I head up the Highway 108 corridor three to four times a year. Most trips, I try to do a little fishing between trading stories with friends and family around the campfire. When I'm in the Sierras with my brother and uncles, fishing is usually secondary to the shenanigans they all try to pull with one another. We all get together two times a year for a "fishing" trip. The first is in early June and the other is at the end of September or early October. Both trips are great and have their unique feel. The Spring trip is filled with high off color water and the excitement of a new fishing season while the Fall brings low clear water, cold nights, and yellow leaves. I have to admit, the Fall trip is always my favorite. There's something magical about the Sierra in the Fall.
On this trip I made it a point to get on the water a few times. The first stop was a lake I had never fished that had some good numbers of brook trout. The lake was probably more suited to float tube fishing but I was able to land a nice brookie on a leech pattern and sinking line. The next day I dipped away while everyone headed to the bar to watch the Giants game and had a great time landing wild rainbows on dry flies. This part of the Stanislaus has a LOT of stocked trout and I find that using dry flies ups the percentage of wild trout to the net!
On the final morning, we usually pack up camp and head back to the Bay Area by 8:00 or 9:00. This time, my brother and I decided to extend the trip for a few hours to look for some cutthroats. We were both glad we did. The Sierras this time of year is amazing. The fall colors are coming out and the air is cool and crisp, yet sunny. It was a perfect morning filled with solitude, challenging (super spooky) trout, and amazing scenery. After we landed a good number of fish, we left them to their own devices. Driving down the dirt road back to the highway, we both felt the calming effect that Fall in the Sierras can bring. I can already feel the pull of the next trip!
Alright, so I feel like I need to start this with a disclaimer. My first real camera purchase (one that you can interchange lenses) was only a few months ago and I've never taken a photography class. So I'm no expert when it comes to taking high quality photos. Although I'm a novice, I've learned a lot through trial and error. For every decent photo I get, there are about a dozen that would make you cringe.
Now that, that's been said, let's talk about responsible fish photography. More and more evidence is coming out that the good old "Grip 'n Grin" can actually have a significant impact on fish survival rates. I won't go on and on about that here, we all care about the wonderful resource we spend hours pursuing. So let's all agree that catch and release fishing along with responsible photography will help maintain healthy populations of trout in your local watershed. Below, are my five tips for keeping fish wet (#Keep'emWet) when taking photos.
1) Use a Net:
This one is simple. Using a net can help keep the fish fully submerged, water pulsing over their gills, while you quickly grab your camera from you bag. The net can also provide for an interesting context or backdrop for the photo. Without a net, the fish usually remains in your hand (and out of the water) or struggling on the end of your line while your prepare your camera.
2) Have a Plan:
I always go to the river, with a general idea of what kind of shot I want to get that day. Honestly, there are only so many variations you can get so I usually think about the backdrop or other items (rod, reel, line, net) that I want to have near the fish.
Having a plan with a friend is also a great way to keep fish healthy. While one person is getting the camera ready, the other can have the fish fully submerged underwater. Whoever has the camera, can then do a little creative directing, snap a few photos and then the fish can be released. Capturing photos of the landing or releasing of fish can also provide for some interesting photos.
3) Different Angles:
Don't just square the fish up and snap a photo. We've all seen that photo, so try to get a new or different angle. Get low to the water, or high above the fish. Get creative here! You'll certainly have some bad photos, but then again, sometimes the new ideas pay off big.
You don't need to get the entire fish and angler in the photo. In all honesty, unless you're Maddie Brenneman or April Vokey, most people are more interested in the fish than your toothy grin and beard. Again, get creative here. Capture the spotting patterns, parr marks, tail, fins, or a streamer tangled in a brown's teeth. Change it up!
5) 30 Seconds:
No matter what you do, keep the fish in the water for as long as possible. If you decide the fish needs to come out of the water for the photo, keep it less than 30 seconds. This is where having a plan can really help. For every second a fish is out of water, they aren't breathing. After a struggle on the end of our lines, they need all the O2 they can get, so keep water moving over their gills as much as possible.
So, those are my novice tips for responsible fish photography. If you're interested in seeing some really great fishing (and lifestyle) photography check out the following feeds on Instagram. These folks are the real deal!