Franz Dutzler - The Master Trout Sculptor

Franz Dutzler Bio

Franz Dutzler Master Sculptor Hand Painting a Rainbow Trout Wood Sculpture

Franz Dutzler was born in Upper Austria in 1940, in a small town called Sierning, near the Steyer River . He is the third child of Franz and Maria Dutzler.

Life for young Franz was normal as possible with a war going on. A key point in his life occurred when he was 5 years old. An American soldier came by their home with several trout and asked if he could trade them for some potatoes. Those trout opened a whole new world for Franz, they were the best tasting and most beautiful things he had ever seen. His mind was filled with questions he spent the rest of his life answering. The next 15 years he spent watching, pursuing, and catching trout by hand in the nearby Mill Creek. In Austria it was illegal to catch fish in the streams that were all privately owned, and Franz often dreamed of living somewhere that he could fish legally to his hearts content.

Franz finished school in Austria , excelling in Art classes with watercolor portraits. His Father was a professional zither player and maker, and taught young Franz to play professionally by the time he was 12. Four generations of Dutzler's had been master black smiths, and Franz, true to this family tradition, became an apprentice metal worker. He went to work in a factory as a constructional fitter, but the tedium of the job started him looking for adventure.

When he was 20 he immigrated to Australia . As the result of an immigrant work placement program, he was given a job building a rail line. Dumped unceremoniously at the end of the train track in the middle of nowhere, with a shack to sleep in but nothing else, his adventure started in earnest. For the next year and a half he learned English, hunted, and fished in the Murrimbidgi River as he had dreamed. A friend got him a position as an apprentice cook to a German Chef in a resort in the Snowy Mountains south of Sydney . There he spent all his free time in the summer learning to fly fish and in the winter practiced his new love, skiing.

He heard about fantastic fishing in New Zealand , so, true to his heart, immigrated there. He got a job cooking in the Milford Hotel at Milford Sound, and again spent his free time fishing the beautiful prolific rivers, and hiking the Milford Track. He went on to work at the Hermitage Hotel on Mount Cook as a buffet chef. Here he learned to sculpt ice and butter to decorate the resort buffet tables, which rekindled his artistic bent and so began watercolor painting again. He also met his future wife Launa, from St. Anthony , Idaho . She also had an adventurous heart. When she decided to see New Zealand , she could only afford a one way ticket, so she went to New Zealand intending to work until she could afford to go back to America . They were married in New Zealand and spent their honeymoon on a trip by ship stopping at Australia , Philippines , Hong Kong , Japan , and Hawaii before arriving at Washington to meet his in-laws.

He went to work for the Chinook Hotel in Yakima , Washington , and fished the Naches and Yakima Rivers . In the Yakima River Franz caught his first Steelhead Trout which started a lasting fascination with the striking and powerful ocean going rainbow trout. He began to search for a way to preserve his catches and naturally turned to taxidermy. However, taxidermy could not preserve the color and "life" of the fish. He and his wife celebrated the birth of their first and only daughter Taunya. Franz and his family then moved to San Francisco to further his career as a chef at the Miyako Hotel. He still kept experimenting with taxidermy and tried casting in resin, but the results continued to be disappointing.

For the two and a half years he spent in San Francisco , he perfected his fly casting techniques at the Golden Gate State Park with the help of the old timers that belonged to the fly casting club. They gave a lot of free advice that Franz cherishes to this day, especially from Jack Horner who has since passed away. Jack will always be remembered for his deer hair flies.

One of Franz's favorite fishing spots in the San Francisco area was the Hunter's Point P.G.A. Plant outlet. At daybreak when the tide was right he could catch striped bass with a fly, which was the first time he caught a large fish on a fly rod. But other fishermen told him he hadn't lived until he had caught a steelhead on a fly, so now he had new goal.

Franz decided the big city was not the best place to raise his daughter, so he looked on the map to see where he would like to fish and decided on Eugene , Oregon , and went to work at the Eugene Hotel as night chef.

Franz tried fly-fishing for Steelhead and wasn't successful. Then he met Jon Comstock while fishing on the McKenzie River . Jon grew up on the North Umpqua and he and his friend Jerry Meyers took Franz in hand, showed him the river, and helped him catch his first steelhead on a fly. Franz was exhilarated by the experience and was hooked for life. It broke his heart that he had only a few poor pictures to preserve the memory, he wanted to preserve the fish the way it looks when it first comes out of the water

After 5 years in Eugene , Franz and family moved to Sisters in central Oregon , and became head chef at Black Butte Ranch. Here he had great fishing and skiing.

After seeing a well made woodcarving, he began to see the possibility of preserving the memory of a fish in wood. While visiting his in-laws in Yakima , Washington , he mentioned his idea to his father-in-law. Richard VanderLinden told him "If you want to find out about carving, you have to meet the Bird-man of Naches, Floyd Broadbent. He carves miniature game birds." Franz went to Floyd's home and met a charismatic and voluble not-so-retired salesman who became both a teacher and a friend. After a visit to Floyd's studio he came home with all kinds of information, an armload of wood, and a gleam in his eye.

When he got home, he was ready to start woodcarving, but decided to go skiing first, which is when he managed to break his lower leg in seven major pieces. After lying around at home for a week watching daytime TV, he realized he had to do something to keep his sanity. With his leg propped up on a chair in the middle of the bedroom he ignobly started his wood carving career in earnest. His family ate, slept, and lived with sawdust for the next three months as he labored to produce his first fish carvings. Franz wasn't pleased with his first try at painting with oils, but his friends told him they were good and he even sold a few, which gave him the encouragement to continue on.

Franz has made a detailed study of all trout in their native environment. When he catches a fish, he immediately puts the live fish in a Plexiglas tank full of river water. He takes pictures of the fish through the water to eliminate the reflection of light off the fish, capturing all the true colors of the fish and its natural movements. He has taken precise measurements from the fish to ensure the proportions are correct. This enables him to produce an end product that looks colorful and alive. His catalog files are so extensive that he now rarely needs to keep a fish for research.

He experimented with several different woods before he found that kiln-dried Alder was the best suited for the both the fish body and for the thinness of the fins. He cuts the body form out with a band saw, and carves, files, and sands to create a smooth contour. Then he carves the details of the head and body and engraves the scales. The fins and tails are mitered into the body and after painting the glass eyes they are set into the sockets. After doing any finishing details, the wood is sealed with Varathane.

He begins painting the fish with a base coat in two different colors, dark on the top and light on the bottom. Then each individual scale is painted on, using several different colors. The spots are painted on next, after which the scales are highlighted. These many layers of thin oil paints give the fish a translucent look. Franz takes great care to reproduce the fish's natural setting. He mounts the fish on a unique piece of driftwood, which is mounted to a base with realistic rocks, weeds, nymphs, frogs, or small bait fish, all of which are carved and painted with the same care used on the fish. The piece is covered with a Plexiglas vitrine to protect the piece.

Franz's study of the wild trout has given him a heighten appreciation of how beautiful the native fish is compared to the stock (hatchery) fish. Each aquatic environment affects a fish's color, spots, and body structure, producing native trout unique to each river and lake. Stocking steams and lakes with hatchery fish that compete with wild fish for food and space, over-fishing, and indiscriminate logging all contribute to the dwindling of our wild fish population. He hopes his woodcarvings make people aware of the beauty of native trout and inspire others to save these beautiful fragile fish that God has made for us.

Each of Franz's carvings is a unique masterpiece of color and form, imbued with Austrian perfectionism, and a fisherman's love.

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Franz Dutzler - The Master Trout Sculptor
Ogden, UT
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