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Performing CPR on fish

That’s catch, photograph and release


With most of our fishing on rivers and streams being catch-and-release, it is nice to come home with something to show for your efforts, some documentation of your successes. The current applicable fishing slogan is “CPR”: catch, photograph and release. So, here are a few tips about fishing photography while out on the river.

Taking those fish photos is never as simple as it looks in the magazines. The fish, after all, is alive, feisty and slimy. It desperately wants to be back in the water. And you may be in water up to the waist, standing on slippery rocks in moving river currents, or balancing in a drifting canoe or raft.

We think that safety is the most pertinent concept, and applies triply. First is your own safety. The National Park Service strongly advocates wearing a personal flotation device when boating on the Delaware. Another aspect of your personal safety is to avoid sticking yourself when removing the hook from the fish. Pinching down the hook’s barbs in advance will facilitate that process and make it much easier to remove the hook from your thumb should you get impaled.

Second is the safety of the fish. They want to be, need to be, in the water. So keep the fish in the water, preferably in the net, while you and your buddy get set up to take the photo. Then, when raising the fish for the photo, wet your hands first, do not touch its gills and keep the net under the fish so that when you drop it, which is almost certain, it’s safe. Don’t keep the fish out of water for more than 10 seconds, and support the fish with one hand underneath the pectoral fin area and the other holding the tail. Puhleeze, don’t squeeze!

Third, is the safety of your camera—more on that later.

Lighting is important. So get yourself, your buddy and the fish set up so that the light comes over the photographer’s back or shoulder and illuminates fisherman and fish. The hat you wore to protect you from the sun will cast a harsh shadow on your face, so tilt it back, look up a bit or take it off. Most modern point-and-shoot cameras have the capability of forcing the flash even in daylight. On the river, when the light and shadows are often harsh, taking advantage of this fill-flash capability can be a big advantage. We often do one shot with flash and one without. In addition to thinking about lighting, also give some consideration to the background you want in the photo before removing the fish in the water. Don’t just point and shoot, hoping to be lucky. Our mantra is, “Good photos are made, not taken.”

In the typical “grip and grin” fish-and-fisherman photograph, the fisherman stands squared to the camera and holds the fish straight out in front of him, attempting a smile. The result, though OK, can be a bit dull and boring. (See “Don’ts” photo.) Varying this pose by turning the fisherman’s body a bit and holding the fish out to the side can add enormously to the aesthetics of the photo. Don’t hesitate to get in close—your photos will have much more impact. (See “Do” photo.) If you want to take more than one photo, return the fish to the net and submerge it in the water for a while, letting it recover between photo episodes.

And what about the camera? Having ruined more than one regular camera over many years of fishing and boating, we strongly urge taking advantage of the several fine waterproof point-and-shoot cameras currently available. The best of these have capabilities that are not much less than standard DSLRs. Prices range from about $150 for the budget Panasonic Lumix up to about $400 for the highly rated and almost indestructible Olympus TG-4.


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