All in All, Not Just a Fish on the Wall

Some people are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Others can’t give up the Beanie Baby habit. A select group feel compelled to eat dirt or paste.

My addiction is fish replicas.

It didn’t start until I was 42 years old and caught a 12-pound bass in Texas. At the time Clark Reehm and I were staying at Lake Fork Marina, right across the street from Lake Fork Taxidermy. They made it so easy to get hooked.

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Later that year, my wife Hanna and I returned to the Amazon. On our previous trip, we’d topped out at 14 pounds. We made a deal that if either of us caught an 18-pounder we’d get a replica made. On the first day of fishing I caught an 18, a 20 and a 21. Later in the week, she caught two 19-pounders. My biggest was bigger, but her best was prettier (kind of like us), so we decided that warranted two replicas. An expensive trip became much more expensive.

Then we were able to kick the habit for a while – but just when we thought we were out, they pulled us back in.

In 2015, we went to Montana for our 10th anniversary, with a float trip down the Bitterroot as part of the plan. We liked our first fly fishing adventure so much that we booked a second float for later in the week. On that second day, guide Steve Grant led me to an 18-inch cutthroat on a dry fly. I have no idea if that’s a big one, but it was gorgeous and it was a meaningful trip, so when we got home I ordered up another replica.

The next year we took an epic trip to Africa, which included chasing tigerfish on the Zambezi River. We caught a handful of them, and big fish Hanna subdued a gorgeous toothy 14-pounder, the biggest one caught at Chiawa Camp that year. Lots of our friends have largemouths or trout or peacocks on their walls, but I don’t know of any who have a tigerfish. Totally worth the expense. If it’s exceptionalism wasn’t enough, the mouth full of teeth sealed the deal, and that one now occupies a place of honor above our fireplace.

Since then, I’ve become a connoisseur of the medium. I spend hours and hours on Facebook and scouring the webs for examples of the best art. When I go to a new lodge or tackle shop, I closely examine their walls.

But I hadn’t caught a mount-worthy fish.

Or so I thought.

Last summer, I landed a 51-inch musky at Lake St. Clair fishing with Captain Matthew Quintano of Fins and Grins charters. That’s a trophy, but I’ll be the first to admit that the catch was largely attributable to the captain’s expertise. Nevertheless, there’s a pretty good chance I won’t catch a bigger one in this lifetime.

Fortunately, I married the right woman. She managed to stay pretty quiet about it, but on Friday, just a few days before our anniversary, she picked me up from work with the back seats of her SUV folded down to accommodate a large box. I assumed it was something for her work, but it turned out to be an unbelievable replica of that 51-incher. She gets me. She really gets me.

Now that I’m fully addicted, I see no end in sight. The thing that’s limiting me the most is work, which prevents me from going out and chasing trophy fish full-time. The second limitation is funds, because they ain’t cheap.

After that, we’re limited by wall space. We have a modestly-sized house with walls that were covered with various art and pictures long before that first fish replica made an appearance. Fortunately, we do not have kids, because their artwork and youthful mugs would no doubt take up some valuable real estate and I’d hate to have to disappoint them by removing any.

For better or for worse, we mostly get along with our families, and we have five nephews and nieces. Their smiling faces populate various countertops, walls and shelves. If we catch some more trophy fish, and don’t manage to go bankrupt before then, I have a feeling we’re going to have to decide which ones we like the least. Then, as the replicas arrive, they will start to disappear, in the vein of the McFly children, slowly and then all at once. It’s the price we pay for glory.