How to Taxidermy a Fish

How To Taxidermy A Fish: Complete Guide

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Love it or hate it, Taxidermy is something that has been around for hundreds of years, and according to all indications, it is here to stay. Now, it is not uncommon to taxidermy animals. Usually, people go for various land-based animals, but it is also possible to taxidermy a fish.

So, how do you taxidermy a fish? It involves thoroughly cleaning the exterior and interior of the animal, removing as much meat from the skin as possible, using special chemicals to preserve it, filling it up with  stuffing (generally sawdust), and then sewing it up in the shape that you want.

yellow fin tuna taxidermy

How To Prepare A Fish For Taxidermy

Right now, we want to take you through an in-depth step by step guide on how to taxidermy any of your favorite fish.

Here we will talk about the various materials and tools you will need for job, how to prepare the fish to be stuffed, and finally, how to do the actual taxidermy work as well.

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

The first thing that you will need to do before you can start any sort of taxidermy process is to gather all of your materials. Yes, you will need a fish of course, which we will discuss in the following section.

You will also need various other tools and items including a taxidermy scalpel or a fileting knife, a needle with fresh line, a large syringe, the appropriate solution-based preservation chemicals, and a pound of Borax powder

You will also need some wool, a wooden rod that is the same length as the fish, gloves, a couple pounds of sawdust, a brush, a sponge, a soft cloth, a fiberglass foundation, a wooden or metal mount, silicon paint and varnish, and some fake fish eyes.

large mouth bass taxidermy

Step 2: Catch Your Fish & Preserve it

In terms of what kind of fish you want to taxidermy and mount in your house, that is totally up to you.

With that being said, taxidermizing very small fish under 4 or 5 inches is not recommended, because the smaller the fish, the harder it will be to perform accurate work, particularly if you are a beginner.

There is also the fact that any stuffed animal should be something to talk about, something impressive and eye catching, so in this case, size definitely matters.

If you are wondering what the best fish for taxidermy is, take a look at the section right before the conclusion.

Once, you have caught your fish, and yes, this is best done with a fresh catch, you will want to keep the fish preserved until you taxidermy it.

First off, right after you have killed the fish (as gently as possible so as not to damage the fish or distort its shape), is to take a picture of it.

You will want a picture so you can accurately recreate the fish, as it will start to lose color very quickly once dead. Taking a picture while the fish is still alive is an option too.

Also, now is the time to select the “show side”, which is the side that will be displayed for everyone to see once the taxidermy process is complete.

When storing and transporting your fish, make sure to keep the show side facing up, so as to not cause any damage or cause the scales to come loose.

The best way to go is to just place the fish in a cooler of ice and to freeze it until it is time to get to work.

Step 3: Cutting The Fish Open & Cleaning It

Now that you have your fish ready to rock, it’s time to get to work, to the meat and potatoes of it all.

The first thing you want to do here is to use your fileting knife or taxidermy scalpel to cut a single straight line across the lateral lines of the fish, but only on a single side.

When it comes to that lateral incision, this only needs to be done on one side of the fish. Making sure to work very slowly and carefully, as to not cause any undue damage or tears, cut the skin of the fish away from the meat.

At this point, you are technically skinning the fish, but remember that the skin is what you want here, not the meat, so be very careful as you need the skin intact.

Work from one side to the other, and slowly cut away all of the skin, working from the middle of the body to the top of the body, and then the head and the tail.

Now you can gently, very gently, grab hold of the skin and peel it off all the way up to the head, just like taking a sock off of your foot.

What you should be left now is with a hollow fish skin, an intact head, and a cut down the side from the middle of the head to the tail.

At this point, you should have made sure to cut away as much of the meat from the skin as possible. Remember, the skin is what you need here, not the meat, because the inside of the taxidermized fish will be sawdust.

The meat just gets in the way, it may rot if not properly preserved, and you just don’t have any need for it.

That said, removing 100% of the meat won’t be possible, so just do your best. The head and tail will still have flesh in it, something we will deal with in the following step.

This is also the point where you will use your scalpel or knife, as well as some sort of small scooping utensil to remove both eyes and the brain of the fish.

If you have some debris, now is the time to very gently rinse the fish off, and then thoroughly dry it. It needs to be dry before you move onto the next step.

Step 4: Preserving The Fish

Now comes what is likely the most important step in this whole operation, preserving the fish using Borax and chemicals.

If you don’t preserve the fish properly, the meat in the tail and head, any other remaining meat, and the skin will all start to deteriorate, rot, and eventually get really stinky and fall to bits. Therefore, this preservation step is absolutely crucial to get right.

Now it is time to get your preservation chemicals ready. You may want to seek some additional advice from a taxidermy expert on this front.

