Monday, October 13, 2014

Fish Photography: ABC's of Catch-Photo-Release, Part 1

How to use this blog?  Use the blog search engine and type in key words such as Float Trip, Walk-Wade, Float Tube, Lessons, DIY, Pesos, Fy Rods, Lodging, Food, Wine, Flies, Best Months, etc.  The search engine is located on the right side, just below the weather.  FYI, there are over 100 post about fishing Patagonia...the information you are looking for, is probably on this blog. Thanks.

The purpose of this post is to create thought; to motivate each angler to think about how they take photos of fish and what their photos say about themselves and the fish-porn-crazed world we live in. Before I begin, I want the reader to know that I am not here to rant or rave, or to personal judge the actions of any specific angler. I simply want to suggest an alternative method of taking photos of fish; especially for solo DIY anglers. In the end, this is just one angler expressing his opinion, with a desire to inform and share my personal knowledge and experience.  

The Goal: CPR Fish

As the author of this post, I have the luxury of creating the goal (the desired outcome).  In this case:
  • Catch-Photo-Release fish in the most ethical and artistic method possible.

The DIY Photo Situation

When you are a solo DIY angler, without the right equipment, it is extremely challenging to take a photo of a fish you just landed. In fact, if you peruse the Internet, I estimate that more than 90% of the photos do not reflect the true size and beauty of the fish. You often see the following:

  • An awkward looking selfie of the fish, dangling from your lip-n-grip pose.
  • A fish cupped in your massive hands, which blocks the beautiful markings of the fish and clearly shows who has good, or bad cuticle/phalange care.
  • The Darth Vader choke grip, which is a tell tale sign of nervously mishandling your slippery fish; and fantastically shows off the now very large, bulging eyes of the fish.
  • Fish trapped in the bottom of a net, curled in an un-photogenic fashion that resembles an overly baked potato skin.  
  • The Dead Pose Society; where a fish is placed on the ground, preferably next to your rod, to enhance the aesthetic value of the portrait (all while the fish is literally suffocating).   

For the record, I have taken all the above types of fish photos, and at one time in my life, proudly displayed them to the world.  However, as I have gained more experience in the field, I am now going to show you how you can catch-photo-release a fish, in the most ethical and aesthetically manner possible.

Step #1: The Purchase

You'll need two tools; a water-proof camera and a flexible tripod. You could use a non water-proof camera, but from my personal experience, your camera will eventually take a dunk.  There are many H2O proof camera options, but I currently use an Olympus TG-3.  I chose this model because I spend more time in the water than the average angler, so durability and picture quality is extremely important to me.  At the following link, you can review why spending the extra money ($300 USD) for this model, might be worth it:  The next item to purchase is far less expensive, but without question, priceless for the solo angler.

An adjustable tripod will allow you to take beautiful photos all by yourself.  Think about the five not so great styles of photos mentioned above.  Now think about catching a trophy fish and having the right tools to proudly capture this moment forever.  For me, this light weight, packable, and easy to use tool, has been one the best purchases in my life.  As they say, "a picture is worth a thousand words." See Below.

For $20 investment, a light weight, packable tripod will make your fish photos something to be proud of.  More information at

Step #2: Catch-Photo-Release (CPR)

Truth be told, I am a bit surprised that we don't see more educational information about CPR fish techniques. When you think about it, it's arguably the most important aspect of fishing. For example: you just hooked a trophy fish and now your thinking, I gotta get a photo!  Before moving ahead in this discussion, let's review the goals of the CPR process:

  • Find an area that you can easily work with the fish and your camera equipment.
  • Beach or land the fish in shallow, calm water.  It's important to note that I define beaching as the act of keeping the fish in the water as much as possible, and treating it with as much care as possible.
  • Release the fish unharmed and at full energy strength. 

The following photos gives you a step-by-step CPR process.

