Young artists lured toward fish-head ornament idea

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 26, 2012 - 5:35 PM

A high school class in Verndale is learning about business by making and selling fish-head Christmas ornaments. And it can't keep up with the demand.


Students at Verndale Public School work on making plastic fish-head Christmas ornaments. Pictured are, from left to right: Zach Johnson 9th grade, of Verndale, Colter Ehrmantraut, 10th grade, of Wadena, Anthony Kern, 10th grade, of Verndale, and Brian Bertram, 12th grade, of Verndale.

Photo: Matt Parker, Submitted photo

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

There's fish soup, fish houses and fish finders -- so why not fish-head Christmas ornaments in fish-crazed Minnesota?

"Everyone likes them -- they're easy to sell,'' said Colter Ehrmantraut, 15, a sophomore at tiny Verndale High School southeast of Wadena in north-central Minnesota.

He and his classmates are making and selling the unique ornaments as part of an applied economics class, the brainchild of instructor Matt Parker, an avid angler and lure-maker.

The six teenage boys in the class use plastic resin and silicone molds to produce the colorful fish-head ornaments, dripping with clear-coat icicles.

"They're a lot of fun to make,'' Ehrmantraut said. "Each is one-of-a-kind.''

But it's more than fun.

"We're basically learning how to run a small business,'' freshman Zach Johnson, 14, said. "We're learning about marketing, manufacturing and selling. It's been exciting.''

Math, physics and economics also come into play, said Parker, who instructs the kids along with social studies teacher Sam Schmitz.

"My goal is to tie this into all of their classes -- we're making school more relevant for them,'' said Parker, 32, a speech pathologist who channeled his own interest in making fishing lures to start a lure-making club last year. He formed a class this semester.

The students are selling the fish ornaments for $5 apiece -- and they can't make enough.

"We've already sold 145 of them,'' Parker said. "We're selling them faster than we can make them. We're not taking any more orders for this season.''

And the students are learning about financial rewards: Their sales will pay for a fishing trip to Lake of the Woods next year.

"We're calling it 'experiencing profit-sharing,''' Parker said.

The youths plan to make plastic lures next semester to take on their fishing trip.

Parker doesn't take all the credit for the success of the class. The fish-head Christmas ornament idea came from Larry Dahlberg of Taylors Falls, host of "The Hunt for Big Fish" on the Versus Network and a member of the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.

"I've been making lures since I was a little kid,'' Dahlberg said.

Dahlberg has teamed up with the Alumilite Corp. in Michigan to promote lure-building with the company's plastic resins. Parker saw a TV show Dahlberg did on lure-making and was intrigued.

"My wife got me a kit for Christmas last year,'' Parker said. He immediately saw possibilities for the classroom and contacted Mike Faupel, owner of the company. Faupel has given the school discounted supplies, and Dahlberg has offered valuable advice.

The students pour in a precise mixture of liquid plastic and coloring into the molds to produce the rock-hard fish heads and lures.

"Many lures can be built for pennies on the dollar,'' said Dahlberg, 63. Piquing the kid's interest in manufacturing might lead to careers, he said.

"Who knows, maybe one will manufacture a heart valve that will allow me to fish for another 30 years,'' he quipped.

Said Parker: "The students now have some real-life experience in what it takes to run a business.''

Currently, school district dollars pay for the materials used in the class, but Parker is hoping to make it self-sustaining.

"We'd like to manufacture things that catch fish, so we can sell them,'' Parker said. And the students will ramp up production next fall of the fish ornaments. "I think we can sell as many as we can make,'' he said.

He said the class already has created a buzz in the small school, which will graduate 33 students next spring. He expects a larger class next year. He's also hoping he and his students can visit Dahlberg's workshop to get more tips.

Which is yet another lesson: "I tell them if you ask smart people smart things you get really good answers,'' Parker said.

Meanwhile, his students will give a presentation on their efforts at the next school board meeting. "English and speech,'' Parker said.

His enthusiasm also might be a lesson.

"If you believe in what you're doing, it's easy to sell it,'' he said. "And I believe in what we're doing.''

