July 20, 2024

Hardcore Game Fishing

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Angling Artist: Joe Pizzolato

The crab pot clanged onto the dock as a young Joe Pizzolato hauled in the day’s catch. It was late summer, and Joe had developed a knack for crabbing after several seasons spent living aboard his father’s boat down at the shore. As he admired the blue claws and orange tinge on the shells of his soon-to-be dinner, he considered how lucky he was to be spending another summer on the water with his family.

Joe’s summers were more immersive than the average young shore-goer. Because he lived on the boat all season, his days were spent fluke fishing with his father or hanging around the docks. Joe’s daily dock adventures quickly taught him that fishing and crabbing were a part of life in coastal New Jersey, but he didn’t anticipate the impact these recreational activities would have on his future.

Pizzolato went to work immediately after graduating high school. From 1983 until 2020, he operated his own contracting business, but the global pandemic threw a wrench in his plans. He wanted to build a house before settling down to officially retire, but supply issues resulting from the pandemic have dragged that project out to present day. These unforeseen obstacles forced him to be patient, introspective, and creative during his free time, which culminated in an entirely new skill of creating artwork using materials from his contracting sites.

When compared to steel, copper is a malleable metal that dents, bends and heats with relative ease.

On a trip to Maine eight years ago, Pizzolato visited a gallery that displayed an intricately detailed school of stainless-steel fish sculptures. He admired the fine attention to detail in each fish and brainstormed ways that he could create something similar to bring a piece of the Jersey Shore home with him. Although he didn’t have much of a background in welding, sculpting, or metalwork, there were often sheets of copper at his job sites during the roofing stages. This sparked the idea of using copper to create the metal fish objects he’d admired during his trip to Maine years earlier.

Early on, Pizzolato’s creative process was dominated by trial and error. When compared to steel, copper is a malleable metal. It dents, bends, and heats with relative ease, so there was a decent learning curve. Joe began building what he refers to as “some crude-looking fish,” and after a few experimental pieces, he felt he had formulated a process that worked. He posted the new and improved pieces to Facebook, where friends and family began to express interest. The posts began with compliments and likes, and quickly turned into comments and inquiries from intrigued potential buyers.

After three years of refining his craft, Joe wanted to pursue this new skill professionally. Copper allowed him to express his lifelong passion for marine life in a unique and imaginative fashion. What began as a hobby now provided him with a daily purpose outside of fixer-uppers and projects around the house. However, when a friend connected him with Tom Lynch, owner of Angry Fish Gallery in Point Pleasant Beach, he realized that the greater public also had an appetite for his marine artwork. 

Joe Pizzolato displays his work outside of Tom Lynch’s Angry Fish Gallery in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey.

As he developed each piece, he simultaneously created a handful of his own tools to help him attain the desired features of each fish. Some pieces emphasized texture in scaliness, while others emphasized color with faint yet vibrant glimmers of blue, green, orange, and red. He uses the objects and elements around him to create the desired color scheme from the metal. Pizzolato creates a combination of acids, typically vinegar or citric acid, that slightly corrode the copper to give it color. The result gives each piece a unique aqua blue-green accent that suggests a nautical aura once completed. Through further experimentation, Pizzolato found this wasn’t the only way to bring his fish to life.

Pizzolato uses a cocktail of acids—typically based of vinegar or citric acid—that slightly corrode the copper to give it a unique aqua blue-green color.

While on the job with his father years ago, Pizzolato noticed that copper changed colors under concentrated heat, so he used that knowledge to his advantage. By heating his pieces with a hand torch, the copper changes colors where he applies the flame, meaning he could alter the shades to fit his creation. Then, Joe lets it cool and returns later to put on the finishing touches. He is particularly proud of a mako shark that he colored solely with a hand torch.

In the same way that weather conditions impact the bite in our surrounding fisheries, the daily weather also influences the coloration and outcome of each piece colored by the flame. On warm, dry, sunny days, the flame brings out pronounced reds and oranges; during wet, rainy, humid days, the flame accentuates green and muddy brown undertones. It’s remarkable that the weather outside can have such a profound effect on the direction of each piece, and upon making this discovery, Joe realized he is better equipped to work on certain pieces under specific conditions. If he is working on a brown trout, he waits for a dry, sunny day to elicit the desired reddish browns and orange highlights for the most realistic appearance. When he is building a striped bass or bluefish, a damp and muggy morning will emit a darker hue from the copper, which can be brightened to a blueish green color using acids. Some pieces even sit in the workshop waiting to be appropriately colored under the right conditions before receiving a protective finish to withstand the elements.

The reddish-pink tones on this male rainbow trout appear more pronounced when Pizzolato heats the copper amid dry and bright weather conditions.
A damp and muggy forecast allows Pizzolato to elicit darker hues from the copper, which are further accentuated by acids to bring forth those blueish-green shades.

With these unique tools, Pizzolato has expanded his range of works to include schools of bunker, tuna, and stripers along with his favorite creation: mako sharks. He hopes to continue building collages and action scenes, such as striped bass pursuing a bunker pod, because the action gives life to his already gleaming, colorful, and texturized pieces. 

Today, Pizzolato is finishing work on his new home on the Delaware River, where he’s constructed a specially designed copper workshop to pursue his post-retirement career in a defined workspace. When he isn’t in the workshop, he is out on the water, looking for inspiration among the crab pots and summer flounder that inspired him as a youth. Whether his next piece is influenced by the annual shad run in his new backyard or the stripers and fluke he enjoys catching down at the shore, he’ll be watching the forecast for the right conditions to pursue the next copper fish on his list. 


Instagram: @hookedoncopper 

Find Joe’s work at: Angry Fish Gallery, Point Pleasant Beach, NJ

The post Angling Artist: Joe Pizzolato first appeared on On The Water.

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