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JAPANESE TAXIDERMY: GYOTAKU

An alternative option for documenting a memorable catch, Gyotaku is both beautiful and simple.
By Toby Lapinski
Tags: special

When my close friend and fishing partner Chris Wahl asked if I would like to sit in on a Gyotaku demonstration that he was attending, I quickly jumped at the opportunity to learn this art form which I have been a fan of since first being exposed to it several years ago. I met up with Chris at his office in Connecticut for a class taught by Joe Higgins of Fished Impressions. Joe’s shop is located up in Salem, Massachusetts and is well worth a visit the next time you’re in town.

Gyotaku (Japanese from gyo "fish" and taku "rubbing") is a traditional form of Japanese fish printing or rubbing used by fishermen to record their catches and show off their prowess as a master angler. Modern fishermen are also turning to this art form as a way to document their catches. Consider it an ancient form of bragging about your catch much like getting a fish mounted would be today.

As with most art forms, with a little practice you will pick up on what works best for you and what doesn’t. Your first attempts will not likely be “gallery quality” prints, but my guess is your first fish weren’t catches for the record books either! In any event, the process is relatively straight forward. All of the materials used are non-toxic and water-based so after a print is completed the fish may be filleted and consumed. There should be no un-necessary waste with Gyotaku and nothing but the utmost respect for the fish should be shown from start to finish.

SUPPLIES

  • Fish
  • Lemon juice concentrate
  • Paper Towels
  • Insulation board – generally used on “round” fish
  • Small cardboard sheets
  • Rice paper, mulberry paper, newsprint, white cloth or other similar surface
  • Knife
  • 1-inch paintbrush
  • Painting sponge
  • Water-based block printing ink
  • Pins


GETTING STARTED

Begin by catching a suitable fish for printing. Certain fish re-produce far better than others, and certain body shapes will require a bed or trough to be cut into a section of foam insulation board in order to properly support the body. Once you have a fish ready for printing remove the eye from the side you intend to print and clean the entire fish with lemon juice, wiping the slime off with paper towels. Once the fish is clean it is ready for positioning. If the fish is flat like a fluke it can go as is; if it is round like a striped bass you will need to build a support. This can be economically made from a piece of insulation board sold at your local hardware store. Cut a trough in which about 25% of the fish will sit into from the gills back to a little in front of the tail. The fins should just about lay flat on the board and can be propped up with smaller pieces of board if needed. Pin the fins in a natural, flared position and allow the fish to dry for about 5 minutes.


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