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Fish mounts rekindle the moment

This foam trout mannequin is the base for a skin mount
This foam trout mannequin is the base for a skin mount
by Nick Hromiak

You’ve just caught the largest trout of your fishing career and have to make a quick decision as to what to do with it. Do you have it mounted, take a photo or two then release it, or, eat it?

Brandon Gehris, 13, from Kutztown poses with his 24-inch palomino trout he caught on opening day on the Little Lehigh
Contributed photo

If you opt to have it mounted and want a good skin mount, there are some do’s and do not’s to follow in so doing.

According to Bob Danenhower of Bob’s Wildlife Taxidermy in Orefield, a good fish mount starts at the stream or lake when it’s caught. He says the worse thing an angler can do is leave the fish lay on the ground in sunlight. The next is to put the fish on a stringer and put it back in the water, in a bucket of water or on ice where it’s trashing on the ice cubes that will make it lose it scales.

Says Danenhower, “If you place the fish on the ground in sun light, the fish will jump about thereby destroying its scales and fins and it will quickly dry out. Putting it on a stringer and back in the water will do the same thing except bacteria will also quickly destroy its scales and they’ll fall out. And that makes it difficult to use the skin for the mount, which makes it extremely difficult for a taxidermist to appropriately recreate it.”

Danenhower’s warning leads me to a sign in my wife’s hairdresser’s salon that reads, “I’m a beautician, not a magician.” Same goes for a taxidermist who has to recreate a mount be it fish or deer.

To avoid these pitfalls, Danenhower offers these guidelines.

“Upon catching a fish that you want to mount, handle it gently and quickly take some photos of it as the fish will start losing its coloration shortly after it’s caught. A rainbow, in particular, will start to lose it reds once it starts dying. Same situation for a palomino trout whose subtle lateral colorations will fade.”

Danenhower suggests taking measurements, particularly the length, and do so with its mouth closed while measuring it from there to the furthest tail fin. You can also take a girth measurement but it’s not overly essential, Danenhower adds.

The secret to a good mount and the best way to keep a trout or any fish you want to mount intact, says Danenhower, is to roll it up in an old wet t-shirt or soft towel. Then you can put it on ice to take it home.
And most importantly, Danenhower is emphatic when he says, “Never but never gut the fish. That will be done by the taxidermist who removes the entrails by a lateral cut on its one side, the side that will go against the wall or on a stand,” Danenhower explains.

And if you can’t get to a taxidermist that day, the veteran taxidermist says to put the wet cloth wrapped fish it in a good plastic bag – like a zip lock – and get most of the air out. Air is what causes freezer burn, he warns, which will destroy the fins and skin. The wet cloth will maintain some preferred moisture in the fish. Then place it flat in a freezer. It will last for a week or more if stored this way.

Unbeknown to many, taxidermists don’t use the fish’s head. “A fish head like a trout or salmon, has lots of fat and oil in it that requires degreasing. But even so, there’s always that problem. That’s why artificial heads are used,” Danenhower adds.

He went on to explain that in the past and even now, a few taxidermists will stuff the fish with Mache’ or other material. But most use a foam mannequin like that for a deer or other animal.

Upon doing a skin mount, the skin has already turned a drab grey color so it has to be painted by airbrush to duplicate the same coloration as when it was caught. “Oh, you’ll see a tinge of original color in it, but the only fish that doesn’t it too much extent, is a crappie bass. This is where good photos come into play,” said Danenhower.

On the other hand, Danenhower says some anglers practice catch-and-release while others may just want to eat their trophy fish. In these cases, Danenhower again recommends taking photos and measurements from which he can have a fiberglass reproduction made.

“The cons to a reproduction is that it’s not your real fish and they are a little more expensive. The pro’s are that they last forever and they’re not as fragile as a skin mount whose skin is as thin as a potato chip. Plus the detail in current repro’s are exceptional as the scales are extremely definitive. And if needed, a fiberglass mount can be washed in a sink.”

In a skin mount, Danenhower points out, you don’t want cracks to form or grease to leak out from a skin mount if it wasn’t degreased properly, a condition you can oftentimes see in an old mount that was done years ago. “That’s why it’s important to have your fish done by a quality taxidermist,” Danenhower opines.

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