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Modified Half Cast Method for Panfish.

Discussion in 'Fish Taxidermy' started by Cecil, May 9, 2014.

  1. Cecil

    Cecil Well-Known Member

    Somebody asked me to post this so here goes:

    Although I carve bodies and use commercial manikins, for panfish I prefer to use the half cast method. Mine is similar to Tom Sexton's method in the Breakthrough Fish Taxidermy manual. However, I have modified it. Also for you naysayers out there of the half cast method, keep in mind this is not just slopping in some fish filler and shaping the fish, which is really Bush league IMHO. With the half cast method you are duplicating the exact anatomy of the panfish using the plaster impression you have made before skinning out the fish.

    Instead of pouring plaster over the fish on a curved surface to create the curve of the fish as in the manual, I pour plaster on a garbage bag on a flat surface as soon as it's thick enough not to run and to have enough depth to lay the fish in up to it's mid line.

    I also do several fish at a time as in the impressions here made of three bluegills. I do have clip on laundry tags on the fish, but take them off just before setting them into the plaster. I write the initials of the customers in the plaster near each fish impression before it sets up. I do not save these casts and try to use them again on similar size fish. Each fish has it's own cast made. I have an art teacher that snaps the plaster impressions up vs me discarding them.


    Keep in mind you're not making a cast that has to be perfect; you are simply making a half impression of the fish to get the anatomy of the fish back once the skin is filled with fish filler in the impression. I routinely have bubbles in the plaster and just fill them in before using the cast.

    Here's the same cast of three bluegills showing what goes inside the fish and filler. Just plywood cut into squares.


    Here I am pushing in a wooden block. Not shown is it is covered with filler. Basically imbedded in the filler.


    I use Tom Sexton's fish filler as it becomes rubbery before it sets up, which is important and will be explained later in this post. It's also important to not mix it too wet. That is it's almost as stiff as soft clay and not watery.

    Here I am putting in a bead of white clay to get a smooth tail junction. For a day or so you can smooth this out if the tail junction doesn't taper properly.


    It's important to actually overfill the fish in the impression and push out the excess in the back seam. Otherwise you could end up with an air pocket or indentation.


  2. wctaxidermy1

    wctaxidermy1 Member

    Awesome thanks Cecil!

  3. 1fish2fish

    1fish2fish Well-Known Member

    Your ice fishing habitat tutorial was great too (and the fish looked awesome).
    Best, Scott
    Cecil likes this.
  4. Cecil

    Cecil Well-Known Member

    Guys I'm not done yet! ;D

    Here are the skins placed into the impressions. I remove the gills on all bluegills unless the customer specifies otherwise. No complaints yet and it saves time not carding the gills and gill covers. As many of you know you can also dry a fish faster with the gills removed. I can have a bluegill ready for finish work in two days by blowing a fan on it first the front side and then the back side.


    Once the fish have been filled and excess filler is pushed out the seam, both cheeks are filled with filler and if the body is bilaterally symmetrical (I pop the fish out of the mold to fill the other cheek pocket, and to check symmetry before putting it back in) I wait for the filler to become firm but still flexible. At that point I remove the fish and prop it into the curve I want with pieces of paper toweling. I've tried using a carved piece of foam instead up propping the fish up with paper toweling, but ended up with a flattened fish on the back. It's also important not to pull the fish out of the impression too soon as you will flatten the back of the fish.


    Here's one of the fish after it has set up ready to screw into a board and carded. Interestingly it's tougher to carve anatomy on a smaller fish than a larger fish. I'm so used to using the half cast method on panfish, when I used to go to taxidermy shows I could spot many carved bodies of panfish a mile away. Typically many but not all just didn't look right. You can't get any better on anatomy than using a mold as a guide.


    Here's a bluegill with one of the boards screwed into with a drywall screw. Once the fish filler is set up you can just run a screw from the board into the block in the fish. It's important to keep the fins wet before carding. I use a spray bottle of water.


    On the end of the board that holds the fish I drill a small hole to run the wire in for the manila tag. The boards are simply furring strips cut to length. The tag end has a large enough hole to place it over a dry wall screw in the rafters of my shop. This gets the mounts out of the way and allows air to circulate around them.


