Have you ever wondered what goes into manufacturing the tackle, gear and accessories we all use today? Anglers and boaters often take for granted the tremendous effort it requires to engineer, design and build the equipment and countless components which combine to enhance our sport fishing and boating experiences. You name it, and somewhere in Florida is a team of dedicated craftsmen investing long hours to produce the assortment of gear we so cherish. We wanted to learn more about these professionals and about the products they specialize in and are confident that you too, will be fascinated with what we discover in our ongoing quest.
A skilled craftsman starts by applying a thin layer of gelcoat to the mold (Image 1).
When it comes to sport fishing, anglers around the world are well aware that fish stocks are declining. With the popularity of conservation increasing within the angling community, killing fish for the purpose of trophy fish mounts has become a thing of the past. Skin mounts were phased out in the early 90s, with composite molds taking the cake in regards to anatomical perfection, reduced costs, lightweight attributes, faster turnaround times, and best of all – the ability to release precious game fish unharmed to flourish and reproduce for future generations to enjoy.
The painting process is difficult and requires tremendous attention to detail to ensure a lifelike reproduction.
For this segment of Made In Florida, we were given an insider’s looks at fiberglass fish mount production. Based out of Fort Lauderdale, FL, Ray Douglas’ King Sailfish Release Mounts is an industry leader in fiberglass release mounts. On the forefront of conservation and an industry partner with The Billfish Foundation and The International Game Fish Association, King Sailfish is largely responsible for the introduction of the release mount concept to the taxidermy industry. For close to two decades King Sailfish Release Mounts have wowed discriminating anglers and clients from around the world. With professional artists acquired from Pflueger Marine and J. T. Reese Taxidermy Studios, King Sailfish is on the forefront of artistic development and always strives for perfection. What separates King Sailfish from the rest is their ability to make the fish appear like it would in its natural environment – alive. Capturing a fish’s natural posture and vibrant colors when they twist, jump and perform acrobatic gyrations is what makes a quality fish mount a fine work of art.
There’s no denying the fact that sailfish are Florida’s most attainable billfish. In years past, however, numerous spindlebeaks were taken from our local waters for taxidermy and dockside photos. Sailfish were becoming difficult to catch, although with the implementation of release tactics and ongoing conservation efforts, this great game fish is once again flourishing. With ideal conditions, it’s not unheard of for skilled anglers to score double-digit days along Florida’s East Coast. As the Sunshine States neatest game fish, and King Sailfish’s most in-demand species, we’ve decided to reveal the entire manufacturing process of a sailfish release mount from start to finish.
This artistically derived undertaking starts with a pre-molded casting of a fish that has the appropriate dimensions and size of the customer’s specified catch. Sailfish mounts can be ordered in nearly any size and in numerous poses facing either right or left.
A skilled craftsman starts by applying a thin layer of gelcoat to the mold (Image 1). The mold is then hand-layed with several layers of fiberglass matting before being rolled with resin (Image 2). The top and bottom portions of the mold are clamped together and set aside until the resin has had a chance to cure (Image 3). Once the resin has set the clamps are removed, the casting is wedged open and the raw mold is removed (Image 4 & 5). If cared for properly, a mold can be used to cast approximately 100 fish. When it comes time to create a new mold you may be thinking that another fish must be harvested from the ocean, but this is simply not the case. A new mold can easily be created from a previous casting, which explains why the very first mold from every casting is always saved.
Now out of the casting, the fiberglass mount is transferred to the trimming department where the fish continues to take shape. Here, a skilled craftsman carefully cuts away the excess fiberglass and resin (Image 6). The seams are then smoothed and any visual imperfections are filled and sanded (Image 7). This is also the point where the artist perfectly navigates his tool to scallop the edges of the sailfish’s dorsal and tail fins (Image 8 & 9). This in itself is an art form as the artist must be familiar with every species’ particular body contours.
With the sailfish shaped and trimmed the mold is now ready for the assembly process. Here the eye is installed with great attention to detail (Image 10). The life of every fish is in its eye, and King Sailfish strictly uses handmade glass eyes appropriately positioned to obtain the realism that rivals a live fish. As a result you can expect a product of exceptional quality and detail. Next, the pectoral and caudal peduncle fins are installed with exacting uniformity and precise positioning (Image 11 & 12).
The fiberglass reproduction is then moved to a paint booth where it is first sprayed with a gray primer and silver base coat, which allows the final mount to shimmer from reflecting light. Next comes a wide array of acrylic colors. This is a tricky process, especially because game fish have pigment cells that enable them to change coloration in the blink of an eye. The sailfish comes to life as black spots are painted on the large dorsal fin (Image 13). Next, deep cobalt blue is sprayed with purple highlights allowing the blue to pop. The side of the fish is sprayed amber and the blue bars are added last. The painting process is difficult and requires tremendous attention to detail to ensure a lifelike reproduction.
As a finishing touch, the entire fiberglass release mount is sprayed with a clear coat (Image 14) to make it shiny and lifelike, resulting in a sailfish that looks like it was freshly plucked from the sea. With King Sailfish Release Mounts, your once in a lifetime catch can be proudly preserved and displayed for a lifetime of memories!
When ordering a fish mount, length, girth and weight measurements, as well as color photographs, will help the artists achieve the look and precise color patterns of your particular fish. Like many aspects within the sport fishing industry, the release mount business is very competitive. Only buy from the best, or your expensive work of art might end up nothing more than a piece of work.