Leaderbrand creates custom wood pieces

Photo by Tucker Henderson
Wayne Leaderbrand displays some of his wood fish carvings.

By Tucker Henderson


Pine shavings litter the floor in Wayne Leaderbrand’s basement workshop. Tin snips and paint brushes sit within reach, ready to use. Leaderbrand is a farmer in rural New York Mills, but spends his spare time carving fish decoys.

Larry Lange of Perham first taught Leaderbrand and his son, Ryan, how to carve the decoys. Lange passed away last year, but managed to pass on the trade before he went. His son now continues the tradition, as do the Leaderbrands.

“The kids will start out, they go on their way to something else, but they come back to it,” said Leaderbrand, noting that it is often a family affair. 

He said that in this area there were a number of decoy carvers. Dewey Johnson, John Peeters and Larry Lange were among the local carvers that kept the artform alive. Keeping up the hobby and helping the younger generation get interested in wood carving is important to Leaderbrand.

“You want to keep them cheap enough so kids buy them. That’s where they really get excited about them and want to go fishing,” he says.

  For 10 years, Leaderbrand has worked on his decoys, constantly improving and improvising new ideas and his spinning decoys, which are his specialty. He said that he makes about 20 different types of decoys, his best seller being his perch decoys.

Though most of his decoys are made out of pine, there are instances where he will use oak. He has even experiemented with deer antlers. After the shape comes out the way he wants, Leaderbrand will then paint them and add fins out of scrap tin.

“I like making them, I hate painting them,” he says. “That’s the hardest part. I’ll have 200-300 made ahead and then have to start painting.” 

He also says that he can custom paint them as well. 

“I try not to copy other people, but if somebody has an old one that they like and don’t want to use it, I’ll copy it to make them one they can use,” said Leaderbrand.

Leaderbrand estimates that he has made around 2,000 decoys and has sold many of them at different shows around the area. They are also available for purchase at local stores including Bluff Creek Outdoors near Bluffton, Weber Hardware in Wadena, Staples Hardware, and Mark’s Fleet in Perham.

“A lot of people even come to the farm to buy them,” he said. “They aren’t nothing fancy, they’re working decoys.” 

He said that he tries to make something different for every show that he attends to keep people interested. He’ll keep his mainstays available as well, for those who need to replace their older decoys.

A number of them are ordered for different events. Leaderbrand mentioned that he has orders going out to different locations around the state.

“It’s a hobby that has been blown out of proportion for me,” said Leaderbrand about the success of his decoys. 

Leaderbrand is always glad to see kids take interest in spearing and get to spend some quality time out on the lakes.