Before the magic mud starts to harden, the remains of the fish are put on a contour form and pinned down with the fins properly extended and the body in the exact posture the client wants. Most tarpon, for example, are mounted arching upward, as if leaping from the water trying to throw a hook. Sailfish generally are mounted in a plain, leaping curve with dorsal fin extended. A freshwater bass is usually formed up with its mouth open wide and gill covers flared out, as if it were about to finish off the biggest bullfrog in its pond. When the magic mud has hardened sufficiently—a very big fish can take a week—the mount is taken off the contour form. The sawdust is emptied out, and the mount hung up to dry. In the humid Florida summer a very big fish sometimes hangs around the plant for a month simply drying out.
Once dry, a Pflueger fish passes through the hands of half a dozen beauty technicians. One specialist puts fiber-board backing on the fins and tails. The next fills in major defects in the body and fins with a wood-fiber compound and also fits its eye socket with a German-made glass eyeball that is within a millimeter of the size of the original and has an iris of the correct color and configuration. Another specialist gives the fish a filler coat of paint to preserve it and highlight minor flaws, which are then corrected with another kind of cellulose putty.
After a shining coat of base paint has been put on it, a Pflueger fish looks as perfect and pure—and about as sexy—as Ingrid Bergman did playing the part of a nun in one of the Hollywood flicks of yesteryear. In this immaculate state the fish finally reaches the north end of the building, where an artist will restore the drab or gaudy colors it had in real life. If the fish is a common one such as an amberjack, a veteran Pflueger artist has done so many of the same he could probably do the job blindfolded, using the tail of a seeing-eye dog for a brush. But if the fish happens to be Hypoplectrus unicolor, a small, deep-dwelling grouper that passes through the plant rarely, the artist will look up the specifications and artist's rendition in the file before proceeding. When hung on a wall and assailed by the wrong kind of light, some finished mounts shine so brightly and garishly they look as if they had just leaped out of a vat of varnish. Be that as it may, considering the perishability of its original flesh and its final durability, a Pfluegerized fish is a remarkable product.
Since he was a boy, Pflueger has been wallowing in fish, figuratively and in fact. He often fished with his father in orthodox ways and also experimentally with deep lines and whatnot. As a high-schooler he collected fish on docks for the company and on vacations worked along the assembly line, skinning fish at one end, painting them at the other. Before graduating from high school, he was a master angler and an able taxidermist despite the fact that as a teenager he tilted with a lot of different windmills. In his junior high days he was a table-tennis whiz; in high school, an able swimmer. Before the age of 20 he had won local and state honors as a powerboat driver, trapshooter and drag racer. He should be forgiven these truancies. For one thing, he is now considered an absolute authority in several areas of saltwater fly-fishing, where he holds numerous world records. For another, his father, certainly one of the fishiest men of all time, was also a bit of a dilettante. Now and again, when Al Pflueger Sr. felt he simply had to get away from fish, he would take off and hunt for tree snails in the hammocks of the Everglades.
The name Pflueger—which is often misspelled Pfleuger or Plfueger—is German, meaning "plowman." Although the name is very familiar to anglers in this country, curiously neither Al Pflueger Sr. nor his son can take even half the credit for the fishy reputation it now enjoys. Before the fish-mounting Pflueger family came to the U.S., an Ernest Pflueger who was not related was prospering as a harness manufacturer in Akron. Ernest Pflueger was a fishing nut and before his death in 1900 was producing fishing gear. In the past 40 years the Pflueger tackle manufacturers in Ohio often got inquiries from people wanting to know what happened to the fish their charter captain sent in for mounting. The Pflueger fish mounters in Florida now and again got Pflueger reels to repair. By further coincidence the Shakespeare Company, another tackle manufacturer, subsequently became the parent corporation of both concerns, so, by adoption, today all Pfluegers are in one family.
One of Al Pflueger's sidelines today is artificial reef building. With the help of charter skippers, sportsmen and the city of Miami, for the past four years he has been sinking old ships in 200 feet of water along a mile stretch off the coast. Pflueger's hope is to restore fishing to the high level he knew as a boy. The wreck sites are already paying off both for drift fishermen and trollers, and, even if fishing is never again as good as it was, Pflueger's reef already offers the angler the chance for a very rare prize. Suppose a fisherman using a Pflueger lure, Pflueger line and a Pflueger rod and reel trolled over the bait-rich waters of the Pflueger artificial reef? Suppose he caught one of the rare Atlantic spearfish that was discovered by Al Pflueger Sr. and named T. pfluegeri after him? Though a long shot, it is possible that someday some angler will catch such a 100% Pflueger fish. One thing is sure. If he then sends this rare prize off to be Pfluegerized for posterity, it will wait its turn in line at the Pflueger taxidermy plant just like Dick Nixon's fish and everybody else's.