You feel a tug on the line, your rod is bending and you know you have a fish. As you are struggling to reel it in, you know you have “the big one.” Your heart is beating, and you are sweating profusely hoping the line doesn’t break and your trophy fish gets away. You are already planning the perfect spot to hang it on the wall.
There is nothing worse than an angler ruining their “trophy” because it was not handled properly. It is imperative that you handle the fish with care from the time you reel it in.
Larry Matherne, owner of DeeDee’s Taxidermy in Barataria, La., offers some tips for preserving a fish for mounting:
The first thing you should do is take pictures to capture all those little details of the fish, including the patterns on the fins and its original color. Once the fish is out of the water, the fish’s skin color changes quickly. Try not to handle the fish too much to prevent damage to the scales.
Tale of the tape
Take a few measurements, because you never know if something goes wrong. A taxidermist can create an accurate replica, if need be. The first measurement will be the length, from the nose to the tail. The next measurement will be the girth. Wrap the tape measure around the fattiest part of the fish.
Cool and wet
Get the fish on ice as soon as you can to delay the decaying process. Keep it in a separate ice chest from the other fish to eliminate any damage to the skin.
It is crucial to keep the fish as wet as possible. Most people think that you should wrap the fish in newspaper or brown paper bags but that will draw moisture from the fish causing it to freezer burn.
Wrap it up
As soon as you get home, wrap a paper towel around the body of the fish, starting at the middle of the fish’s body. Place the paper towel under the fins to keep it them away from the skin. If the fins are against the skin, it will cause discoloration.
Take more paper towels and wrap the entire fish completely. Make sure the fins are laid out nicely.
Run water over the fish while it’s wrapped in paper towels, and place it in an air-tight, plastic bag. The fish must stay wet while freezing to lock everything in and keep it moist. The ice will protect the fins from breaking off.
Don’t forget to write what type of fish it is and the date it was caught on the bag, because the last thing you want to do is to accidentally throw it out when you clean out the freezer.
Matherne said the fish can stay preserved for about two to three years in the freezer.
The process of mounting the fish can take 4 to 5 weeks. This includes drying out the skin, fish tanning and painting. The price usually runs about $12.00 per inch.
But before you leave your trophy in the hands of just anyone, ask how many years’ experience they have and ask to see pictures of their work. Matherne has been in the taxidermy business for 35 years.
Taxidermy is an art form done with great precision. When fish skin dries, most of the color disappears, leaving only brownish spots. The taxidermist must totally recreate the colors of the skin. Fish taxidermists are outstanding artists as well. They must have the ability to draw, paint, mix colors and sculpt.
Preserving the fish properly with a skilled taxidermist can be the difference of a great mount or a mediocre one.