Fish Mounting 101 (Beginners Guide)

UPDATED 31 JULY 2022

by Robert Ceran

Are you thinking about preserving some of your most memorable catches with fish taxidermy? 

In that case you’re probably wondering how fish taxidermy works, what taxidermy options are available to you, and whether to mount it yourself.

In this article we’ll walk you through the key facts of fish taxidermy, and will cover the best ways to get a fish mounted, so you can decide what option is right for you. 

Fish taxidermy

Can you taxidermy a fish?

Yes you can taxidermy a fish, either as a traditional skin mount, or as a replica mount that involves creating a fiberglass reproduction of the fish. Replica mounts have rapidly increased in popularity during recent years, and are now the most popular method of fish taxidermy.

But keep in mind that each of these methods of fish taxidermy comes with its own set of pros and cons, which we’ll cover in more detail below, so you can decide what your preference is for mounting a fish.

Types of fish taxidermy

There are two main types of fish taxidermy: skin mounting and replica mounings. Skin mounts are the traditional method that has been around for generations, while replica mounts are a more modern alternative that is becoming more popular. 

Skin mount fish taxidermy

Skin mount fish taxidermy involves removing all the insides of a fish, including internal organs, flesh, and bones, until you are left with just the skin, as well as the head, tail and fins still attached to it. 

In addition to removing internal organs and flesh, the eyes and cheek meat are also removed from the head. The reason for this is that all of these parts are most prone to decomposition. 

After removing the innards, the remaining skin, head, and tail are treated with chemicals to stop decomposition, and are then dried for weeks or even months to extract all moisture.

Finally after the skin is fully dried, it is wrapped around a foam mold similar in size and shape to the original fish, and in the last step the skin is painted with lifelike colors, and glass beads are inserted into the eye sockets.

Replica fish taxidermy

Replica fish taxidermy uses a mold to create a fiberglass reproduction of your fish. In order to do this, replica fish taxidermists use a real fish to create a template mold for each fish species, and then create size variations of that original mold adjusted to reflect the measurements of the actual fish that was caught by an angler.

After the fiberglass fish reproduction has been cast, the taxidermist then adds additional details, such as glass eyes, teeth, and gills. In the final steps this is followed by spray painting and more detailed brush painting until the replica mount resembles a living fish.

A key advantage of replica mounting is that it does not require the original fish, which means you can practice catch and release, if that’s your preference, and you also don’t have to mess around with preserving the fish for mounting. 

Replica vs skin fish mount – which one is better?

Replica fish mounts have become more popular during recent years, while traditional skin fish mounts are not done that often any more. In order to understand the reason for this, let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of each method.

The main advantage of skin fish mounts is that they represent a real part of a memorable fish that you caught, instead of a reproduction.

But on the down side, skin mounts tend to deteriorate over time. This is especially problematic in warm, humid environments, though the quality of a skin fish mount will tend to worsen over time no matter what the environment is like. 

The gradual degradation of skin fish mounts comes in the form of fading of colors, shrinkage, discoloration, leakage of oil, as well as fin deterioration. In some cases it’s possible to restore a deteriorated skin fish mount, but usually not completely.

Replica mounts, on the other hand, are much more durable. And another great thing about replica mounts is that you don’t need the actual fish in order to make them, as you just need to have a few key measurements plus some good photos of the fish.

So on balance, it’s easier for you as an angler to order a replica mount online, instead of having to preserve your trophy fish, and physically sending it to a taxidermy shop.

If you combine this with the fact that replica mounts don’t deteriorate over time, this explains why replica mount fish taxidermy has become more popular than skin mounting. 

How does fish taxidermy work?

The process of fish taxidermy depends on which method you choose, and varies widely between skin mount fish taxidermy and replica fish taxidermy. And while both processes are labor intensive for the taxidermist, the latter option is a lot easier for the angler. 

Can you taxidermy a fish from a picture?

Yes, you can taxidermy a fish from a picture if you choose to do a replica fish mount. But keep in mind that it’s best to have several photos of the fish you want to taxidermy, covering  as many different angles as possible.

Also, in addition to the photos, you should get measurements of the length, girth and weight of the fish. A skilled replica fish taxidermist can then use this information to create a lifelike fiberglass copy of your fish to hang on the wall. 

How do you preserve a fish for taxidermy?

To preserve a fish for skin mount taxidermy start by rinsing the fish, wrap it in a towel and insert it into a large plastic bag. Then place the fish in a freezer with the “display side” of the fish facing up, and leave it there until it’s frozen solid. The fish should be kept frozen until it reaches the taxidermist.

How long does it take to taxidermy a fish

On average, it takes between 3 months and 1 year to taxidermy a fish. The main reason for this long turnaround time is that it takes at least 6 weeks (and for most species considerably longer) to dry the skin of a fish in order to extract the grease from it. 

Even replica mounts, which don’t require a long drying time, take at least 2 months (and usually much longer), since they involve an extensive series of manual steps, and skilled taxidermists usually have a backlog of orders that they need to fulfill.

So in practice, skin mount fish taxidermy and replica fish taxidermy both take about equally long to complete, and most taxidermy shops quote about 10 months as their expected turnaround time.

Is fish taxidermy hard?

While fish taxidermy is not easy, it’s pretty straightforward to master if you put your mind to it and practice diligently.

The hardest part is learning how to create a styrofoam mold that you can insert into the fish skin after you finish drying it. If you’re interested in learning this, here is a great video on how to mount a bass.

Can you taxidermy a fish at home?

Yes, you can taxidermy fish at home, and skin mount taxidermy is actually the easiest option for this since it requires relatively basic equipment and materials.

If you’re thinking about trying this, check out our guide on how to taxidermy a fish

Fish taxidermy prices

On average, expect fish taxidermy prices to be around $11-$15/inch for warmwater fish (bass, walleye, etc.), $14-$18 for coldwater fish (trout, salmon, etc.), and $15-$20 for saltwater fish. 

Saltwater fish and coldwater fish are more expensive to mount because their skin has much more grease, and thus requires a longer and more complex drying process.

For more details on taxidermy pricing, check out our article on how much does it cost to taxidermy a fish?