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Alaska's Fish Artist

Ray Troll paints portraits of aquatic life in Ketchikan.

Smitten or bitten? Fish artist Ray Troll grapples with a coho salmon.
Photo caption
Smitten or bitten? Fish artist Ray Troll grapples with a coho salmon.

Ray Troll is a self-proclaimed "fin artist," a prolific fish draftsman and painter whose works are emblazoned on books, T-shirts, and museum walls. His obsession extends to aquatic species both living and long gone as well as to four- and two-legged creatures. He and his wife, Michelle, live in Ketchikan, Alaska, where he sells his and other Alaskans’ art in the Soho Coho Gallery. (800) 888-4070,

Q Why fish?
A After getting my master’s, I came to Ketchikan to help my sister run a seafood shop. I didn’t know a humpy from a hole in the ground, but I stumbled on a topic I have yet to exhaust. There’s so much diversity: about 600 fish species in Alaska alone.

Q And your passion for prehistory?
A I started plundering the past at age 4, scrawling dinosaurs in crayon.

Q Do you prefer extinct or living things?
A They're all a vast, amazing continuum. Basically, we are fish. When you look at the fossil record, you take the big view.

Q Got a favorite?
A I have an undying love for the spotted ratfish. It’s a living fossil from an ancient branch of the shark tree. A researcher named a ratfish for me—Hydrolagus trolli.

Q What about the Tiktaalik, the newly discovered "missing link" fish?
A If you’re a paleo nerd and fish dork like me, you know it isn’t all that different from the other lobe-finned fishes found decades ago. But I was excited. I did a drawing with Charles Darwin hugging it.

Q Where can people see your art?
A In California, at the National Marine Fisheries lab in Santa Cruz. I finished a new mural in Sitka, Alaska, this year.

Q Do you eat the fish you catch?
A Oh, yes. I love fish in every respect.

Photography by Hall Anderson

This article was first published in January 2008. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.