Trigger-Happy Fish Art





Introduction: Trigger-Happy Fish Art

About: ♫ Basking in sunshine ☼, creating new dishes... growing zucchini and swimming with fishes. Rattlesnake hunting the desert in Spring; these are are a few of my favorites things. When the wind flies, when the...
Fishing is a FUN and exciting sport because you literally PLAY with your food before it ever lands on your dining room table!

Now you can even play with fresh-caught fish (the skeleton, anyway) AFTER it's been eaten!

This pseudo-taxidermy Instructable will show you how easy it is to preserve and dry a fish skeleton... then turn that skeleton into a whimsical Work of ART! 

The simple, straightforward technique is demonstrated with a Triggerfish but it can also be applied to many species of fish. Experiment with whatever fresh fish you catch.

Hang your fanciful Fish Art from the eaves of your porch or patio for a few months. When the odor dissipates, enjoy these colorful creations anywhere INSIDE your home!

Let's get started with a complete Project Overview for the the things you'll need, beginning with:

STEP 1: Clean and fillet
  • A Triggerfish or?
  • A sharp fillet knife
STEP 2: Drying procedure
  • Aluminum Foil
  • A flat drying surface
  • Rocks
  • A cardboard box or plastic crate
STEP 3: Painting
  • A dremel tool or drill with small bit
  • Assorted acrylic paints
  • Assorted paint brushes
  • Clear gloss spray paint
  • 2 Seashells (or buttons) for the eyes
  • White Glue
  • Glitter
  • A Lure for hanging (optional)
  • A Hanging cord, string or fishing line.
  • A single earring or bead to hang from the tummy. (optional)
STEP 4: Gallery of Fish
  • Picture Gallery of my Triggerfish herd.
  • More instructions on detailed painting.

Step 1: Fillet and Clean the Triggerfish

You'll need a Fish and a sharp fillet knife.

Before you start filleting, it's important for you to remember the fish needs a solid "Frame" of skin to hold it's shape. Don't cut through or compromise the "frame."
The second picture in this step illustrates (in white) where to cut.

The next several pictures demonstrate the actual filleting and cleaning of the stomach cavity. Like all fish-cleaning, it gets a little messy.... Guts Happen. ;-)

When your fish is filleted on both sides, clean out the stomach/gut cavity, cutting away all of the organ tissues. Work your fingers into the head cavity and pull out any residual tissue there also. The eyes are pretty slimy at this point. You can cut them out now or wait until the fish is dry.

Rinse the fillets well and refrigerate for dinner. ;-)

Rinse the fish skeleton well in cold water and pat dry with paper towels.

Proceed to Step 2-->

Step 2: Dry

You'll need:
  • A table (or any flat surface) located in a secure, WARM, dry area with *good air circulation
  • Aluminum foil
  • Assorted rocks
  • A crate or cardboard box to cover and protect the fish from animals. 
Lay a sheet of foil on the table (or flat surface). Make sure the table is tall enough so your dog can't get to your drying fish. Make sure the sheet of foil is long enough for the fish.

Lay the Triggerfish carcass on top on the foil and prop the fins and tail with rocks so they are splayed open. (See pics)

Cover the entire fish with another separate sheet of foil. Do NOT seal it. Lay more rocks on the corners of the top layer of foil. **This allows air circulation and gives flies access to the fish (great for cleaning). 

If you live in an area with neighborhood cats, you may need to take extra precautions. Place an old milk crate or empty cardboard box over the drying fish and weigh it down with rocks, a brick or whatever's handy.

Allow the fish to dry in position for 12-18 hours, then gently peel the fish up off the foil and flip it over. Put the rocks back into position on the fins and tail again. Allow it to continue drying another 12-18 hours.

By this time the fins and tail of the fish will be set. Remove all of the rocks and put the fish of a fresh sheet of foil. Cover as needed for protection and allow the fish to dry completely for 2-3 weeks, depending on how warm your area is.

*In case you forgot... the odor of the fish will remind you why good air circulation is important.;-) Don't even THINK of drying a fish in your house. 8-/

**Don't be alarmed at the swarm of flies on your drying fish! They are helping to clean it of excess flesh/meat. It's only temporary  and it's just part of nature's process. Once the fish is dry, the flies won't be at all interested in it.

