PROFILE: Fishing and Carving with Mick Molnar

GOLD Coast-based Mick Molnar has combined his love of fishing with his unique skills of sculpting timber fish. JEREME lANE reports.

ONLY two years ago Mick Molnar was a Gold Coast primary school teacher looking for a change of pace. Taking the plunge and following his passion for fishing, he literally carved out a new career over the next two years sculpting unique works of fishy art from discarded timber.

Coming from a family who loved fishing, Mick was hooked since he was old enough to hold a rod and honed his skills fishing for bread and butter species in his local waters. Using bread to catch mullet on the North Coast of NSW, Mick used to envy the older members of his family who at the time were catching bigger and more exciting fish.

“My pop, my old man and all my uncles are fishermen and I can remember watching them out on the rocks spinning for tailor or bringing home monster jewfish and I just wanted to be old enough to get out there with them,” Mick said.

He’s remained a keen fisho his entire life. Living in Colorado, USA, he spent most of his days fly fishing the rivers and streams around Denver for brown and rainbow trout. When he wasn’t fishing he was hanging out in tackle shops, talking about fishing or tying flies, and it was in Colorado’s fly and tackle shops that he first noticed different types of fish art.

Mick pictured here with a nice school jewie from the rocks.

“I was spending a lot of time in the local tackle shops and noticed all the carvings, paintings and photographs and I particularly loved the work of Mike Savlen,” Mick said.

There’s a big market for fishing art in America. Mick describes himself as creative but had never previously made any art except for in high school. He eventually decided to have a crack at a few paintings as a way of killing some time in Colorado on the rare occasions when he wasn’t fishing.

His father had some spare timber lying around the house and Mick thought he’d have a crack at carving it into a barra… The rest is history.

After his time overseas, Mick returned home to Australia and, like many who do long stints away from home, he began to look for a way out of the daily grind of a regular job and move towards something he was more passionate about. His father had a bit of spare timber lying around the house and Mick thought he’d have a crack at carving it into a barra and painting it in what was, at that stage, starting to become his unique style.

The barra turned out well enough to give to his sister as a present for her new house. He also made a jewfish for his grandfather to commemorate a 54lb trophy he’d caught when he was younger. The rest is history.

After those first carvings, Mick found out about the Queensland Government’s NEIS initiative and this was when he began to think about making it a full time business. The New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS) program provides assistance to start up business through training and helped Mick’s get off the ground and up and running.

The process

All of the designs are carved from recycled pine that’s been discarded from a local factory. The smaller designs are usually made from a sinƒgle piece, but larger pieces may have the fins carved separately and then attached later. The outlines are first drawn up on a computer based on images from the client and/or images sourced online that provide good insight and detail into the markings of the fish.

Once an accurate outline is established, the design is scaled up to the required size and copied on to the timber blank. Then the outline is cut using a jigsaw and shaping begins using an angle grinder and an orbital sander.

Once he has the rough shape, the meticulous process begins of sanding, sealing, sanding again, painting several coats and then finishing with a clear marine varnish; all of which is done by hand. Included in each step is drying time for each layer of paint, which can take up to several days and then finally they are hung to cure completely. The completion time varies depending on the size and design of the carving, but Mick tells customers to allow about four weeks from start to finish. Mick’s always looking to improve the painting side of his sculptures. “I started painting very simple colour patterns but as I’ve progressed I’ve worked hard on improving the detail and precision of the painting side of it,” he explains.

Mick pictured here with a nice spotted mackerel taken on a hardbody in his home waters of South East Queensland. Image: Cameron Busch.

It’s not difficult to see that his hard work is paying off, with his work featuring impressive detail, particularly on the larger pieces where imperfections would be easily noticed.

Since finally taking the plunge and going out on his own, Mick has slowly but surely been building up his business through social media channels like Facebook and Instagram. It’s through these channels that he’s also found work carving trophies for various fishing tournaments around the country. Just as he was starting out in business he was approached by The Gold Coast Flathead Classic to make a couple of trophies for the comp. “This was such a good confidence boost for me and I received a lot of positive feedback from organisers and competitors. I’ve made the trophies for the last three Flathead classics now,” he said.

Since making the Flathead Classic trophies, he’s been commissioned by various other fishing tournaments, tackle companies, fishing clubs and private organisations looking for creative and refreshing alternatives to the standard fishing paraphernalia.

Now that Mick’s making a living from carving fish he spends more time looking at the fish he catches. “I do find myself looking a lot closer at everything I catch. Checking out the scale patterns, how they reflect light, how the head and gills run into the body and bringing that back into my carvings.” Not that mixing his work with his passion has diminished his love for fishing in any way. He says he gets just as excited every time he picks up a rod. “There is so much to love about fishing. The places you go for a start. I love being outside and getting away from everything and catching a few fish just adds that extra bit of excitement,” he explains.

“I also like the mental side of it. Studying the conditions, watching how the water’s moving, watching the birds, thinking about where the bait would be holding and where the fish might be sitting. Trying to solve the puzzle, it’s like a big game that’s always changing. When you get a cast in a likely spot, the anticipation is up and when your lure gets hit it’s a great feeling that never gets old!”

Mick isn’t too shabby with rod in hand either, as any of his followers on social media can attest to. He regularly posts photos of quality fish caught in his local waters around South East Queensland. His most memorable recent catch was his first “proper” jewfish, which came in at 134cm. Apart from being a quality catch, this fish had extra significance for Mick because he landed it at a place where his pop used to livebait for 50lb-ers half a century ago.

“This was a fish I’ve always wanted to catch, at the top of my bucket list,” he said. Mick isn’t too fussed what he’s catching though, and he says, “I will fish for any fish, anywhere, any time”. Spinning for trevally and tailor from the rocks, soft plastics for flathead, dropping blades for bream and school jew, popping for whiting, Mick loves it all. “I’m no good at catching jacks but I’ll still fish for them,” he laughs.

Mick with a nice Somerset bass taken on a surface frog. Image: Cameron Busch.

During the school holidays he goes down to the beach and catches worms and digs for pipis with his sister’s kids. He goes with his old man and pop catching dart and tarwhine a lot too. “I grew up using an Alvey and still love it, but I’ve also done a fair bit of salt and freshwater fly fishing and get a real kick out of chasing and catching new species with modern tackle as well,” he says.

Overseas Mick has caught permit and monster bream in Oman, queenfish, golden trevally and mackerel in Abu Dhabi, as well as trout in Colorado. Mick is one of those lucky fellows whose dream involves both his work and his passion. His dream – like so many other Aussie fishos – is to travel around Australia on a fishing odyssey.

“It would be good to take the 4wd, with a boat on the back and fish the whole way around. I’d take a few tools and a bit of paint and work as I go,” he says. “Murray cod in NSW, mulloway off the beach in Victoria, black bream in Tassie, monster snapper in SA, big GTs in WA, barra in the Territory, and jungle perch and sooties up the top of Queensland would be just a few species to tick off along the way!”

You can check out Mick’s work or get in touch with him through the Mick Molnar Marine Art Facebook and Instagram pages.

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