American Fly Fishing

By Joe Janiak

Between print publications and the rise of blogs, e-zines, and social media sites like Instagram and Facebook, fish photography is ubiquitous. And nearly every angler carries a camera, whether a simple cellphone or a digital SLR, but as stewards of the fish and the waters in which they live, fly anglers are obligated to put the health and safety of the quarry above all else, including photography. Anglers enjoy recording their catch in photos, but the fish must come first, and there are techniques we can apply to make sure that photography results in no harm to a fish being released back into its lair. Check out the hashtag #keepemwet on Instagram for inspiration and examples of creative, respectful fish photography.
   The first step in fish-friendly photography is to make your camera easily accessible. Waterproof cases are available for virtually all cameras, including phones, point-and-shoots, and SLRs, and many cases allow you to secure a camera to your wading belt or around your neck where it is instantly accessible. If you are sure on your feet and a steady wader, you can simply hang a camera around your neck and down into your chest waders. Take a spill in the river and you risk ruining a camera, of course, but many anglers and professional fly-fishing photographers habitually carry cameras in this manner. But for phones and strapless cameras you will definitely want to invest in a solid waterproof case.
   Now to the more difficult part: you’ve hooked a remarkable fish and it’s running and thrashing and doing everything it can to escape; your adrenaline is pumping, and your mind is racing. Take a deep breath; look around to find a good landing location, and start working in that direction. As the fish begins to tire, reach for your camera so that it is ready to shoot at the same time the fish is ready to come to hand. Carry a fish-friendly catch-and-release-style net and have it ready so you can scoop the fish and walk it, netted and underwater, to a shallow spot where you can snap a few shots.
   Having a fishing buddy, well briefed in fish photography, always makes fish photography easier. The photographer should be ready before the fish is landed, with camera out and waiting, turned on, and ready to go. Great angling scenes can be captured during the fight—perhaps an acrobatic fish in midair or a smiling angler with rod doubled over—so start snapping shots right away, but move into position and be ready before the fish comes to the net. Once the fish is safely in the net and underwater, the photographer can direct the angler to the best possible light, preferably away from harsh sun or dark shadows.
   Now comes another critical part of the process: keep the fish safely underwater for all but the briefest interludes. Only lift the fish above the surface when the photographer is ready to snap a few shots in very rapid succession in a matter of just a few precious seconds. Take a few shots this way, and if adjustments are needed, ask the fish handler, on the next try, to slightly angle the fish one direction or another. Snap as many shots as you can in just a few seconds; when you want to recompose the shots, discuss it with the fish handler while the fish is safely underwater, but after another very brief burst of photos, it’s time to gently release the fish.
   Appealing photos often come through keeping the fish partially submerged and angled slightly forward and perhaps slightly downward. Get low, so that the lens is nearly at water level. Also consider leaving the fish underwater the entire time—many cameras are now submersible and others are submersible with the proper waterproof case; moreover, intriguing photos are possible with the fish left just barely under the surface.
   In all cases, planning and brevity are key. Discuss fish photography with your fishing buddies before you ever hit the water; when a photo fish is on the line, coordinate your photo shoot. Once the camera starts clicking, use very brief bursts and keep that fish safely underwater for all but the few seconds needed to snap your shots. At a time when catch-and-release is critical to maintaining productive fisheries, anglers need to work a little harder to limit their impact on the resource, and that includes revamping the way we photograph our catch.


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