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Taxidermy: an ancient art
  |  First Published: September 2005



Most people confuse traditional taxidermy with making fibreglass moulds or casts – but they’re like chalk and cheese. The only cast that’s required is the one to catch the fish.

In the museum-style taxidermy practised by Rod Gardiner, the fish is brought back to life as closely as possible using the skin and scales and fins.

“The fish is taken from the water, put in a plastic bag and frozen immediately. If the fish is in reasonable condition in the freezer in a plastic bag it will last for some time.” Rod says.

“I pick up the frozen fish from the angler’s home if it’s close or from an air freight depot nearby.

“I then make a foam body to the desired shape and once this body is carved, I take the entire skin off the fish’s body from the lips to the tail and tan it.

“I take out the cheek plates and skull bones but leave the jaw bones. The fish is mounted three-dimensionally with all fins extended and in any position desired by the angler. That could be on a base plate of wood or other material, on a timber snag or however the angler wants the fish to be presented.

“I can even get the meat back to clients for food so nothing is wasted. “

Rod spends many hours getting the body form just right and working on the skin so that it eventually dries rock-hard on the body. He says a lot of the colour is preserved in the scales so mainly tinting, rather than painting, is all that is required for a lifelike finish.

“It’s the closest thing to real because the scales are still there and held down with varnish,” he said.

“The finished product will virtually last forever with a coat of varnish every 20 years.

“Also it’s so light. How big a fish can I handle? Anything that can fall off my work bench and crush me is too heavy.”

So how much does it all cost to have your treasured catch preserved for posterity?

A trout or whiting will cost about $150 including pick-up and delivery, while it’s up to around $650 for a two-metre marlin.

“People aren’t paying for materials, just my time and skill,” Rod says. “I average around 30 hours a fish and the average 6kg to 7kg fish should run out at $500 to $600.”

Rod emphasises that the angler must look after the fish from the outset. He can repair a gaff mark and some other damage or leave it as a memory for the angler.

“The best moulds I’ve ever seen still look like a decoration – these are 100% originals and cannot be duplicated,” Rod says. “Generally I can deliver the meat back with the fish if it’s a local delivery.”

– Tony Zann

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