By Dena Martin

Tom Schirm Takes Third Place in World Fish Carving Competition

Local habitat biologists takes pride in honing his craft


Courtesy photo

Tom Schirm's westslope cutthroat trout carving took third place in the world in the Decorative Lifesize Open Level at the World Taxidermy and Fish Carving Championships in Springfield, Missouri last month.

DAYTON-For most people, the dream of achiev- ing Best in World status in their art is simply that – a dream. But for Tom Schirm, of Dayton, that dream is well within reach. In fact, Schirm currently holds third place Best in World Overall honors for his realis- tic fish carvings.

In early May, Schirm traveled to Springfield, Mis- souri where the competed in the World Taxidermy and Fish Carving Championships. Schirm entered his 13-inch, westslope cutthroat trout carving in the Trout/Salmon/Char category. He placed well enough to advance and compete against all life-size pieces in all categories, where he walked away with the overall third place award.

Schirm said there were approximately 45 com- petitors in the Trout/Salmon/Char category and 25 carvings from all categories advanced to the final competition. This was his second time attending the bi-annual event. In 2015, he took second place in the Trout/Salmon/Char category.

Schirm took three carvings to the event and, after receiving some initial feedback from judges, changed his mind on which carving to enter. In addition to the westslope cutthroat, Schirm brought golden trout and Dolly Varden trout carvings, with plans to enter the Dolly Varden.

In addition to being a testament to Schirm's skill the westslope cutthroat carving's win carries senti- mental weight as well.

"There is a neat personal story behind that piece," Schirm said.

Schirm works as a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife habitat biologist and said a fish biologist colleague and his wife had long admired his work. The wife, who was also a friend, had wanted a carving for years, but the couple never got around to purchas- ing one.

"She passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, and he commissioned the carving in memory of her. I tried really hard on it and he was very pleased with how it turned out. He let me take it to the national and world competitions. It was pretty special to have it work out that way," Schirm said.

Schirm got started carving in the mid-90s when he received a fish carving book as a gift.

"I thought it might be fun to try so I started playing around with it," he said.

Schirm said it was about 10 years ago that he start- ed getting more serious about trying to improve his craft. Where he used to carve one or two fish a year, he now produces two to eight carvings, most on com- mission.

"Since I started with fish, I decided to just stick with it and get really good at it. I see too many peo- ple who carve anything and everything and they are good, but they never get really good at one subject," he said.

Schirm said this year's winning carving took about 70-80 hours to carve, but a large fish, like a steelhead, can take hundreds of hours. In upper level compe- tition, everything used in the composition must be carved, including rocks and driftwood.

A stickler for accuracy, Schirm said the mouth in- terior is the most difficult part of the fish to replicate, especially when it is being judged by someone famil- iar with fish anatomy.

Rendering scales accurately, can also be time consuming. On larger carvings, each scale must be burned individually as well as being painted individ- ually to replicate the metallic sheen.

Schirm uses taxidermy eyes and colors his carv- ings with a combination of water-based acrylics and powders.

"I've never had an art class in my life. I started trying to hand-paint with a brush and couldn't get it right, so I switched to an airbrush," he said. Schirm references a book of paint schedules (similar to a paint recipe book) used by taxidermists to get colors right.

When asked what he enjoys most about carving, Schirm quickly named two things.

"When I'm not rushed, it's relaxing. I can go down- stairs and get away and I like working with wood. The other thing is seeing a customer who lights up, smiles, and is happy and excited when they see their carving. It's a good feeling to have people like what you do," he said.

When it comes to his favorite carvings, Schirm says they change with time.

"I'll have one for awhile, then I'll make one that's a little bit better," he said.

When it comes to competing, Schirm is up against stiff competition. He said he knew this year's Best in World winning carving was special when he saw it.

"When I walked in I had high hopes, but then I saw this guy's brook trout and he had done a fantastic job. It's hard to describe, but the fish was high on a ped- estal and mounted off of a carved broken fly rod. The execution was excellent. When I saw it I said, 'This one is going to win it!'" Schirm said.

"Judges look for several things, including some- thing that stands out and catches the eye, technical expertise (does the fish look real?), composition (does it tell a story or is it just a fish on a stick?), is it com- posed well, and artistic quality," Schirm said.

He says he has an idea that might work in 2021, but he is keeping it hush-hush.

Schirm's ultimate goal is to win Best in World Over- all.

"If I do that, I might branch out and start carving something else," he said.

Read more about Schirm, his carvings and his awards at


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