fish models &
trophy carvings

A Brief Historical Perspective


The evolution of contemporary American decorative fish models could be viewed as a progression of influences that loosely includes the oldest known fish carving genre - Native North American fish decoys created to attract and spear fish through holes cut in ice (predating 1,000 A.D.). Nineteenth and early twentieth century European-Americans adopted the Native American fishing culture as sport and created their own highly stylized fish decoys. Like hunting decoys, the art of fish decoys eventually surpassed their modest utilitarian requirements, however stylized form predominated anatomical accuracy.

Decorative Fish Model - full body with carved stream bed
for display on horizontal surface.

Of significantly greater influence and import, mid-to-late twentieth century taxidermists adopting fish carving as an alternative to mounted trophies, spun off decorative fish models as a creative outlet and separate product for non-trophy customers. Their carvings raised anatomical accuracy from the primitive shapes of stylized decoys to realistic fish models.

And as an off-shoot of decoy and taxidermy competitions, the growth and progression of fish carving competitions in the last three decades has significantly contributed to contemporary fish model display and anatomical standards. Influenced by taxidermy, competitive carving and early visionaries, much of the contemporary decorative fish model genre could be described as nature inspired realism, incorporating creative and often elaborately carved interpretive habitat displays.


To commemorate memorable angling experiences, a few late nineteenth century Scottish and British artists (notably, Scots John Russell, his daughter Dhuie, son-in-law John Tully, and P.D. Malloch), pioneered the trophy carving genre as a highly rendered and permanent alternative to taxidermy.

What could be described as the English style trophy carving, a half to two-thirds body displayed on a wood plaque with hand lettered legend, has set the trophy carving standard for over 100 years and is experiencing a renaissance among a few contemporary North American and European fish carvers. While historically the English style artists relied more on painting technique (trompe l'oeil) than carving detail (shape, texture) to create anatomical realism, the styleʼs constraints still provides diverse interpretation.

 English Style Trophy Carving - half body displayed on wood plaque with hand lettered legend.

Alternatively, American style trophy carving is more recent and generally attributed to a few mid-to-late twentieth century taxidermists transitioning to fish carving from specimen mounts. The American style has two evolving forms that display fish in full body - a free form style pioneered by a few carvers (notably Bob Berry) that is comparable to decorative fish models that are displayed on horizontal surfaces, and traditionally styled wall mounted taxidermy where the fish may be partially finished on the bodyʼs back side including the use of one pectoral fin and eye. The two forms offer seemingly limitless display possibilities.

Apart from being a way to commemorate memorable angling experiences and a collectable art form, trophy carvingʼs most obvious benefit is conservation - they help promote catch and release angling, and mitigate removing the largest and most spectacular "trophy" fish and their genetics from native wild fisheries. It is particularly relevant when one considers that leading conservation advocacy groups currently estimate 60% of the worlds fisheries and 80% of the worldʼs large fish are unsustainably over-fished.

 American Style Trophy Carving - full body with carved stream bed for display on horizontal surface.