Decoys used for ice spearfishing can be traced to Native American prototypes. The fisherman built a shanty around a hole cut in the ice and waited in the darkened enclosure, ready to strike with his handheld spear as the target fish passed below, attracted by the shaped and painted decoy dangled in the water.
An extensive use of fish decoys developed among those who fished the frozen freshwater lakes of Alaska, Maine, the midwestern states, and Canada. During the Great Depressio, the Midwest, in particular, experienced a boom in ice spearfishing with decoys as a means of supplementing both incomes and diets. As with wildfowl hunting, the wholesale slaughter of gamefish finally prompted state legislation, banning commercial harvesting and severely restricting ice spearfishing over decoys for sport.
Oscar "Pelee" Peterson is probably the best-known carver to have emerged during the Depression years. Peterson grew up hunting and fishing in Michigan's Lower Pensinsula and remained a wilderness guide most of his life. He spent more than fifty years carving, and he approached decoy making as a profession, carving decoys for himself, the tourist trade, and other fishermen. It is estimated that he may have carved as many as 10,000 to 15,000 pieces, of which 1,500 to 2,000 may still be in existence. Peterson's decoys are distinguished by their enameled surfaces and bright colors.
Stacy C. Hollander, "Brook Trout Decoy," in American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 368–369.