There is a certain aesthetic that comes to mind when you think “fishing lodge.” Rough-hewn wood, wildlife-silhouette lampshades, and fish mounts. In fact, taxidermy might be the epitome of this look such that any large fish immediately makes a room, regardless if it is in a cabin or suburban den, feel “woodsy.”
For generations, this has been the case. Fading, aged skin mounts that remind anglers of proud conquests frighten spouses and small children. Shiny fiberglass replicas, while more environmentally conscientious, aren’t much better. How is the fly fisher supposed to display their passion while maintaining marital bliss and adhering to some manner of style?
Just north of Detroit, Michigan, Bob Batchik is creating fishing art. Sunfish Woodworks meets the angler’s need while at the same time being visually pleasing to wider audience. For over 25 years, he has been crafting wooden fish by hand and selling them across the continent. “And every day I wake up excited to go to work,” Batchik says.
After some time as a woodworking hobbyist, Batchik began to receive interest from local fly fishers after one of his pieces was auctioned off at a Trout Unlimited fundraiser. “Fly fishers are a group that really appreciate the aesthetics of the outdoors experience,” Batchik says. “Everything from the rod, the places we fish, a fine cigar and a good bourbon; and then its great if you get to catch a fish. It is a perfect fit for artwork that captures that experience.”
Sunfish Woodworks specializes in larger-than-life fish carvings. At a recent fly fishing expo show, dozens of four- to six-foot trout lined the wall of his booth. Each fish is shaped, then cut and gouged by hand. The result is a unique piece with gentle angles that, with the application of brushed on paint, gives the impression of underwater movement. A trout, bass, or bluegill like this would look equally at home in a living room or on the wall of a fly shop.
The design of these fish is slightly stylized, but Batchik has embellished some pieces even further. “I had a lot of fun working with Lander Fly Shop in Wyoming, where we came up with a snarling cutthroat with an angry eyebrow.” But his artistic creativity moves in a number of directions: “Currently I’m working on a brook trout that is kind of ‘smiling’ for a little girl’s room. Her grandpa wanted a ‘cute’ fish for his granddaughter.”
The other major aspect of Sunfish Woodworks is the creation of trophy replicas. With so many anglers practicing catch and release, skin mounts have fallen out of vogue. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an option for procuring a tangible reminder of that treasured moment. “With a picture or video, it won’t be just about matching colors. I’ll carve a fish to be the right size and right shape with hand tools,” said Batchik. “Fiberglass is great, but most of those mounts come from molds. I create more of an art piece than a replica: each one is a one-off.”
Which addresses that nagging issue: how much can a big fish fit into the interior design of a home? “Actually, at outdoor shows I’ll get a lot of wives who came with their husbands that will buy them. And at art shows, it is mostly women.” The appeal is undeniable. There is a certain softness in the fish he creates, and the attention to detail and particular style of Sunfish Woodworks draws people in. “I love creating bluegill and brook trout, and I sell the most of those,” Batchik says. “It reminds people of that first fish they caught, or where they think about when they think about getting away.”
A man who is obviously passionate about his art and his work, Batchik is equally ardent in his care for customers. “I want to create quality woodwork, but it is just as important to keep people happy. It is a matter of integrity as much as anything.” This ethic shows in his work, his customer service, and his commitment to family. He credits the support of his wife for making it all possible. Additionally, his daughter has been traveling across the country, helping him set up and sell at trade shows.
Sunfish Woodworks is the natural extension of Bob Batchik’s appreciation for fly fishing, nature, and artistic expression. Whether it be a four-inch trout for a shadowbox, or an eight-foot black crappie, his hands hew every scale, fin, and tail. “Part of it is the challenge,” Batchik says, “with every new fish I get to figure out new things, new shapes.” What he has figured out, which is clear from his handiwork, is a way to create pieces of art that just happen to feature fish.
Check out Sunfish Woodworks’ online gallery here, and learn how to contact Bob Batchick about commissioning your own trophy carving.