Doug Smith•dsmith@ Twitter: @dougsmithstrib

  • related content

  • More information on fish-head ornaments

    Tuesday December 18, 2012

    Those wanting to know more about Verndale High School's fish-head ornaments can contact Matt Parker at or 218-445-5184.

  • Famed Owatonna tannery back in business

    Tuesday December 18, 2012

    A famed 108-year-old Owatonna tannery is back in business.

  • A fish-head Christas ornament, made by Verndale high school students....

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.


NY Yankees - LP: M. Pineda 0 FINAL
Toronto - WP: D. Hutchison 2
Detroit - LP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: C. Sale 6
Chicago Cubs - WP: F. Doubront 5 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: J. Masterson 1
Cincinnati - LP: A. Simon 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley 3
Minnesota - LP: J. Burton 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: A. Miller 3
Philadelphia - WP: J. Williams 7 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: B. Colon 2
Miami - WP: J. Cosart 4 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: A. Harang 0
Boston - LP: A. Webster 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: J. Odorizzi 7
Cleveland - WP: J. Tomlin 3 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: S. Downs 2
Detroit - WP: K. Ryan 8 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: C. Bassitt 4
Texas - LP: P. Klein 0 FINAL
Houston - WP: S. Feldman 2
Colorado - WP: T. Matzek 2 FINAL
Arizona - LP: V. Nuno 0
Chicago Cubs - LP: T. Wada 2 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: M. Gonzales 13
Los Angeles - LP: J. Wright 1 FINAL
San Diego - WP: T. Stauffer 2
Milwaukee - LP: M. Fiers 1 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: J. Peavy 3
Oakland - LP: J. Samardzija 0 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: Y. Herrera 2
Washington - WP: S. Strasburg 3 FINAL
Seattle - LP: R. Elias 1
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Connecticut 10
(6) Jacksonville St 7 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 45
Bowling Green 31 FINAL
Western Ky 59
TX-San Antonio 27 FINAL
Houston 7
Colorado State 31 FINAL
Colorado 17
Arizona 58
Penn State 26 FINAL
UCF 24
Troy 10 FINAL
UAB 48
Virginia 20
Western Mich 34 FINAL
Purdue 43
(5) Ohio State 34 FINAL
Navy 17
Appalachian St 14 FINAL
Michigan 52
Ga Southern 23 FINAL
NC State 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Massachusetts 7
West Virginia 23 FINAL
(2) Alabama 33
Rice 17 FINAL
(17) Notre Dame 48
(10) South Dakota St 18 FINAL
(24) Missouri 38
Fla Atlantic 7 FINAL
(22) Nebraska 55
California 31 FINAL
Northwestern 24
Marshall 42 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 27
UC Davis 0 FINAL
(11) Stanford 45
Arkansas 21 FINAL
(6) Auburn 45
(16) Clemson 21 FINAL
(12) Georgia 45
Liberty 29 FINAL
(23) North Carolina 56
Ohio U 17 FINAL
Kent State 14
Louisiana Tech 16 FINAL
(4) Oklahoma 48
Stephen F Austin 16 FINAL
(20) Kansas State 55
Fresno State 13 FINAL
(15) USC 52
Southern Miss 0 FINAL
Miss State 49
Texas-El Paso 31 FINAL
New Mexico 24
North Texas 7 FINAL
Texas 38
(1) Florida State 37 FINAL
Oklahoma State 31
(14) Wisconsin 24 FINAL
(13) LSU 28
Idaho 0 Postponed
Florida 0
South Dakota 13 3rd Qtr 10:44
(3) Oregon 41
(25) Washington 17 3rd Qtr 6:59
Hawaii 13
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(8) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(1) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(17) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Colorado 0 FINAL
Seattle 1
New England 3 FINAL
Toronto FC 0
Columbus 0 FINAL
Montreal 2
FC Dallas 0 FINAL
Chicago 1
Real Salt Lake 1 FINAL
San Jose 1
Portland 3 FINAL
Vancouver FC 0
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Chicago 70 FINAL
Indiana 77
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question