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By Adam Rudd – Certified Taxidermist – HookAndClaw.com
Have you ever wondered about what it’s really like to taxidermy that fish you caught? We will show you just that in Fish Taxidermy 101 How To Taxidermy Fish for Beginners. After all, what fisherman doesn’t like to get compliments about their trophies? What sportsman doesn’t get that tinge of excitement when walking into a taxidermy shop? The feeling never goes away no matter if they are dropping off or picking up their prized trophy.
Taxidermy has brought sportsman together and preserved memories along with lifelong tales for ages. It is the only substantive “proof” behind the infamous truth claims of the proverbial campfire story told to wide eyed listeners! Taxidermy is an art that sparks interest, fascination and intrigue in man-caves and hunting cabins worldwide.
Overview of Popular Taxidermy Methods
Hi, my name is Adam Rudd and I’m a Certified Taxidermist. My goal is to help you get familiar with the basic principles of fish taxidermy. I hope you find the Fish Taxidermy 101 for Beginners a helpful resource for you. I will walk you through the basic process of the popular methods used today. You will learn the over all process, materials, and the benefits and limitations of them.
The very first thing you need to know is that there are two types of fish taxidermy. We will focus on those two methods along with a brief introduction to both in this blog. I will be highlighting some valuable tips as well as key information to help you in the beginning. Knowing this will help you make a good decision on the best method for you to get started with.
How Each Method Differs
The two taxidermy methods are different in many ways. Your choice of the kind of fish can limit you to what method you must go with. There are a few things that you need to consider before going any further. Your personal preferences are extremely important. Another factor is the amount of money you are willing to invest. You should also be aware of the type of labor and materials involved will determine between the two. Having a basic understanding goes a long way by being aware of the differences and the details for each. In this guide for Fish Taxidermy 101 for Beginners we will identify the 2 methods that you can choose from.
The first method when compared with the second, is slightly more hands on and advanced. The traditional style is the oldest and most established method among most anglers. Its no surprise then to learn that most anglers choose the traditional over the other method.
The second method is more costly but is growing in popularity due to many factors. We will discuss these in more detail down below.
Taxidermy Method One: Traditional Skin Mount
The most common type of fish taxidermy by far is the skin mount. The biggest takeaway here is that the skin mount method is limited to freshwater fish. There are even some freshwater fish that are best going with the second method as well such as catfish. So, if you are planning to do a saltwater fish, you will need to go with the second method. This also applies to certain types of freshwater fish such as catfish. That is all we will touch on about that here in this Fish Taxidermy 101 for Beginners. The main thing to know is that this is due to the nature of these types of fish skin.
Overall How To Taxidermy Using Skin Mount Process
The overall process for the skin mount is fairly straightforward. It involves carefully removing the fish’s skin and head together in such a way as to preserve the skin. This must be done with care so that there is little (if any) damage you’ll have to repair later. It is absolutely critical to skin your fish correctly. If cuts are made in the wrong places it can be challenging or impossible to make it look natural later. Knowing where and how to cut is key.
Measuring the Fish
The first step before skinning is to measure your fish. The most common unit is in standard fractions of inches down to 1/8th, so when ordering make sure these are correct. Measure the girth (diameter) of the fattest part of the fishes body. Now, measure from the tail to the edge of the jaw plate. You will use these measurements to order your manikin from a taxidermy supply. The manikin is a foam insert that replaces the fish inner body.
Next you will measure the eye size in millimeters from which you will order a set of glass replicas that will go in its place. As a side tip, you will run into some extra difficulty if you order the wrong size materials, even if it’s just a half an inch or a few millimeters off. Most taxidermy shops carry glass eyes that will fit most projects.
Keep in mind, that knowing where to measure is equally important. We have separate resources on how to do just that. Once you have all of your materials ready to go, you can then begin placing the skin over the manikin form and securing it into place with either glue, staples, or a combination of both. Also, know that manikins can be ordered with different poses. This will give you the freedom to recreate the fish exactly the way you caught it, which makes it that more meaningful in the end
The Goal is Realism
The goal of taxidermy is to recreate the fish with as much realism as possible by paying very close attention to all the fine details such as: the body, eye shape and color, the angle of pose, the colors used in painting and where to apply them.
Properly preserving your work is of paramount importance. If you get this wrong, your taxidermy project will not stand the test of time. Acceptable preservation techniques include removing all the fat possible, proper solutions, and length of exposure to the preserving chemicals. Removing oil causing fats help to minimize appearance issues in the finished product.
With proper preservation techniques, the fish skin and cartilage will be sure to last for the decades to come. You will need to make a solution of alcohol and water which will destroy all the bacteria responsible for decomposition and will remove moisture from the cells of the skin tissue to stop it from breaking down further.
