It’s a good thing that Frank Kotula changed his mind.
After years of competing in the World Taxidermy and Fish Carving Championship and finishing a second or third in the world several times, Kotula was going to take some time off from the competition.
That was until a friend saw his brown trout mount.
“He won best in the world before, and he urged me to try it again,” Kotula said.
In early May, when the 2013 championship was held in Springfield, IL, Kotula earned the Best in the World in the Coldwater Fish category for his brown trout.
For Kotula, who owns Frank’s Wildlife Studio in Wilkes-Barre, the award was a fitting culmination of years of hard work. Competing in the Master’s Division, only 11 of the 180 entries submitted in 18 categories earned the title Best in the World.
After winning awards at the state and national levels, being named Best in the World was a long-sought goal for Kotula.
“There’s nothing higher,” he said. “Winning this award proved to me that I’m more than enough qualified and it’s the highest honor a taxidermist can achieve.”
Entries are judged on anatomy and artwork. Kotula, who has been a professional taxidermist for 11 years, went through painstaking lengths to make sure his piece was not only accurate, but different.
When it came to anatomy, Kotula knew he couldn’t use a fish out of water as a pattern for his mount - which is hand-carved. The body shape of a fish in the water is different than one that is out, he said, so Kotula spent countless hours photographing fish in the aquariums at Cabela’s, in Hamburg, to make sure he had every detail perfect.
“Hydraulic pressure underwater changes the shape of the body. It flattens the body out so they can swim faster,” Kotula said. “When a fish is out of water, it’s more round. For the competition the mount had to look exactly like a live fish.”
That also included proper body position and fin placement. Because the mount is judged on all sides, Kotula had to hide the seam so it couldn’t be seen by the judges.
And then came the artwork.
The trout is a pedestal mount with rocks that Kotula bronzed himself. The spots on the trout - which are exact to the original, took Kotula 20 hours to paint, along with a total of 80 hours painting the rest of the fish.
Oh, and then there was the fact that Kotula had to run his full-time taxidermy business along with working on his Best in World entry.
“It was a lot of work and the artwork is always the most challenging,” he said. “A lot people that compete in the world show aren’t full-time taxidermists. They work on their pieces for years.”
The trout used for the mount is a 27-inch, 16-pound brown caught in Pulaski, NY. Kotula said his customer was elated that the fish won the Best in World award.
Using his customer’s mounts in competitions is a common practice for Kotula because it gives them extra satisfaction to display an award-winning piece in their homes.
The brown trout was not only named Best in World, but in March Kotula used it to win the top honors for best fish, coldwater fish and state champion in the Pennsylvania competition.
As far as his next entry in the world championship, Kotula hasn’t thought that far ahead yet.
Right now, he’s content to cherish his latest honor and continue to run his thriving taxidermy business.
“Competition has gotten me to where I am today,” Kotula said.