Fishing and Making Fish Prints with Alexis Aubin-Laperrière

TEXT—Marie Charles Pelletier PHOTOS—Gabriel DeRossi

July 2023, dawn. Alexis Aubin-Laperrière is headed for Lake Charlevoix, fishing rod over his shoulder. He walks through the silent wood, lost in thought, and hopes for a good catch. Worried the fish might be hiding in the deepest parts of the lake to flee the heat, he carries a jar full of the plumpest worms in his bag. “I brought the biggest ones I could find, thinking it was a good idea to put all the odds on my side!”

The air is still cool when he reaches the shore. For a long moment, he looks at this lake he’s seeing for the first time. “There’s no other way to know a lake than to look at it closely and for a long time,” he explains.

Like sailors waiting for the wind, Alexis waits for movement in the water before he starts fishing.

He notes that the lake seems particularly even, except maybe over near the submerged tree, where the ground sinks a little deeper than elsewhere. Smelling a hypothetical success, he moves over a few metres and puts his line in the water. After a minute-long struggle — without let-up — he pulls out a 2 ¼ inch trout. [Insert sad trombone noise.]

Alexis started fishing young. His father was the one who taught him the basics, but he quickly acquired his own equipment. He’d sometimes leave early in the morning with his bag full of snacks and only come back after dinnertime.

That was long before his exile to the city and his studies in visual art. He would never have thought that those years spent in the printing department at Concordia University would culminate in a fishing story. And yet, it seems that the overview of a printing technique learned at the school — gyotaku — never really left his mind.

Gyotaku is a traditional Japanese technique that consists of making a print of a fish on paper or fabric, through a meticulous application of sumi ink on its scales.

This non-toxic substance is made from vegetable oil and soot, so artists could eat the fish once they were rinsed. Alexis admits to sometimes having a little trouble cooking them after spending hours manipulating them. So he leaves them in the freezer for a while, and then shares them with his family.

Alexis has been refining his technique since that day in 2019 when he made his first (catastrophic) attempt at gyotaku. He took advantage of his visit to BESIDE Habitat to immortalize his catch, giving the fish a second existence, at the crossroads of nature and culture. “I don’t pretend to be a gyotaku master; I do it my own way,” he’s careful to say.

The desire to represent what surrounds us through printing wasn’t invented yesterday. Originally, this method was used by fishers to document their best catches — or to end the debate on size.

Although it was small, the trout Alexis caught in Lake Charlevoix was honoured nonetheless. It continues to make its way, on sheets of washi paper, leaving the traces of its passage in its wake.

To know more about gyotaku, read our article at beside.media.

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