Carving a career
Former Carlos resident Troy Helget is a bit of a natural when it comes to carving fish decoys.
Helget, who currently lives on a farm near Kensington, is entering his fourth year carving spearing decoys and already has two national point championships to his name. A third one is likely on the way as he took a near 100-point lead in the point standings as he went into the competition at the 10th annual Rudy Zwieg Decoy and Collectible Show at the Runestone Community Center in Alexandria this past Saturday.
“I’m looking in pretty good shape for winning it again this year,” Helget said. “I’m pretty excited about that. I don’t think any carver has ever done it three years in a row.”
Helget was on hand at one of the main booths right near the entrance at the Rudy Zwieg Show this past weekend. He’s the vice president of the National Fish Decoy Association and a member of the Mid-state chapter of the Minnesota Darkhouse and Angling Association. The local chapter hosts the show every year in Alexandria and also hands out a Carver of the Year Award at it.
That went to Helget this year as he continues to produce hundreds of collectible and usable decoys that people are buying up from all over the country. Helget called it an honor to be recognized by the Mid-state chapter members after still being relatively new to the craft.
Helget was inspired to take up decoy carving in 2011 after attending the decoy show in Alexandria. Before that, he was known for his chainsaw carvings that he did of fish and other wildlife.
“I’ve always been artistic,” Helget said. “I did chainsaw carvings, and I was a taxidermist. I taught taxidermy at Pine Technical College for a while. I’m airbrushing fish all the time. I know the anatomy of a fish. That helps a lot.”
It seems Helget has found his calling in the carving industry. It’s more than a hobby for him, it’s a full-time job. Helget works out of his shop at home and sells his carvings on eBay.
He produces everything from collectible pieces to working decoys that spear fishermen use in the darkhouse. His competition decoys sell for between $300-$400 and go all over the country and into Canada. Many end up with collectors as far away as Michigan and New York.
“I enjoy it,” Helget said. “I enjoy the painting, the carving – all of it. I’m kind of living the dream I guess. It’s not like punching the clock where you go to work and it’s the same thing every day. I go out to the shop and it’s, ‘What do I want to make today?’ That’s the best part of it.”
His first-place finishes in the National Fish Decoy Association world point competitions has helped get him noticed by collectors around the country. It takes a well-versed carver to rack up a lot of points by entering different categories at decoy shows around the Midwest.
Each category has specific requirements that the carver must meet in order to enter. The decoys are either airbrushed or hand painted, depending on the category.
“They specify – for instance, the tiger trout – it has to be 10-11 inches, has to be air brushed,” Helget said. “Then there’ll be one that’s a brown trout that has to be hand painted. Some categories they’ll leave open so you can do some hand paintings and some airbrushed.”
The more categories a carver can excel at, the more points there are to rack up. Helget has the ability to accumulate those points by producing his decoys in a variety of ways. The decoys he enters into competitions generally take him between 20-30 hours apiece to produce.
Helget takes them to multiple shows across the region, most of which are in Minnesota. The competitions wrap up at the national show in Perham, where the NFDA names its world point champion.
This year’s show will take place April 5-6 and Helget hopes to close out the season with his third straight national title. Every championship adds a little more worth to his carvings.
“That helps,” Helget said. “When I first started, my first-year competition decoys were selling for like $100, but now I got guys who are pre-buying them before I even compete with them. They say, ‘I’ll give you “x” amount of dollars for this decoy if you want to sell it.’ ”