BY STEVE KNIGHT | PHOTOS BY ANDREW D. BROSIG | Nov/Dec 2016
It did not take long for Jason Pierce to figure out there had to be a better way to make a living than skinning bass as part of the process to create keepsake mounts for fishermen. It may have hit his younger brother, Clayton, even quicker that dealing with slimy fish remains was not a glamorous job.
The brothers founded Lake Fork Taxidermy (located on the web as fishreplicas.com) near Alba, Texas. They still make fish mounts but no longer skin bass. Instead, they use photographs and measurements of fish to create the lifelike mounts their customers can keep forever.
“I have been doing this for 25 years,” says Jason. “I started when I was in college as a part-time job. And Clayton has been working with me. … We have been partners for 23 years now.”
Lake Fork Taxidermy provides the way for fishermen to practice catch and release or, in the case of some species, catch and eat, and still keep their prize catches.
The Pierce family moved to Lake Fork from the Dallas area after Jason graduated from high school. They wanted to be able to go fishing on Lake Fork more often.
Jason and Clayton opened Lake Fork Taxidermy in the early 1990s. As a fledgling business with a relatively unknown product, they were in the right place at the right time. Lake Fork was the trophy bass capital of the world.
“That is why we still use Lake Fork Taxidermy (as a business name) because of Lake Fork’s name (and reputation) in the largemouth bass world,” Jason says.
Making replicas from photographs and measurements is a challenge. Using a Fiberglass and cellulose foam mold means every step is done from scratch.
At Lake Fork, they had an easy source of fish from which to create molds for reproducing largemouth bass of different shapes and sizes. To acquire other species from which to make molds, they have traveled throughout North America and to South America.
“We have been everywhere to make those molds — Alaska, Brazil, Mexico,” Clayton says.
Fishermen are not always open-minded about giving them their catches in order for them to make molds. The brothers learned that lesson the hard way when they went to Alaska and asked fishermen to turn over their catches of salmon.
“We thought it would be easy to go up there and have all the specimens to (make) molds,” Clayton says. “Then we go up there and discovered every angler wanted that fish (they had just caught) cut into steaks and packaged up and sent home. We never considered that when we went up there.”
They cleared that hurdle by offering to give the fishermen either a free replica or an entire crate of packaged salmon in exchange for a their salmon.
Once they get a fish specimen, Clayton says it takes a couple of employees about a day of work to make a mold. It can be hard to pull employees away from filling orders on deadline to make new molds.
The mold is used to create the right size and shape of the fish. The paint job gives the replica the right look.
“I think most people, the first thing they see when they look at them (replicas) is the paint job, but there is a lot more to it than just that,” Jason says. “It is having the quality of the blank (mold and), having it basically not look like a cartoon fish that you painted really well.”
The brothers say that getting a good photograph of the fish to work from is one of the most important steps to making an accurate replica. They also must have the fish’s length, weight and girth.
The Pierces expanded from doing replicas of bass to other species after out-of-state and international anglers who had used their services during fishing expeditions on Lake Fork later hired them to make replicas of catches from other fishing trips.
Lake Fork Taxidermy has shipped replicas to clients throughout the United States and to Australia, Japan, Italy, Germany and Scotland. “It (customer base) is really worldwide,” Jason says.
“There are fish (species) we have never heard of that people have ordered (as a replica) and we did those too,” Clayton says. “We didn’t know what those were, but we found out after a little research.”
It is not just fishermen buying replicas. For years, Lake Fork Taxidermy has made replicas for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s ShareLunker program and for the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, located in Athens, Texas.
They also do the fish mounts that are on display in Bass Pro Shops stores and the sockeye salmon mount that is found in every Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers restaurant.