Do-It-Yourself Tuna Tail Taxidermy

Commemorate a memorable offshore pelagic fishing trip with a do-it-yourself tuna tail taxidermy project.

Commemorate a memorable offshore pelagic fishing trip with a do-it-yourself tuna tail taxidermy project.
Commemorate a memorable offshore pelagic fishing trip with a do-it-yourself tuna tail taxidermy project.

The tail of a tuna is stiff, rigid, and has a bonelike density. Because of this, it is easy to preserve, and although it takes a good amount of time to do it right, it’s an easy and inexpensive process.

Step 1: Remove the Tuna Tail

Remove the tail from the fish; A hacksaw works best. It’s important to leave about 3 or 4 inches of “meat” at the base of the tail, which will help keep the skin tight while drying and then will get trimmed down later in the process.

Step 2: Air Out the Tuna Tail

Depending on the weather, a tuna tail can take two to three months to completely harden up. Keep the tail high off the ground and hang it in a well-ventilated area that is out of the reach of animals and the elements. I hang mine on the side of my shed, under the overhang from the roof. You can either use a screw-in hanging hook or drive in two nails about 3 inches apart. Things will get ugly in the first few weeks. The tail will stink and attract lots of flies. Racoons love them as well, so keep that in mind when selecting a hanging location.

Hanging the tail on the wall of your garage or shed is a good method for drying it out, which can take several months.
Hanging the tail on the wall of your garage or shed is a good method for drying it out, which can take several months.

Step 3: Cut the Base of the Tuna Tail

Once the tail is completely dried out, the next step is to trim off the tag end. A miter box saw works best, but you can get away with handsaw in a pinch. Just make sure to get an even cut. During the cutting process, you will smell an interesting, pungent, and unpleasant aroma that’s a cross between burning hair and sour fish. Don’t worry – the smell will go away once the tail is painted.

Once the tail is dry, cut off the end with a miter box to form a flat base.
Once the tail is dry, cut off the end with a miter box to form a flat base.

Step 4: Brush the Tuna Tail

Take a wire brush and give the tail a good scrub, making sure to remove all the dirt and debris on its surface.

It's important to clean up the tail with a wire brush before painting it.
It’s important to clean up the tail with a wire brush before painting it.

Step 5: Paint the Tuna Tail Black

The tail is now ready to be painted. Place some scrap cardboard or old newspaper on the ground and give the tail a solid coat of glossy black spray paint. (Be certain to do this outside in a safe place out of the wind.) Apply at least two coats to ensure paint gets into all the nooks and crannies. Take your time, let the tail dry between layers, and keep applying light coats until the tail is completely sealed and glossy. Keep a keen eye out for dripping paint, which is about the only way you can mess up this step.

It's time to paint it, black as night, black as coal!
It’s time to paint it, black as night, black as coal!

Step 6: Add Spray Paint Highlights to the Tuna Tail

At this point, you can simply walk away, as your tuna tail will look dapper with only the glossy black paint job. I like to work in a little more color, though, so I spray on some subtle highlights of deep blue, silver, and maybe even purple. Adding highlights works best when you apply them while the black paint is still wet. Add the highlights slowly, just a little at a time. Don’t worry about messing up, as you can always paint the tail black again and start over.

Adding some highlights of blue and green is a nice finishing touch.
Adding some highlights of blue and green is a nice finishing touch.

When the paint is dry, adding a few coats of glossy polyurethane helps protect the tail and gives it a little more shine. Adding a base is another nice addition. For short money, you can purchase a pre-made mounting plaque (check your local craft store) to make a nice base and add some stability. Simply drive a screw up through the plaque into the base of the tail.

If all goes well, your tail will look as fresh and real as the day the fish was plucked from the sea.

Pre-made wooden mounting plaques like this one can be used for the base. They can be found at most craft stores, and cost only a couple dollars.
Pre-made wooden mounting plaques like this one can be used for the base. They can be found at most craft stores, and cost only a couple dollars.

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1 thought on “Do-It-Yourself Tuna Tail Taxidermy

  1. Yoren Dorowski

    That there is some fine craftsmanship if I ever did say so…

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