WILLMAR — Darkhouse spearing is celebrated as a tradition as much as a sport, and relies on technology that has remained unchanged for generations.
To this world has come Tyler Templer.
He brings the eye of an artist, high tech know-how and most importantly, a passion for the sport.
His earliest fishing memories are spearing in a dark house alongside his dad on Norway Lake, and the “overwhelming experience” of watching a big northern pike come into view, attracted by the submerged decoy his father dangled on a string.
Templer, 40, of Willmar, now makes it his business to produce the decoys that modern-day spearfishermen and women use to attract their prey.
“Functional art” is how he describes Tempt-Lures.
Call it high tech art as well. His decoys are designed from actual fish, starting with the 40½ -inch northern pike he once speared and had mounted.
He uses scanners and 3D printers to replicate real fish, and then turns to computer software to sculpt and engineer the model he will make. His poured molds include an injected dye and often, day glow to increase their underwater luminescence and provide an important advantage in murky waters.
He adds metal fins and eyelets to the hard plastic decoys and then paints, buffs and seals them using stencils and airbrushes.
His simple formula: “Make something I would buy.”
He’s been making the decoys for four years now, and has seen sales continue to grow. He offers them online as well as through eight bait shops scattered about the state.
His grandparents once ran a resort on Templer’s Bay, more often referred to as Little Norway Lake today. From an early age, his eyes were attracted to the designs and colors of fishing lures and spearing decoys. It shows in his works today: Some of his decoys are his renditions of classics, such as the red and white stripes of popular spoons.
Other decoys are natural-colored versions of walleye, northern pike, crappies, frogs and turtles.
Yet others are brilliant, technicolor versions of fish with pink fluorescent heads and bright, iridescent bodies.
All have proven themselves to work. He knows that mainly from the emails he occasionally receives from spear fishers letting him know how his decoys did their job. Some come with photos of the fish and a Tempt-Lure.
He tests his decoys too, but he admits there is a downside to his business. It takes his time away from spearing.
He also admits: These days he gets more reward knowing that someone was successful thanks to his decoys than sticking the fish himself.
“This is more of a thrill now. This is my thrill," he said of the emails from successful customers.
A 1998 graduate of New London-Spicer High School, Templer earned an associate's degree in graphic design at the Alexandria Area Technical College. He attended Saint Cloud State University, married and started a family, and took a job in large format printing with a firm in Winona.
Templer returned to Willmar after a couple of years in Winona. He started a pre-mechanical engineering program at Ridgewater College with an emphasis on mathematics. He transferred to Southwest State University and earned a degree in accounting.
It wasn’t the work he liked, and said he was fortunate to find his current job with Hagen Orthotics and Prosthetics in Willmar. It allows him to use his engineering and computer skills, the same background that allows him to create his decoys. His previous work and educational background serve him well too in terms of designing and building his decoys, as well as the packaging he created to display the decoys in bait shops. Each package comes with the motto from his upbringing on Norway Lake. “Lykke til fiske," or “good luck fishing."
Someday, he’d like to make his decoy business a full-time occupation, but that will depend on how sales go.
There are roughly 25,000 or so Minnesotans who purchase darkhouse spearing licenses each year, as compared to more than 1 million who buy fishing licenses. Templer knows that many of those who spear are older men, but he believes this sport has a future. Until the COVID pandemic, he’s attended enough sports shows to sell his products to know that there are also many young people still taking up the sport.
His sales show it too. He ships out decoys to customers of all ages from teens on up. He has a number of collectors who purchase them as well.
He said his mission is to sell top-quality decoys at an affordable price.
The majority of his customers are in Minnesota, but he also ships his decoys to customers in nine other states. Michigan is his second biggest market. He’s crafted a new sturgeon decoy this year. There are anglers in Wisconsin using them during the annual sturgeon-spearing season on the Lake Winnebago system.
Along with the decoys, he’s also starting to make vertical jigs and soft baits, and looking at other niche markets in fishing. But without a doubt, it’s his love for crafting spearing decoys that remains at the heart of his passion.
“I will be doing this until I am in the grave,” he said.