of early Bru-ell is a much more blunt nose. Newer versions are more pointed. That information will help and protect you should you decide to sell or purchase Bru-ell fish decoys.

Lets talk about values. Early Bru-ell's are like baseball or basketball rookie cards. They are the most valuable. Newer versions are easily available for $20 at local stores that sell such items. Be aware of new models being pawned off as vintage models. If you do your homework and understand body style changes, you can protect yourself from buying something that isn't cracked up to what it's supposed to be.

Here would be a good time for an old cliché -- let the buyer beware. In all hunting and fishing collectibles, knowledge truly is power. Research before, not after, you spend your hard earned money. That same knowledge is required to insure you get a fair price if you're selling.

Generally, the older the fish, the more money it should command on the open market. And don't forget about the financial impact of a good quality box. I will be conservative and say if you have an older, mint Bru-ell with the box add 40 percent or more.

With Bru-ell decoys, size does matter, even more so than color. The small three-inch decoy is the most sought after, followed by the 14-inch model.

For part of my research on Bru-ell fish decoys, I talked with John Store, commonly called the Bait Man. He sells Bru-ells and I wanted to know what specific sizes were currently available in company catalogs. John informed me he has access to only seven and 11-inch models. That is likely a main reason for the higher prices the three and 14-inch models.

Just last week on eBay, eight mint and different colored 14-inch models sold for their opening bid of $450. All eight were bought between 2000 and 2003. Depending on condition, a three-inch model should bring $50 to $75. If you have the box, I would not sell it for less than $150. An old seven-inch model, depending on condition and color, could push $85.

If you have any old fish decoys at all, it's very possible there is a Bru-ell or two in the bunch. They certainly are not by any stretch the most valuable fish decoys out there. However, I wanted to start our first fish decoy article with a commercial decoy that most everyone has access to. Next time I will talk about a fish decoy maker that is much more valuable, but much more difficult to find.

I want to give you a couple of options to learn more about fish decoys. Most of my research material came from a wonderful book about Minnesota fish decoy carvers titled, "Folk Art Fish Decoys, With Values", by Donald J. Peterson.

If you are considering fish decoys for whatever reason, this text is a necessity. A wonderful Web site to see a multitude of fish decoys for sale and from a number of states is, which was developed by Tim Spreck.

Finally, as promised, I want to leave you with our "What Were They Thinking?" purchase that will have you scratching your head. At the Guyette & Schmidt July 18-19, 2009, auction, a feeding snow goose by deceased Minnesota carver John Tax sold over estimate at $55,200.

Here's my take on that sale. John Tax decoys bring huge prices. Being from Minnesota, with its cold winters, (dramatically slows down the decay of wood compared to southern climates) I am guessing there is a Tax decoy or two sitting on someone's mantle or even garage with its owners totally unaware of the value their possession holds. Better go check your mantel and garage rafters. Enough said until next time.