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By Dennis Murawska

We've all marveled at them, glaring down from the walls of countless tackle stores, resorts, and bars. Bucket-mouthed bass, brooding musky, and scads of other scaly cousins certainly make impressive trophies. It seems instinctive to want to "bring one back" as proof of conquest....and of course to brag a little. So much for the Neanderthal in us.

Nowadays, the evolving trend is heavily in favor of catch-and-release, particularly with trophy fish. From remote Canadian outposts to exclusive private angling clubs, the release of trophy fish has become mandatory in many areas. In many cases, this is the only way to preserve quality fishing for the future. It works! Any musky fisherman can attest to that. Additionally, there is perhaps no act so satisfying as releasing a worthy warrior back into its native element, alive and healthy.

You might think that, as a taxidermist specializing exclusively in fish and fish carvings, the proliferation of catch-and-release angling would have me ready to jump off a pier.

Not so! The future of fish taxidermy lies heavily in a new wave of awesomely realistic resin composite reproductions that are artistically molded from real fish. These are not the rigidly-posed "clunkers" you might have seen in the past. New molding materials and techniques have resulted in "fish clones" with incredible detail. Thin, flexible, transparent fins now set the standard. You can even coun scale rings on some of the better replicas. 

When finished by an accomplished airbrush artist, they look even better than a "real" mount. Why? No shrunken tissue rebuilt with epoxy or bondo, no lifted or cracked scales or skin after many years, and no grease bleed that can surface to spoil a paint job. These replicas are impervious to the ravages of time, bugs , humidity, and clumsy humans.

While pricing is generally about one-third more than skin mounts, advantages far outweigh the cost factor. Besides, you can't put a price tag on the life of something like a trophy musky. If you like to catch and eat fish like I do, utilize panfish and species that are numerous or stocked into lakes.

Included below are some frequently-asked questions about fish replication.

Q: What do I need to provide to the taxidermist?

A: Length, girth, and if possible, a good photo. No photo? pick one from a magazine that show a coloration you would like matched.

Q: How long a wait?

A: I say 8 weeks. Others may say a year or more. Taxidermists love love to "brag" about how long they are backed up or how full their freezers are. This is mostly just a load of corn. They should get help or give their work to someone else.

Q: What species are available?

A: With common game fish like bass, trout, walleye, and panfish...size increments are available that can usually be matched to within an inch. Rarer species may be to match exactly. Almost all saltwater fish are done as replicas. I recently had a request for an 8 foot white sturgeon....had to decline that one.

Q: Is my four pound bass big enough? Is it worthy?

A: Yes....Yes.....Yes! Any fish that has meaning to you is a trophy. I once did a four inch bluegill as a child's first catch mount.

Q: How come I haven't seen any of these fantastic replicas yet? Who makes

A: You probably have seen them and didn't know it. Like a bad toupee, you only notice the stinkers. Today, award-winning world-champions are turning out molds and casting fish blanks that are available to taxidermists. A few still squander their molds and insist on painting them themselves. In other words, the best products on the market are available to taxidermists like myself.

Q: Do you still do skin mounts?

A: Of course, and they still make up the bulk of my work. I also use replica parts  to repair broken mounts, and sometimes create "cyborg" fish. These are part real and part fiberglass. For instance, I mounted a pike head from a 45 inch northern onto a replica body. Reason? The pike weighed in at 13 pounds and looked anorexic. I put the head on a nice, well proportioned body, and the customer was
a happy camper.

After this article came out in Outdoor Notebook, I received a call from a well-known taxidermist venting his spleen about how replica work was not taxidermy. Literally, taxidermy means "moving skin." OK, I agree. However, who does this work? Taxidermists do of course, and so does he. Make sure you investigate and see the work before you buy. These are much more challenging to paint than skin
mounts...there are no faded markings to go by. You start off with a blank slate, and many taxidermists do not feel comfortable with this degree of painting proficiency, especially if they do mostly deer heads. In fact, I do wholesale taxidermy for those who do not feel comfortable with fish and replicas, and many taxidermists farm out their fish replica work to those who can do the job. In the right hands, these replicas can be truly awesome.

Angler's Art Taxidermy
http://www.madisonlakes.com  (an ardent fan with some great photos of my work.)

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