By Howard Meyerson
SYLVAN LAKE, MI — Bob Batchik has long been hooked on fish and fishing: bluegills, trout, bass, pike and perch. He isn’t fussy. He likes them all – particularly if he has a carving knife in hand.
An avid fly angler and suburban Detroit graphic designer, Batchik has carved out a niche and built a business creating colorful, sometimes super-sized, fish carvings that become bold adornments for client’s gardens, fences, cottages and cabins. A larger than life steelhead he carved in 2012, hangs over the door of Huey Lewis’s California music studio. The popular musician found Batchik’s work on the Internet and commissioned him to create the fish.
“I like the old way of doing things,” notes Batchik, 55, who grew up near Pontiac and later attended Northern Michigan University where he got a fine arts degree. “I put down the (electric) Dremel tool years ago and decided to be a hand-tool guy. Each tool leaves unique marks on wood. I stopped sanding things smooth so, if you get close enough, you can see it was hand-carved.”
Batchik, lives in Sylvan Lake with his wife, Mary. He carves 25 to 30 fish every year, working in his garage woodshop. Some are highly detailed, custom creations. His website (sunfishwoodworks.com/) shows his carvings and creative furniture designs. They include fish rocking chairs and a glass-topped table with a massive carved wooden earthworm base, and benches and chairs to match.
A HOBBY THAT GREW AND DEVELOPED INTO A BUSINESS
Wood carving began as a hobby for Batchik, during the years he worked for Xerox as a graphic artist. He chose in the late1990s, with the birth of his second daughter, to become a stay-at-home dad. Being at home, raising kids, was something he enjoyed. It eventually also provided him with time to focus on carving.
“My first carving was a bird,” Batchik recalls. “I was ice fishing and there was a chunk of wood in the guy’s shanty. The fish weren’t biting. I had a pocket knife and started carving. It was pretty raw. Mary and I were living in a townhouse back then. To start a fire in the fireplace, I would cut wood shavings and carve a crude little fish and toss it in.”
Those might seem inauspicious beginnings for most – and Batchik’s carving interests might have gone no further were it not for his wife, who took notice. That Christmas she gave him a wood carving knife and instruction book authored by four-time world-champion fish carver, Bob Berry.
Batchik followed the instructions and carved his first rainbow trout out of cedar. He was pleased with the outcome, but his second attempt was better.
“I carved that one out of basswood, which is what carvers prefer, and it came out very nice,” Batchik said. “I started painting fish maybe a year later – another gift from Mary – a box of acrylic paints.”
Once painted, his carvings began to sell: one here and there, at first. But, one he made brought in decent money and opened his eyes to the possibilities. Batchik, now a long-standing board member of the Paul Young chapter of Trout Unlimited, had agreed to donate one of his 12-inch carvings to the chapter fund raising banquet. It sold for $340 at the auction.
“I took a couple of orders and started buying more tools, an air brush, and began refining my skills,” Batchik said. “At that time I had a kindergartener and a one-and-half -year-old. That was full time for me. Carving was still a hobby.”
These days, Batchik fishes every chance he gets. His kids are grown. He may fish for smallmouth on Sylvan Lake, or head north to Grand Traverse Bay to fly fish for carp and finish the day on the Upper Manistee River fishing for trout at night.
He learned to fish as a young boy, going out with this grandfather and his dad. Their love of fishing stuck with him. He enjoys fly fishing, but will readily fish with spinners. He’s fished salt water and has thought about carving a tarpon. Just don’t ask him to go ice fishing.
“I love to fish and I’ll fish for anything that swims,” he said,” but I can’t stand trolling and every couple of years, I’ll go ice fishing just to remind myself how much I don’t enjoy it.”
This feature appears on MLive Outdoors.