    A carded bluegill. I use the same carding over and over again. I keep the carding in large manilla envelopes with the species and approximate size of the fish.


    Some panfish hanging from the rafters to dry including some crappies that I don't remove the gills from.


    I've used this method for crappies up to 21 inches. (If you don't believe me I'll post the picture. LOL) However it does get tricky with larger panfish and I would
    never use this method for bass, pike, musky, or trout. Although the filler becomes much lighter as it dries it's still would be a factor if you used it on a larger fish. I prefer to using commercial manikins or carve bodies for large fish.

    One of the things I like about using it for panfish is, panfish vary a lot in body shapes even of the same species. Some suppliers even sell the same manikins for white and black crappie which is inaccurate. With the half cast method I can get the original shape of the fish and do it faster than carving.

    The above isn't rocket science but if it helps somebody that's all that counts.
  5. wctaxidermy1

    wctaxidermy1 Member

    Sorry I'm a premature poster! :D What do you use for a release agent with the plaster?
  6. Cecil

    Cecil Well-Known Member

    Nothing! No need to. Also no sewing or stapling needed!
  7. 3bears

    3bears Well-Known Member

    Thank you Cecil, I will have to try that method after I take my boy fishen and he catches some big bluegills to practice on.
  8. Great post. Thank you for taking the time to do that. I'll be trying that soon.
  9. noid

    noid Member

  10. hodx

    hodx Herman Darr

    Cecil write a book or do a video...some good info here
  11. Cecil

    Cecil Well-Known Member

    Btw if you can get plaster in 100 lbs. bags do so. Or next best get it at a building supply store. You don't want to pay shipping on plaster!

    I'm fortunate I have acess to a building supply store that sells 100 lb. bags of quick setting dental plaster for about 25 bucks. It sets so fast it doesn't give off heat before the fish are removed from the plaster.
  12. Cecil

    Cecil Well-Known Member

    Thank you for the kind words but one author in the family is enough for now. Besides after seeing the hours he put into his book I'm not sure I'd want to go through that.
  13. Wow, I gotta find a place that sells plaster like that. I get a bag at ACE for like $20 and I don't think it is anything close to that size. I freeze dry my panfish but I use plaster for a number of other things. Also with fish like yellow perch the bellies get lumpy when prepped like a normal freeze dry so I use the half cast method to fill the belly area accurately. Thanks for posting. I have learned a lot form your tutorials!!
  14. Cecil

    Cecil Well-Known Member

    Ace is a rip off although I shop there on occasion because it's close. Most of their products are made in China but their mark up is really high. Somebody's raking in some tremendous profit.
  15. Ken 2

    Ken 2 Member

    Cecil...What brand of plaster? I have always used #1 molding plaster. Never heard of dental plaster.
  16. Great tutorial with perfect results, couldn't get any more accurate than that ! ;) Have you ever used a different filler other than the commercially available ?
  17. fishmaster

    fishmaster Well-Known Member

    Nice tutorial. You provided solutions for the problems I have always had with this method. By laying the fish flat into fresh plaster it eliminates the problem of having to bed up the fish with the right amount of curve. The fact that the Sexton filler kicks off slow gives you the time to position the fish after it is filled. No one can argue with the end result, that is, getting a panfish with correct anatomy.
    Nicely done.
  18. den007

    den007 Active Member

    Nice tutorial Cecil! I will agree with removing the gills from the "gills." In fact, I am thinking of removing them from all my fish. Just did a northern that turned out well, except for the stinking shriveled gills……….which were carded nicely and took a good amount of time to do that way. They still look like a possible grease problem for the future. It is the part of fish taxidermy I hate the most……..carding gills on a larger fish. Yecchhhhhh! That and removing the lower jaw meat.

    I had to have an alginate impression taken for some dental work today…..now I know how those molded fish feel. LOL I thought some of my teeth were going to come out when the tech yanked on the stuff. Just like a good hook set.
  19. foreveratrophy

    foreveratrophy In GOD We Trust!

  20. FishArt

    FishArt Well-Known Member

    Nice tutorial Cecil! Very interesting method. Doing three skins at once is very smart saving lots of time I would think. As far as the type of plaster goes, I doubt it's that important from a detail standpoint. But, if the dental stuff sets up quicker and cooks less, that would definitely be a plus. Thanks for sharing!