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Every fish is different, replicas should be too

Tom Lyons paints with a passion.
Tom Lyons paints with a passion.
Ron Presley

Tom Lyons has a passion. “When I am doing a fish I need a photograph to work from so I can match the anglers catch as closely as possible. The better the photograph and the measurements, the better the replica. That way I can prepare the mount to the specifications of the fish the angler caught.”

When he’s talking about “doing a fish” he is referring to hand painting a trophy fish replica to look exactly like the one his client/angler caught.

No two fish are the same, according to Lyons, owner/operator of Artistic Fish Creations. “Each fish is its own individual creature,” says Lyons. “Take snook for example. Snook on the east coast are bulkier and broader than the snook on the west coast. They are two different fish, even color wise. My goal is to always match what the angler caught.”

He continues, “Take a fish up in the mangroves, it will be a different color than the same fish in open water. From east coast to west coast fish are built and colored differently.”

He cites the example of redfish that can have one spot, two spots, no spots or multiple spots. Spawning fish, he says, will be different colors than pre-spawn or even non-spawning fish. “During spawning they get really red. Post spawn fish will get a real silvery belly. “Even the transition where the fish changes from reddish to silver is not always a straight line as you see on many reproductions. It can be more of a crooked line than most people think. Look closely the next time you catch a redfish.”

Outlining the importance of matching a reproduction to the area where it was caught, Lyons says even water clarity can influence color. When he works on a fish he’s never done before he starts his research in the area the angler was fishing. “I research photos from where the fish was caught so I can achieve the right colors. I have an endless amount of reference photos that I go through. If the client doesn’t have a photo I can get it. I set down with the angler and go through the book to pick out the closest thing we can find to best represent the fish. If the client is not local I email photos and we do the selection online.”

Lyons takes the library photos very seriously. “I have an iPad and that’s what I do when I am not working on a fish. I look at pictures and save them for reference.” Over time Lyons has developed a large library of photos that helps him achieve the realism he so passionately seeks.

The final result is only as good as the detail according to Lyons. Using tarpon as an example of what a difference detail makes, Lyons says that most assembly line reproductions paint tarpon the same color, but the back of a tarpon can be a different color depending on where it came from. “They can be darker, lighter, greenish or something else, depending on geography.”

According to Lyons a fish with tiny scales will look blotchy. “Its color is blotchy. It isn’t one solid color and it should be painted to be realistic. The color variations are just interesting to me, and a challenge to match them perfectly.”

This is where his passion comes in. “I could work on these replicas for ever. I am always trying to add one more smidgen of detail. At some point I just have to stop, but when I do it will be a mount to be proud of.”

The details on Tom’s fish replicas are just incredible. You just have to see one to believe it. Visit his website at

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