The skin should be completely covered, sealed, and left in the solution for at least 24 hours to ensure that all parts are well saturated and had time for the chemical process to fully mature.
Basic Taxidermy Tool Requirements
You will need some basic tools for this method. Thankfully, you may already have a few lying around your house already! You will need a set of strong scissors, a scalpel, a fleshing tool, a modeling tool, a pair of aviation snips, an airbrush and a small handful of others for this process. If you can manage to gather these basic tools you are well on your way to having your first fish mount on the wall!
Typical Costs for Fish
You can expect to pay a taxidermist for this particular type of mount around $10-15 dollars per inch. To give an example, a normal size largemouth bass would run you about $200-300. If you decide to do this yourself, materials would typically cost you around $50 depending on where you live (not including the tools themselves).
Taxidermy Method Two: Replica
The second type of fish taxidermy is replica. Replica simply is a recreation of a fish from a mold. This style has several advantages including catch and release, no skinning or fleshing, and not having to deal with the preservation process.
With this method, your work basically involves painting and mounting the look-a-like fish. As in method one, you have the option of placing a wall board behind the replica to suit the look you’re going for. Pretty awesome, right?
If you decide to go this route, the basic process goes something like this.
Overall How To Taxidermy Using Replica Process
Getting the Measurements
You will take specific measurements and pictures of your fish at different angles. Taking this information, you will then need to order the correct size and dimensions of your replica fish based of these measurements. Your replica is essentially a blank fish with a plain body form that is the size and pose that you ordered.
Painting and Mounting
Once you have received your replica, now all you have to do is paint and mount. You should base your painting on the pictures you took at the time you caught it. This will ensure that your finished product will look natural and most of all, realistic. We have more to share about replicas but here in Fish Taxidermy 101 for Beginners we are purposely only introducing you to the basics. The main takeaway here is that your options are virtually limitless.
Typical Costs for Replicas
The replica mount is a bit more expensive than a traditional skin mount, normally ranging between $20-25 per inch if you were paying a taxidermist. As mentioned before, this type of mount is quickly gaining popularity for numerous reasons.
Because the replica method typically involves less work, sportsmen who have less time and resources may find this to be the better option. Skin mounts typically require a more hands on approach with the skinning and preserving which will require additional time.
Additionally, this is a must if you are wanting to do a saltwater fish. The reason for this is due to the unique properties of the fishes skin. The skin of these types of fish simply do not lend themselves to the traditional form of the preserving process and is therefore not feasible.
Taxidermy Schools and Programs
Many people ask how they can get started experimenting and learning basic taxidermy skills because widespread curriculum in many schools is virtually non-existent. Luckily, a few community colleges do offer classes which help people learn while still having a full time job. Many of those classes include hands on workshops built into the curriculum which means most students will perform their first taxidermy inside of the learning setting.
This offers a huge advantage for someone who is just starting out because of the direct and immediate access to an instructor when dealing with the many potentially challenging parts of the process that can be hard to grasp if just reading a book or studying a diagram on the subject.
If you are more committed to becoming a taxidermist, we recommend you try any apprenticeship opportunities that are available with other established veterans in your area. This is by far the best way of learning, so if you have access to a local taxidermist who is willing to train you then you hit gold.
By becoming an apprentice you will learn many other aspects of the business itself that is not covered in a basic taxidermy class. You will have the privilege of learning the basic business laws that may apply in your state, sourcing companies for different types of materials, and no doubt basic principles of taxidermy repair from time to time. Like anything else, the taxidermy business ebbs and flows with on and off seasons. Because of these irregularities in business, many taxidermists will continue to accept work orders for up to several months out. This enables the business to stay busy even during the slow seasons. Wildlife are stored in sealed containers or freezers until the work is ready to begin.
You will need to practice quite a bit to become proficient at either method. You will learn much throughout the process, especially your first handful. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you will notice a gradual increase in the quality of your work. The biggest learning curve for fish, no matter what method you choose will be the painting aspect- it can drive you nuts! The main thing is to have fun throughout the project. Well this concludes this brief introduction to Fish Taxidermy 101 for Beginners!
Whether learning taxidermy as a hobby or a potential business, you can count on one thing; a greater respect for wildlife will enter your blood.
Want To Learn More?
If you would like to learn the art of taxidermy, come visit HookandClaw.com for How-to Videos, Guides, and much more. Also, you can find our Podcast on iTunes, Google or Stitcher. Just search for “The Taxidermy Podcast” and hit Subscribe.
HookandClaw.com would like to thank High Altitude Brands for inviting us here to share our passion for taxidermy and to help you get started.