Step #1:  Catch a fish. The fish is putting up a fight.  Angler strips in line.  The angler now has a pile of line floating at his/her feet or floating downstream, in the current.  Excess line at or near feet, will eventually cause problems, especially in currents.  See next photo.
Step#2: When you are in full control of the fish, begin to reel up excess line.  Notice how the angler placed the line in between his pinky finger and third finger; this allows the angler to re-spool the line evenly/properly. To achieve an even re-spool, move your pinky finger back-n-forth, as you wind-up the line.  By reeling-up the extra line, you are preparing the area in which you will bring the fish closer to you.  You want anything, including line, to be away from this area; thus, you are avoiding line tangling issues (think feet, net, current, rocks, sunken tree's, etc).  If this area is not free of objects, including the line, you could run the risk of breaking off your fish; especially a large trophy fish that may have one last kick of energy.  
Step#3: Excess line is off the water.  Your fingers are in contact with the line because your fingers are your drag system.  You are in full control of your fish.  You reel in more line because you want to land or net your fish. You begin to raise your rod (elbow/arm) high in the sky, to bring the fish closer to you.
Step#4: You lift the fish out of the water and reach for the fish.  You keep reaching and reaching, but the fish never gets close to you.  You have committed errors, that all beginner anglers commit: 1) before lifting the rod, you reeled in too much line  2) you lifted the fish out of the water and this poor fish is suffocating and being stressed beyond your imagination.  
Let's go back to step #3 and start over, and correct your mistakes.  This picture shows no line on the water; as a result, the fish should not tangle, in/around your body.  The angler is ready to lift his arm straight up in the sky.
Back to Step #4:  Before lifting your arm, here's the general rule:  You need to leave out enough line for the fish to gradually swing towards you, as you raise and straighten your arm, pointed towards the sky.  The trick to achieving the correct length of line, to naturally swing the fish towards you = the entire length of your rod, from tip, while your arm stretches towards the sky + the distance between your casting hand and the area between your waist and knee caps.  For example: If you use a 9ft rod, depending on your height, you should at least expect to leave +10ft of fly line-leader-tippet out. Did that make sense?  See how this fish swung into the area between his knee's and waist, while staying in the water?  BTW, the angler is using a 10'6" 3wt switch rod, and stands vertical at 6"4". (control your fish, and keep the fish in the water as much as possible). 
Step #6: Gently grab your leader, while you place your rod underneath your casting arm pit.  Placing your rod underneath your arm pit, free's up your hands.  If the fish tries to swim away, do not hold/jerk the leader; allow the fish to swim away and repeat your steps.  If you net the fish, keep both the net and the fish in the water; while walkng-n-wading, never raise your net and fish out of water.  If you don't use a net, and if the fish is cooperating, you can now release it or take a DIY photo.  If you release the fish, try to release your barbless hook, without physically touching the fish.  This may sound impossible, and will be extremely challenging at first, but with practice, you'll get it.  Simply pinch the hook with your index finger and thumb, and the hook usually comes out, with a slight movement by you or the fish.  If you want to take a DIY photo, see next series of photos (keep the fish in the water as much as possible).
Step #7: As quickly as possible, do the following:  1) Walk the fish towards the shore.  Beach/Land fish, by finding a calm, no current area, to safely set up your fish and photo (again, beaching does not mean taking the fish out of the water).  3) At your site, while the fish is in the water, pin the fish between land/rock/etc, by your spreading your knee's, thus, opening your crotch in a V shape (be sure to keep the heals of your feet/boot closed, so the fish does not swim out the back). Fish naturally love to hide in dark places, so resting in this position calms them and allows them to safely rest.  Hint, bigger the fish, the easier it is to safely trap them between your knee's 4) Quickly access your camera and tripod = I keep this equipment accessible at all times.  See next photo.
Step #7: Safely secure camera to the land/rock/etc. The Joby adjustable legs are priceless for outdoor adventure DIY photos.   
Step #8:  Before placing camera on land/rock/etc, place camera in timer mode.  Most point and shoot camera's give you two options; 10 seconds or 2 seconds.  Obviously, 10 seconds allows you the maximum time to prepare your fish for the photo.  A camera with an audible or visual count-down mode, helps you manage your pre-photo time.  Properly handling fish in a fast, safe, ethical manner, will take practice. Note: look at the fish calmly resting between his knee's. The fish resting in water, pinned between me and another object, is how I define beaching a fish.
Step #9: How to properly handle fish?  Allow me to be direct, do not squeeze and choke the fish (don't do the five techniques mentioned above). Fish have what we call a lateral line.  To you and me, this is equivalent to our funny bone or tickling our ribs to the point of laughter/discomfort.  Gently place your hand under the belly of this fish and either grab the tail or figure out how to brace the tail.  Hint, the bigger the fish, the easy this process is.  See next photo.  
Step #10:  Raise your fish out of the water and place it at desired position (i.e. full length, headshot, etc).  On my camera, the timer light starts blinking, so I know it's time to take the shot.  Let's judge this picture.  I missed the full length of this fish.  The pic looks a bit blurry. The light looks over exposed.  I only took one photo and could have easily taken more (with trophy fish, I often take more pics to ensure that one of them will come out perfect).  But, this was not a trophy fish and from an ethical CPR stance, my time with this fish was expired.  In the next photo, this is what a DIY photo could look like.
CPR technique can provide amazing DIY photos, and practice makes perfect!  

Other Options: Just Tail It

If you are lucky to be in this situation, some fish are simply too big and strong, to gently cup and raise.  You'll need to combine CPR techniques with a solid grip of the tail. This will help you control and raise these monsters. NOTE: you don't need a tailing glove -- if you learn proper technique!

A gentle cup and raise technique was out of the question with this British Columbia Steelhead.  This fish was extremely powerful and my beaching technique was a bit aggressive (it was a very wild , strong fish).  A firm grip on the tail and slight pressure on the underbelly was necessary to get this shot.  Any other gripping technique was impossible.  Take Away Message = pick the best ethical CPR method possible for trophy fish. 
Hint: the use of fishing gloves can greatly increase your ability to CPR.  If I wear gloves, I prefer open palmed style (as seen in photo) because I have more human skin to fish skin contact.  I believe dry clothing material (fingerless gloves with non-open palm) contact with the fish skin negatively effects the protective slime coat of the fish.  Also, if you wear gloves, be sure to wet before touching the fish. Again, gloves are not need, if you use proper technique. 

Why I am not a fan of the Go-Pro Camera

I do something that is not socially popular and often gets me into trouble.  I think and I don't follow the herd. So, Based on my initial gut feeling and combined with my experience in the field, I feel the Go-Pro is not the right tool for DIY anglers. For the record, I don't personally own one.  However, I have had a handful of clients who show-up with their Go-Pro's and they are all super psyched to capture EPIC vid's and pics of their fishing experience.  In the end, they are sadly disappointed and here are the reasons why:

  • The Go-Pro does not make you an instant Hollywood videographer. 
  • It does not take still photos as well as a point shoot (it's made for hands-free mobile video).
  • Some point shoot cameras (both waterproof and standard) have better video capabilities than some of the Go-Pro models.
  • Who wants to edit 10 hours of fishing?  

For me, the Go-Pro is a great tool for mobile applications, such as Skiing, biking, and rafting. However, for my needs as an angler, who enjoys taking quality photos on and off the river, it's not the right tool for the job.  

Final Word

I am not an authority on catch and release practices, nor am I photography expert. But, I believe with years of personal experience, I have learned what works best for a solo DIY angler.  Regardless of your style of fishing, I hope this post challenges you to take the best CPR photos possible.

Thanks for reading. Part two is available at:

Gone Fishing,