Replica mounts critical in fragile fisheries

Scott Stankowski-Senior Outdoor Writer


Stevens Point— Back in February the boys and I went on an epic fishing trip with Jason Woda of Reel Sensation Charters and Nathan Kaminski of Best Bite Guide Service.  Together they put us on an epic journey of world class trout fishing that the boys will never forget.

An unusual catch of a spawning Coho salmon in the harbor was a highlight of the trip that you can read about here.  Salmon typically spawn in the fall so having a dark phased fish in the harbor this time of the year was unheralded.  Kaminski had been seeing a few in previous weeks which was perplexing and exciting.

After Austin released the fish, we talked about replicas with the Captain’s and the advantages of it.  First and foremost while fishing a fragile trophy fishery such as this it is super important.   Being able to catch fish of this magnitude requires sound conservation efforts and releasing fish so that they can be caught again and again.

Catch and release is very important and handling of the fish when caught needs to be done quickly and efficiently to insure that the fish will survive.  Nathan was very particular about this and had a crew on hand to help with the situation.

They were ready to take pictures and measure the fish.

Captain Woda put us in contact with Tom Wendel Wildlife Artist.  Tom was doing some work for Jason and charter captains are critical of taxidermy work.  Tom lives in the suburbs of Chicago and after talking with him, we were certain he was the one to replicate Austin’s fish.

Tom needed a length measurement and several pictures.   In talking with Tom he said a girth measurement can help but is not critical with good pictures and the length.

Tom works with several fiberglass replica companies and at times does his own cast work.  He does this stuff part time and I am amazed at how spot on he is with his work.  He is a meticulous worker in his craft and has perfected every aspect of it.

We talked with Tom back in late February and this past weekend were traveling to Arlington Heights to pick up Austin’s fish.  Yes, that is correct, we picked up the completed fish just four months after it was caught.  Give any taxidermist a call on replicas and find out that you can expect your work in over a year in many instances.

Tom answered some questions as did Austin about the pose of the fish.  He had a few to choose from and sent pictures of the fiberglass blanks.  A replica is a fiberglass mold of the fish that arrives pure white for the artist who then paints the fish.  Making it look as though it is still alive is a true art that Tom has perfected.  The Coho Austin caught was nearing the end of it’s life and had some fungal marks on it’s fins that Tom asked if he wanted.  Austin asked for it to have it removed for a more majestic looking fish.

When we arrived at Toms house and entered it looked like any ordinary family suburb setup.  Then we went downstairs and saw his showroom.  It was impressive with a display of fish from the Great Lakes. He had some huge bluegills and perch and rounded it out with some saltwater fish.  Every fish had a story and looked like it was about to move.  Tom spent a lot of time in northern Wisconsin during his life fishing the lakes of Hayward and has an attention to detail of fish that is epic.

Tom showed us Austin’s fish and we did an interview to complete the episode of Growin’ Up Wild where Austin and CJ caught the fish in the harbor.

If you have ever thought about getting a replica done, Tom should be at the top of your list.  A quick measurement and some quality photos of the fish is all that you need.

The next time you are out in the boat fishing, make sure you have your camera and a plan ready to go.


Until next time, shoot straight.

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