Last year we brought you the amazing story of Vicksburg, Miss. commercial fisherman Kenny Williams and his 327-pound world-record alligator gar. With a fish that large, not just any taxidermist would do, so the prehistoric behemoth was sent to world-renowned New Wave Taxidermy in Stuart, Fla. Here are the photos of Kenny Williams’ once-in-a-lifetime catch, both during and after the process of transforming it from a 300-pound hunk of flesh into a work of piscatorial art.
Michael Kirkhart, owner and chief artist of New Wave Taxidermy, has mounted many a giant, unique or record-breaking fish over the years, but nothing quite like Kenny Williams’ breathtaking behemoth, which he pulled from the depths of Lake Chotard, Miss. on Feb. 14, 2011.
That morning, Williams, a commercial fisherman from Vicksburg, Miss., was working out of a 16-foot aluminum boat, setting his nets in the murky depths of Chotard, one of the many oxbow lakes along the Mississippi River. A good haul of buffalo fish was his goal, but what William got was a 327-pound, 8.5 foot-long alligator gar that would end up being the largest alligator gar ever recorded.
Williams, realizing that his catch was special, donated it to the state of Mississippi to be displayed at the state’s natural history museum in nearby Jackson. “I wanted it to stay in Mississippi, so I decided to give it to them,” Williams told Field & Stream last year.
That’s when Kirkhart got the call. The state of Mississippi wanted two mounts of Williams’ fish: one to hang in the museum and one to hang in Kenny’s house. So he hopped in the truck to take delivery of one very large, very frozen, and as it turned out, very stinky fish. “I met them halfway, in Alabama, loaded up the fish and drove home,” he says.
“I figured it would thaw out pretty quickly so I could start skinning it,” recalls Kirkhart, “but when we got to work the next day it was still frozen solid.” So how do you thaw out that much flesh? “We had to buy a ten-foot cattle trough and fill it with water and then slide it in there. That was the only thing we could find that would fit.”
Once it was thawed, Kirkhart began the herculean task of skinning the giant beast. “Let me tell you, the stink was unbelievable,” says Kirkhart. “There were flies everywhere. I took a lot of showers working on this fish.”
So how long does it take to transform a fish of this size from a rotting hunk of flesh into a mounted work of art? “The whole process, from skinning, tanning and painting, is probably about a hundred hours of labor spread out over six months.”
According to Kirkhart, both methods, the traditional skin mount and the fiberglass reproduction, take about the same amount of time.
“With the reproductions, you have to build molds off the mount, so it takes an equal amount of work for a fiberglass reproduction.
In this case, Kirkhart had to make separate molds of the body, the head, the fins and the inside of the mouth.
“The mouth was probably the trickiest and most challenging mold to do,” says Kirkhart. “Alligator gar have two main rows of teeth, but let me tell you, there are a whole lot more than just those two rows. This thing had teeth everywhere, and we had to mold every one of them.”
In addition to the incredible amount of detail work, there were also logistical issues just handling and moving around such a large object. “It was a chore moving it around,” says Kirkhart. “We had to use old-fashioned block-and-tackles, and sometimes we had to get some guys from the machine shop next door to help us.”
Kirkhart finished the skin mount first, which went to the state of Mississippi’s museum, then finished the reproduction, which went to Kenny William’s living room. Given a choice between the two, Kirkhart says he personally prefers reproductions.
“I’ll take a reproduction every time,” says Kirkhart. “To me they’re just more vibrant, more lifelike, show more action and motion. The other good thing is you don’t have to kill the fish (although it must be noted Kenny Williams was planning on releasing his massive gar but it died before he was able to).
The finished product was impressive enough to lure “River Monsters” host Jeremy Wade to Kirkhart’s shop for a glimpse of the beast. Kirkhart says interest in Williams’ record-breaking catch is a good opportunity to highlight the plight of the alligator gar, which isn’t yet endangered or threatened, but is a species many are concerned about. “Giant alligator gar like this are so rare, so anything that allows people to see the physical representation of what they are is good thing.”
In fact, reproductions for museums, universities and other venues make up a big chunk of Kirkhart’s business. And just in case anyone is interested in having a 327-pound alligator gar hanging in their museum, bar or man cave, Kirkhart says to give him a call. I have the molds here just waiting to make another one for anyone who wants a perfect representation of the largest alligator gar ever caught.” For more pictures of Kenny Williams’ record-busting alligator gar being preserved, keep clicking.
Recently, we brought you the amazing story of Vicksburg, Miss. commercial fisherman Kenny Williams and his 327-pound world-record alligator gar. With a fish that large, not just any taxidermist would do, so the prehistoric behemoth was sent to world-renowned New Wave Taxidermy in Stuart, Fla. Here are the photos of Kenny Williams’ once-in-a-lifetime catch, both during and after the process of transforming it from a 300-pound hunk of flesh into a work of piscatorial art.