How to prove that fish wasn't just a story


June 18, 2000

Love your dad? Stuff his fish.

There is no good reason for an angler's bragging rights to end just because the fish's life ended. And if that wallet-sized photo of your angler and Moby Dick just doesn't do justice to the catch of a lifetime, consider taking the fish to a taxidermist.

Tom Paulshock has been preserving trophy fish for 35 years in his shop, Tom's Tropicals, on Belair Road in Perry Hall. Every so often, he goes to local fishing clubs to show them skills that, many taxidermists say, are the toughest to master.

His road show recently took him to White Marsh to a meeting of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfisherman's Association.

Paulshock likes to remind anglers that they can do a lot to help him make their fish look like a winner.

"Protect the skin," he says. "Don't just throw it in the boat and let it flop around, damaging the tissue. The better they come into the shop, the better they go out."

After you've protected the skin, take a photograph of it.

As a fish skin dries, it loses much of its original color until all that's left are shades of brown, he says.

Unlike bird or mammal taxidermy, where the artist has feathers or fur to work with, a fish has to be painted to have color. The more documentation Paulshock has, the more he can make the fish have that "just caught" look.

Of course, he says, sometimes a photo-less angler disagrees with Paulshock's choice of colors.

"We painted a brown trout, and we painted it our way. The guy came in and said, `No, no, no, it's all silver with black dots.'

"So we did it his way. It looked like [expletive] to us, but he loved it," Paulshock says, laughing. "We'll paint it any color they like."

Some fish are skin-mounted. That is, the fish skin is treated and then stretched over a mannequin, or the body cavity is stuffed with a filler material.

Bass, rockfish, crappie and bluegills - all warm-water fish with large scales and tough flesh - are candidates for skin mounting.

The more delicate, thin-skinned fish such as salmon and trout, and larger saltwater fish, are better candidates for synthetic mounting. Building a replica fish out of plastic also is the only way to go with catch-and-release specimens.

If you have a catch-and-release fish, Paulshock urges anglers to take accurate measurements and photographs.

In synthetic mounting, the taxidermist creates a fish out of a fiberglass "blank," which has no markings or color. It's up to the taxidermist to paint a lifelike fish.

"We're from the old school. We do a lot of skin mounts," Paulshock says. "But the fiberglass has gotten so good. It's like Hollywood monsters. Look how much better they look now than the Wolfman did."

It takes Paulshock four to six weeks to mount a bass, and six to eight weeks for a rockfish. He gets more freshwater than saltwater business, but that's mostly because of his location.

The fish begin arriving at his shop in February "and they just keep rolling in, to October. It's kind of a two-man operation, and sometimes it's a 14-hour day."

Right now, Paulshock is working on a champion fish: Ray Ferstermann's 12-pound, 14-ounce brown trout caught May 21 in Deep Creek Lake.

"That one's a real monster," Paulshock says of the new state-record brown. "He really hooked himself a winner."

But keep one thing in mind - the fish that was bigger than a breadbox on the boat is going to be a few slices short when you give it to dad.

"All the tissue around the jawbone shrinks. A 46-inch rockfish will probably be 43 inches" on dad's wall, Paulshock says.

The price of stuffing dad's fish runs about $7 an inch.

Archery fund-raiser

The Maryland Archery Association charity shoot raised $6,500 last month for Camp Sunrise, a weeklong camp in Glyndon for children with cancer and for siblings of children with cancer.

The shoot was held at the Anne Arundel Archers field in Crofton, with 132 shooters participating in field and 3-D rounds.

The top fund-raisers were Donnie Hopkins (no club listed), Charlie Rice of Anne Arundel Archers, and Vicki Clem of Mayberry Archers of Carroll County.

Maryland Archery Association president Jerry Wenzel says archers more than doubled last year's donations. The money will buy supplies for the camp.

To read an expanded Outdoors Journal or the fishing report online, go to

To hear the fishing report, call SunDial and enter category 5378 on your touch-tone phone. The phone number is 410-783-1800 in the Baltimore area; 410-268-7736 in Anne Arundel County; 410-836- 5028 in Harford County; and 410-848-0038 in Carroll County.

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