Step 3: Drill the Holes and Paint

You'll need:
  • A dremel tool or drill with small bit
  • Assorted acrylic paints
  • Assorted paint brushes
  • Clear gloss spray paint
  • 2 Seashells (or buttons) for the eyes
  • White Glue
  • Glitter
  • A Lure for hanging (optional)
  • A cord, string or fishing line for hanging.
  • A single earring or bead to hang from the tummy. (optional)
If you didn't remove the eyes in Step 1, now's the time to do it. The eyes will be dry so you can whittle them out with a small paring knife.

Use the white acylic to paint the entire fish, including what you can reach in the cavity.

Using a dremel, drill a hole at the top of the fish for hanging. If you're going to hang a bead or earring from the tummy, WAIT and do this after the fish is hanging so you can gauge where to drill the hole.

When the white acrylic paint has dried, it's time for you to start the decorative painting.  Have FUN!!!  Be as creative and colorful as you desire!!!

The Eyeballs: Pre-paint a couple of seashells (or buttons) and glue them into place as pictured.

Once you've finished your Fish Masterpiece (and the paint and glue have dried) give the Fish a few coats of clear gloss spray paint and a dusting of glitter.

Your Fish Art is ready to hang on display. You can hang it using a Lure or hook with heavy fishing line or just tie it with a cord.

If you're adding a dangling bead or earring to accent the tummy cavity, hang the fish up first so you can determine where to drill the hole for this. 

I've painted more than a dozen fish in all sorts of fun and crazy designs. (They make wonderful gifts!)

Step 4 includes a picture Gallery to give you some ideas.

ALSO: If you'd like to paint an intricate scene on the sides of your fish, measure and cut out a few sheets of paper to glue onto the ribcage. See the last few pictures in Step 4 for a visual. ;-)

Step 4: Gallery of Triggerfish

Here's MY colorful herd of Triggerfish.  They hang outside on my bedroom balcony. They twist, float and sway with the wind in beautiful, colorful, perfect unison! ;-)

There's also a multi-picture demonstration of gluing white paper to the sides of the fish to paint more precise and intricate designs.

Thanks for visiting my Ible!

I hope you'll have fun and feel inspired to create and share your own unique Fish Art!



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    26 Discussions

    I just threw away about 20 trigger fish carcasses, but I won't do that again

    1 reply



    I AM HOOKED BY THIS 'IBLE (don't pardon the pun)! I love this so much! I live on the gulf coast and this is the kind of art you see in the restaurants here. I AM GOING TO DO THIS! It also helps that my husband LOVES to fish and now I will "force" him to go more often. He sends his gratitude! lol. Thanks for being so awesome!

    2 replies

    lol, TabbyDeAnne... just tell me how you really feel. ;-D

    This is such a FUN project. OMG... you just reminded me I have a Halibut skeleton drying in an old ice chest. He's been there about 6 weeks... brb!

    hahaha... here's a pic of the skeleton now. You won't recognize him when I'm done!

    I'm thinking he'll look best hanging vertically. What do you think?

    I'm looking forward to seeing your FINished Fish!!! ;-D


    Oooh! Nice! He looks just about perfect! And MEAN! lol. I'm so glad I could help remind you of important art waiting to be....FINished! Hahhaa! Great humor and wonderful art!

    I can't wait to see this when you're done!

    Thanks again and I agree that vertically is the way to go with this bad boy!

    Wow, I'm just seeing this now. I think it would be great for hot, dry climates. In this area (the Northeast), we have clever raccoons, coyotes, and lots of other critters that would *find a way* to get to the drying fish! Maybe even vultures!

    Not to mention the humidity.. it would take much longer for the fish to dry here, I think.

    Hmm. I wonder if using a dehydrator outdoors would work?

    1 reply

    Don't feel bad... I'm just now seeing your comment, Susan. Forgive me? ;-)

    A dehydrator would work, I suppose. I don't have one... except for the cargo section of my SUV and no way would I dry a fish there. ;-D

    Thank you for your comment!


    Very ugh... nice.
    Trigger fish grind live coral, which is passed out as sand, with their beak,
    I'm interested if the beak survives your drying method without shrinking ?

    1 reply

    I think you're thinking about Parrot fish, Alex.

    Trigger fish have teeth... mean teeth... sharp teeth... really mean, sharp teeth! ;-D
    But the teeth remain intact after drying.

    I apologize for the tardy reply. I don't know how I missed this. 8-/

    Well, those voices are telling you the right thing. I'm glad I'm not the only one willing to deal with bad odor to make an instructable. :)
    Love the gallery!

    1 reply

    lol... I LOVE "odd".

    The best part about this "Art" is that it doesn't take an Artist to create something unique, eye-catching and cool. ;-)

    Thanks, my gnomish friend! ;-D