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Spare the Lives of Trophy Catches with a Fish Replica, Learn Why in These 2 Interviews

Sparing the life of a trophy with a fish replica is sometimes the only option for preserving the memory of your catch while releasing it back into the wild.

When it comes to wild steelhead or trophy bass, preserving a three dimensional, tangible replica of that memorable catch is the best possible option for the conservation of the species. The growing popularity of replica mounts has made them more versatile and affordable than ever.

I spoke with two industry professionals to get a better idea of the conservation end of the shift towards fish replicas versus the typical “skin mounts” that have historically dominated the taxidermy industry. First, I spoke with Archie Phillips of Fairfield, Alabama.

Phillips is a taxidermy industry pioneer, producing the largest selection of fish replica molds in the world. Over the course of fifty years, Phillips developed a collection of 2,000 molds used to replicate largemouth bass alone. He’s created replicas of bass for President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, both bass caught from Bass Anglers Sportsman Society founder Ray Scott’s private pond.

Archie GHBush
Archie Phillips with former President, George Herbert Bush

WOC: What sparked your interest in doing replicas?

Archie Phillips: I do both skin mounts and replicas, but some people make special requests for replicas. Fiberglass reproductions  are slightly more expensive, but last a lifetime, while skin mounts tend to crack.

Archie Phillips
Archie Phillips and Ray Scott, founder of Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (Bassmasters) pose with then  Head Coach of the University of Alabama football team, Gene Stallings

Do you feel like replicas can benefit the health of fish populations and help produce more trophy fish?

AP: That is primarily the reason that Ray Scott encouraged the development of replicas and for people to choose the option to have a reproduction made of their trophy catch, so that fish can be saved for the next fellow to catch it.

Archie Phillips and Pat Dye
Archie Phillips with then Head Coach of the Auburn University football team, Pat Dye.

Do you think you’ve ever created a replica of the same fish twice?

AP: Probably so, maybe even more than that. Not just bass either, that goes for saltwater too. We’ve done lots of reproductions of billfish and marlin.

Archie Phillips has a long history of advocating for hunting and fishing opportunities with notable politicians. Pictured here discussing gun ownership rights with former president, Gerald Ford. Gerald Ford
Archie Phillips has a long history of advocating for hunting and fishing opportunities with notable politicians. Pictured here discussing gun ownership rights with former president, Gerald Ford. Gerald Ford

Have you seen the demand from your clientele change it’s ethics on catch and release with the rise in popularity of replicas?

AP: We still do a lot of skin mounts on bass, but a majority of the saltwater mounts are reproductions. It’s a great alternative for people who want to let fish go. Not only that, but a lot of businesses and cabins just want decor. We do quite a bit of business outside of individual anglers getting replicas of their trophy catches.

In order to add a different perspective, I spoke with Ron Camp of Trophy Fish Replicas in Chehalis, Washington. Prior to his fish replica business taking off, Camp was a Sr. Graphic Designer and Graphic Arts College Instructor. Doing freelance fine art Wildlife Artistry, Camp also airbrushed custom mural work on motorcycles. His diverse background in the wildlife art industry goes back 25 years, but he started to focus solely on fish replicas full time only three years ago, exhibiting a great degree of talent and attention to detail.

Camp, pictured finishing details on a Coho Salmon caught by Salmon Trout Steelheader author, Terry Wiest on the Situk River in Alaska during the fall of 2014
Camp, pictured finishing details on a Coho Salmon caught by Salmon Trout Steelheader author, Terry Wiest on the Situk River in Alaska during the fall of 2014

Do you do skin mounts, or strictly replicas?

Ron Camp: I exclusively create fiberglass fish replicas that will last a lifetime.

Terry Wiest and this coho made the cover of Salmon Trout Steelheader. "This is probably the most gorgeous fish I've ever landed and I had to figure out a way to do it justice," said West.
Terry Wiest and this coho made the cover of Salmon Trout Steelheader. “This is probably the most gorgeous fish I’ve ever landed and I had to figure out a way to do it justice,” said West.

What sparked your interest in doing replicas?

RC: My passion for fish and fishing! Being a fine art wildlife artist with my experience in airbrushing it was a marriage that needed to happen.

Camp, seen here with a Quinalt River Steelhead in progress.
Camp, seen here with a Quinalt River Steelhead in progress.

Do you feel like replicas can benefit the health of fish populations and help produce more trophy fish?

RC: Absolutely, without a doubt.

Camp, pictured working on a "habitat" where one of his replicas will rest
Camp, pictured working on a “habitat” where one of his replicas will rest

Have you ever mounted the same fish twice?

RC: While it’s possible I could create multiple replicas of the same fish, I could never recreate the exact same replica twice! Close, but not identical. It’s like trying to reproduce any fine art canvas. Fine details are unique to each individual creation.

British Columbia Chinook Salmon with measurements of 50"x33" approximate weight of 67 pounds
A Ron Camp reproduction of a British Columbia Chinook Salmon with measurements of 50″x33″ approximate weight of 67 pounds

Have you seen the demand from your clientele change it’s ethics on catch and release with the rise in popularity of replicas?

RC: Business demand is rising, and I think it will continue to do so more as people begin to understand the quality of craftsmanship they are receiving and the longevity of the materials replicas are created with now. They are a One of a Kind museum quality fine art sculpture!

A reproduction of a Neah Bay Ling Cod by Ron Camp
A reproduction of a Neah Bay Ling Cod by Ron Camp

If you have a trophy catch you’d like to release, but want a replica of the fish created, here are a few tips:

1. Measure the length and girth. If you don’t have a measuring tape, use a couple pieces of fishing line, cutting them to the proper lengths to match the measurements of the fish.

2. Don’t long-arm the fish for a photo. Try to take pictures that show scale accurately, but include finer details about the physical appearance of the fish.

3. Weigh the fish if possible. If the measurements seem a little short for the weight, it may be accurate to create a replica with a bit of a belly, or vice versa.

Hopefully this opened your eyes to the world of replication that is available!

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Spare the Lives of Trophy Catches with a Fish Replica, Learn Why in These 2 Interviews