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  • Writer's pictureNorth Dakota Wildlife Federation

Taxidermy Tips for Big Fish

While it’s the hope of every angler to catch a fish worthy of the wall, whether via a replica or skin mount, the opportunity may not come along very often. When it does, however, anglers should be prepared with a few easy steps and a couple of simple tools to make sure their trophy (or its actual dimensions and features) makes it to the taxidermist in the best possible shape. Jason Brunell of Jason’s Taxidermy in Mapleton, N.D. has been working on fish and game mounts since he started under his father’s tutelage at the age of 12. Now 31 and running his own shop, this greenback walleye specialist shares his tips for a top tier mount.

Picture the Moment

The best tool a taxidermist has in recreating a lifelike catch through a replica mount or restoring a kept trophy to its out-of-the-water state is photographic guidance. Therefore, taking pictures of a caught fish from a number of angles that showcase its unique colors, size and features helps guide the animal artist in his or her recreation of the catch.

“Pictures and length and circumference measurements are the most important for getting an accurate trophy on your wall,” Brunell recommends for those seeking a replica of the lunkers they let go, “if you’re looking to go the old, true and tested method, you can keep the fish, but I still suggest people take great pictures, with cameras and cell phones nowadays, it’s amazing what you can get from just a photo,” he continued in regard to skin mounts using the actual fish.

Wrap It Up

For trophy fish being kept, it’s important to provide them with some protection while on the water. Brunell advises two simple additions to a boat hitting the water or an icehouse headed out in the winter, and they are an old towel and a 13-gallon garbage bag. By wrapping a kept fish in the towel, the fabric serves as a buffer against the sides of a livewell, cooler or other transport area, the fins can be preserved and protected in order to make for a better mount.

“When you catch that fish, rather than put it in your livewell or in something where it’s going to bounce around like in a cooler, those fins would just get all shattered and tattered up, and you really want to protect them,” Brunell cautions, “that’s why the towel is there and you can also, after you catch the fish, wrap it in that and have a 13-gallon garbage bag in your boat or in your fish house and that way it won’t leak all over everything,” he concludes.

Chill Out

When a big fish is caught, particularly early in a planned day of fishing or at the outset of a multi-day trip, there’s a decision making process that an angler must make within moments of landing the trophy when it comes to keeping the fish for a skin mount, or turning it loose and going with a replica. If, akin to the growing trend witnessed by Brunell over the last five to ten years, the angler goes with a real skin mount due to its less expensive nature and modernization of the mounting process, it would be wise to

return to the boat launch and secure a bag of ice for storing the fish until it can be taken to the taxidermist, or if time and distance allow – cutting the trip short and getting it to the studio as quickly as possible. “If you are going to keep the fish, you definitely want to get it cooling down right away, because spoilage can occur without that,” Brunell advises.

Scouting Effort

For those targeting certain species, it’s good to know the masters of those particular fish. Scouting out and making some calls ahead of a trip where a potential trophy exists, such as the waters of Lake Winnipeg in Canada which produce dozens of large walleyes from clients around the region who bring them back stateside for Brunell to work on. Knowing those taxidermists that specialize in certain species will ensure a higher quality mount as familiarity and focus on a fish make good taxidermists great in their specific niche.

“Every taxidermist has a certain skill set and certain fish that maybe they know the anatomy of better and can work with and create a better product,” Brunell suggests, adding “a lot of work goes into them to restore them exactly the way they were, so I think a lot of people appreciate that when they see the actual fish they caught and that memory can come out when they look at it…there’s a lot of artistry that goes into it.”

With these tips in mind, when that lunker hits the net and is firmly in hand, every angler has an idea of what to do next to preserve that memory with a magnificent mount.

By: Nick Simonson


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