The most widely used chemicals here include ethanol and glycol ethers. Fill up a syringe with the preservation liquid and inject any meaty areas, which is going to include the tail, the head, and anywhere else where you could not remove all of the flesh.

Get your powdered Borax and sprinkle a generous amount, a few good handfuls, on the interior of the fish.

Cover the entire interior of the fish, make sure to get all of the cracks and crevices, and get the head and tail too.

Make sure to rub the borax in very well, as is this is one of the main preservation components.

Step 5: Sew, Stuff, & Sew

Now it is time to get your needle and line. Start sewing the fish up, starting at the tail.

To do this, use regular stitches where you insert the needle, pull it around, and then up and through the flesh, and then keep repeating until you are about halfway to the gills.

Get your sawdust and slowly start filling the fish. Use a small stick or a similar utensil to keep stuffing sawdust into the fish, making sure that everything is tight and compact, while also making sure that you retain the natural shape of the fish.

Use sawdust and wool to stuff the head, and then sew up the remaining portion of the fish, all the way to the head, and then cut the fishing line.

sea trout taxidermy

Step 6: Finishing It Off

Once the fish is stuffed, you can then lift the tail and curve the body to make it look natural.

You now need to use a brush to remove any and all sawdust and other debris from the exterior of the fish. Do not leave any sort of debris behind, as this can end up ruining the fish.

To set the fins, wet them, stick them out straight, and use some thick cardboard or a mounting card to set them in place.

Use some fiberglass to fill the eye holes, to make a foundation for the glass eyes. Insert the glass eyes into the fiberglass molds and make sure that they are secure.

Now comes the waiting game, because it can take up to a month or longer for the fish to dry.

Yes, you need to let the fish dry totally, and it needs to happen slowly and naturally, so keep the fish in an area that is dry, away from the sun, and has a moderate temperature.

Once the fish is dry, apply a layer of silicone to seal it up, and then get to painting it. Use the appropriate painting utensils and paints for the job.


How Long Does It Take To Taxidermy A Fish?

All in all, it should take between 4 and 5 weeks to taxidermy a fish from start to finish.

Now, the first 5 steps a listed above should only take a few hours. The cleaning, the preserving, and the stuffing and sewing can all be done in a single day.

However, remember that given the right conditions, it will still take a minimum of 4 weeks for the fish to dry, and then you need to paint it.

So, on average, expect this process to take a little over a month from front to back.


Should I Do It Myself, Or Pay A Professional?

Quite honestly, taxidermy is not an easy profession, and yes, it is a profession, not just a hobby. It takes some serious skill to taxidermy any animal, and this includes something as simple as a fish.

If you cut into wrong, you don’t remove enough flesh, you don’t use the proper preservation techniques, you don’t let it dry for long enough, or if you do a bad job painting it, those are all things that can end up ruining the end result, and you might just end up with some Frankenstein fish that is half rotten.

The trick here is of course that everything needs to be done right, you need to be precise and patient, and you need to have steady hands.

If you are the kind of person who tries to build a bird house, and ends up with something that is more of a bird coffin, then the art of taxidermy may not be for you.


How Much Does It Cost to Taxidermy A Fish?

If you really want to do your own taxidermy job, power to you.

However, beware that paying a professional to do it for you is not actually that expensive. The cost will usually start at around $200, and can cost around $20 per inch.

Now, it does depend on the type of taxidermy being done, and yes, there is more than one type. Full scale reproductions will cost around twice as much as simple skin mounts.

If you are looking to stuff a big fish, and you want a full reproduction, this can come in quite pricey.

That said, if you consider all of the materials you need to do this at home, as well as the time spent on this project, it might just be more cost effective to pay a professional, particularly if you only plan on doing a couple of fish.


What Are the Best Fish to Taxidermy?

What it really all comes down to when choosing the best fish to taxidermy is the size and coloration.

Simply put, you want to taxidermy relatively large and striking fish that are eye catching.

For instance, taxidermizing a 3 pound crappie probably isn’t worth it. You want big and beautiful fish for this.

For some of the best fish to taxidermize, take a look at the list below.

  • Alaska rainbow trout
  • Alaskan king salmon
  • Arctic char
  • Arctic grayling
  • Halibut
  • Bull yelloweye
  • Bull trout
  • China rockfish
  • Chinook salmon
  • Lingcod
  • Rockfish
  • Silver Salmon
  • Steelhead

Conclusion

There you have it folks, everything you need to know about how to taxidermy a fish.

If it is your first time doing this, it might be wise to seek some help, or at least some advice, from a professional, as this is not an easy thing to do.

It might sound simple, but making it look right when all has been said and done is no easy task.