Gone Fish Ink

Fish Michels

Photo By David Robert

Amid the tattoo graphics that line the walls of Fish Ink Custom Tattoo—the dragons, wolves, skulls and flowers customers can choose from—is an inspirational card that reads: “The best gift a man can give to the world is to be a good father.” Next to the card are pictures of a young boy. The boy turns out to be owner Fish Michels’ 18-month-old son, Wyatt, who comes into the parlor with his dad for our Monday morning interview. Michels has the tanned skin, long blond hair and sea-blue eyes that give away his California surfer past; Wyatt has giant violet eyes and a slow, magical smile. Michels, a Reno resident since 1999, has owned Fish Ink since 2000. He may run the place, but he assures me he’s not the only tattoo master around. “He’s 18 months, going on 25,” Michels tells me of his son. “He’s done most of the great tattoos here.”

How’d you get the name Fish?

From surfing. Because I never got out of the water.

How’d you get into tattooing?

I’ve always been an artist. I got tired of people saying, “Why are you wasting your talent?” I got tired of digging ditches. You get back at the end of the day and you’re too tired to even surf … but I got away from surfing. I’ve since decided that it wasn’t a good environment. I’m getting too old to be a surf bum. Now I ride motorcycles. … They cost a little more, but it’s the same thrill.

What kind of bike do you ride?

A Harley. I don’t like the stigma that goes along with them, but it’s a great American machine. I think it’s the Cadillac of motorcycles. Buy American. Get tattoos. Make the world more colorful!

Do you have a philosophy of tattooing?

I just think it’s about time that society started being a little more respectful to tasteful tattoos. I don’t agree with naked women on forearms—it kind of sets Grandma into a tizzy if you see her in the grocery store. Unless you’re independently wealthy or have your own business, [those kinds of tattoos aren’t a good idea].

Do you talk with people about their lifestyle before they get tattoos?

Sure. I just try to encourage them to make conscious decisions.

What’s the oddest request you’ve had for a tattoo?

Nothing’s really odd. … Actually, one guy wanted a swastika on his forehead and he said he would tell everyone he got it here. He wanted it for free, no less. [I asked him], “Do you really think that I’d do that for free?”

Have you gotten other requests for racist stuff?

No, just that one mental midget.

What are some of your most popular designs?

Girls are getting nice little designs on their backs. Butterflies are always popular, and flowers.

For guys too?

We do tattoo butterflies and flowers on males, but of course skulls and flames and dragons [are most popular for guys].

How many tattoos do you have?

Multiple. I have full sleeves, a bunch on my back—a full American flag on my neck. I have skateboards … skulls … surfboards … crosses.

Any crazy tattooing stories?

Every story is great. … Oh. Screams. About every 100th customer, you get a young girl screaming, just at the top of her lungs.

Do you get male screamers?

No, no. Sometimes funny faces.