An Outdoor View: How to make fish

  • By Les Palmer
  • Thursday, November 27, 2014 4:26pm
  • Opinion

When fishing opportunities are limited, you can always make fish.

One way or another, people have been making fish since early Man drew them on the walls of caves. We did it back then for the same reasons we do it now, because fish are beautiful, mysterious and fascinating. Because fish are as agile and graceful as birds, able to hover, climb, dive and even fly.

Like fishing, making fish can be as simple or as involved as you want it to be. From pre-schoolers on, anyone can do it. The fish can range from cardboard cutouts to intricate carvings, and everything in between. To get started, simply search the Internet for “how to make a fish.”

Japanese fish prints, or gyotaku, are fun to make, and even a young child can do it. A gyotaku print can be a work of art, nice enough to frame and display. In short, it’s done by applying ink or paint to a fish, and placing paper on the fish. When the paper is removed, you have a fish print. You can learn a lot about gyotaku on the Internet by doing a search for gyotaku on YouTube. All you need is a fish, rice paper, water-soluble paint and an inexpensive paintbrush. Small, flat fish are easiest to work with, but any fish will do. With fabric paint, you can make a unique T-shirt. Everything but the fish can be found at stores that sell art supplies.

I’m not very good at carving, but I’ve made some wooden fish that turned out nice enough to become part of what passes for decor at my house. One easy way to make a fish from wood is to draw or trace the fish onto paper for a pattern, then transfer it to a board. After cutting a rough outline with a coping saw or jig saw, give it a hand-made look with a knife and other tools. I’ve found that rough-cut spruce, which is cheap and available locally, works well for this. You can stain it, paint it or leave it natural. Rough wood grain gives a carved fish character, as do accidental slices and gouges. You can carve your house numbers into a fish, and nail it to the wall or a tree. My best carving effort to date has been a halibut that I carved from a wide, spruce plank, doing most of the shaping with a chainsaw. It turned out nice enough to hang in the living room.

Fish make great Christmas tree ornaments, and some of the best, longest-lasting of these are made by children. Gather some simple, inexpensive materials, and you’re in business. At you’ll find some ways to keep kids happy for hours.

If you’re up to a challenge, try making an origami fish. You’ll find instructions on the Internet, in both photo and video format. Origami fish make neat ornaments. I don’t recall ever using the word “quilting” in this column, but here it is.

Quilters have many ways to apply images to fabric. A quilt made from 12 of Ray Troll’s fishing-theme T-shirts hangs on my dining room wall. What would be a more appropriate gift for someone who likes fish than a fish-themed quilt?

Home-made fish make unique, much-appreciated gifts. One of my wife’s favorite pieces of jewelry is a necklace that I made with a halibut tail that I carved from a piece of fossilized mammoth tusk.

Use your imagination. If you’re good at welding or brazing and can scrounge up some scrap metal, make some fish. Salmon skeletons on the river bank are free, and should give you ideas. Using heavy-duty shears and sheet metal, make fish wind chimes. Make a humpy-shaped birthday cake.

Whatever you do, have fun doing it. The next thing you know, it’ll be time to go after the real thing again.

Les Palmer can be reached at

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