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FISH REPLICA TAXIDERMY
THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE!
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
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
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
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
(an ardent fan with some great photos of my work.)