A little background–I have always enjoyed fish. Keeping them, learning about them, catching them and eating them. I have always been a fan of fish like sharks (who wouldn’t be?) but the freshwater ones have always been my favourite.
As a fan of replicas and toys, this has created a bit of a problem for me–the growing range of available reef fish and other marine fish and now plenty of shark figures (plus relatives and prehistoric ones!) is fantastic, and really broadens the perspective of the diversity of life in the sea. But when it comes to freshwater fishes, it has been much tougher. It was years before I found any good models of lake or river fish from a reputable company–now discontinued, of course, and not easily available when they were made. Occasionally a trout or bass figure shows up in a set, but they are aren’t common even from companies with broad ranges.
Japan has a long tradition of great wildlife-based figures and models, but that is not much help to most people. They are very well-made, but since they can only be found in Japan, they become too expensive for toys. Plus, they are often specific to species that are relevant to Japan and the surrounding area.
Or, companies make goldfish. Which are great, but don’t really reflect the natural world very well. Still a fan though–introduces young people to familiar fish that they can touch and feel, since live ones tend to not enjoy much affection!
And then, someone else came along who felt like I did–why didn’t anyone make affordable, good representatives of familiar and popular fishes from our own streams and lakes? The focus of Replica Toy Fish is North American fishes, but many are familiar to wildlife enthusiasts from different places (sometimes from introduced species, sometimes because their ranges are broader than one continent, and sometimes because they are just very cool).
I love this line of figures. I am a big fan of what this company is trying to do. And they are very well made.
The collection is broken into 2 different series, a smaller 3″ series and a larger 6″ series.
The smaller series is 12 fish from around North America, many of which would be familiar as game fish. This includes popular smaller scrappers like Pumpkinseeds, Bluegills and Crappies (side note: an unfortunate common name) plus their larger relatives the Largemouth Bass and Smallmouth Bass.
Finally, one of the most popular fish for anglers, and one of the best known predatory families in our freshwaters (in the northern hemisphere–we don’t have tigerfish or piranhas of course) is the pike, represented by a Northern Pike, Muskellunge and the hybrid of those two, the Tiger Muskie.
These figures are available individually of course, for creating all kinds of shoals or working them into dioramas and scenes. But, for a broad range RTF Co. has also put them together in the Midwest Tackle Box (sorry, also currently sold out), where you get one of each in an actual small tackle box. So if someone gets inspired by these fish to go and try to catch one, you already have a place to store your hooks! Just take the toy fish out first.
Above I mentioned dioramas and scenes. No river scene would feel right without a fish here or there. But these fish are also sized well for other scenes–like as food for some of the big prehistoric predators out there.
Especially for freshwater fish-eaters (like the above, but there are others of course) it’s great to have fish that are appropriate in size and age (more or less). Animals like Pike, Salmon (trout) and even Perch/Walleye (maybe the catfish) have relatives that go back to the Cretaceous (up to today, of course) so they can be squeezed into those ages. The various bass species are later in the geologic record, but would stand in well for general fish in the water.
But RTF has a second line that really shines–the 6″ figures. A smaller line, with only 6 figures, and they are, in a word, awesome. But I might have a bit of bias.
Three of them are big versions of 3″ figures–the Northern Pike, Tiger Muskie and Channel Catfish. You would need some pretty big animal figures to try to eat those! But they are still really cool. And they’d still be great in a scene of a river or lake with other animals. Plus, speaking from experience, my kids really like the catfish. Maybe because it’s so blue!
But the other 3 figures–Longnose Gar, Alligator Gar and Shovelnose sturgeon–are great figures for so many reasons. They are large fish with long fossil histories, so showing up with dinosaurs wouldn’t be out of the question. And since they are generally large species, these 6″ figures can sit next to some of the larger figures just fine.
But mostly, I find them exciting because they are among the groups of prehistoric fish that I personally find so fascinating. As a general group, these are fish that reflect very old evolution of fish groups that aren’t nearly as common as the modern teleost fish. As well as the gars and sturgeon, these popularly include bichirs, paddlefish, arrowanas, bowfins, lungfish and coelacanths. Almost all of them are freshwater, except the coelacanth, and the only one widely available as a figure is the great Safari coelacanth! Not counting the rarer Japanese figures, of course, who occasionally make some of them (mostly Australian lungfish, Arapaima and Asian Arrowana, but I have a couple of the others in my collection too).
So thanks to one person’s dream of creating some accurate, good toys of a very neglected group (freshwater fish) we have some great figures that look great on a shelf, in a toy box, in a diorama or in an educator’s set. I highly recommend them to anyone with an interest in the natural world of today or yesterday. I personally hope that the line continues to grow–there are a lot more fishes out there that need out attention!