Catch-and-release taxidermy in Pennsylvania

When I dead-drifted a nymph past a sunken log in a Schuylkill County stream last April, something in my gut told me the spot looked “fishy.” Seconds later, my instincts were confirmed when a nearly 17-inch beauty of a brook trout emerged from the bottom of the shaded plunge-pool to demolish my fly on the swing.

I quickly worked the fish into my net, and while keeping the trout in the water, I snapped a side view photo with my smart phone, took a few measurements with the tape ribbon attached to my fishing vest, and carefully returned it back to the security of its hidey-hole. With any luck, I just might catch that very same fish again this spring, even though its likeness already hangs on my office wall.

Since it was the largest brook trout I had ever caught, I decided to mount the strikingly colorful trophy, but unlike taxidermy of the olden days, I fortunately didn’t have to kill the fish to do so.

Previously, fish had to be skin-mounted, which required harvesting and fleshing out the specimen, adding fake eyes, maybe an artificial head and fins, and painting it to bring back its living colors. Thanks to modern advancements in taxidermy, harvesting is no longer necessary for long-term preservation.

Now, a fish can be mounted using a reproduction process, which can utilize a life-sized prefabricated mold of the fish you wish to mount, as long as quality photos and accurate measurements are available for your taxidermist to work his or her magic.

Aside from the obvious of being able to catch and release fish unharmed, Bruce Wilson, of Wilson’s Taxidermy in Lebanon (the talented man who mounted my fish) said reproduction mounts offer other benefits as well.

“The advantages to this type of taxidermy include no shrinkage in the head or other body parts and no grease bleed-through,” Wilson explained. “It’s actually harder to paint a repo because it’s more of a challenge to get the colors just right. But if customers take lots of pictures as soon as they catch the fish, and take accurate measurements in length and girth, I can usually get it pretty close to the real thing.”

The price point for a repo mount is usually similar to an actual flesh mount, too, so if you find yourself hooking up with a lunker worth hanging on the wall this spring, consider the alternative to killing that fish. With a few added seconds of photographing and measuring the fish while netted underwater, you can release that fish unharmed and still have your trophy wall-hanger.

It’s a win-win situation.

Categories: Blog Content, Pennsylvania – Tyler Frantz