You can take better photos of the fish you catch and still practice good Catch-and-Release. Below are a few observations I have been able to make on my various fishing trips around the world.
1. Carry enough net
Carry a net with a large rubber net mesh. Rubber mesh fabric is super soft on fish and allows you to rest the fish in the net. You can spend money on a nice one or you can also get one for $30 or less here.
2. Let the fish rest
Once you’ve landed your fish, give it a minute or two to revive from the fight. Let him rest in the net, fully submerged, near the edge of the current where the water is full of oxygen. Keep his head upstream and let him relax. This is paramount.
3. Move quickly.
Take advantage of the rest period to do your job as a photographer. Find your angle, figure out your exposure, get your fish looking good, take a few test shots with just the angler and without the fish. Also, a little time spent beforehand setting up your camera while there’s no pressure will make your photos a lot better in the end and ease the stress on the fish.
4. Hold the fish right
I am continually blown away by how many anglers don’t know how to hold a fish for a photo.
First and most importantly, never squeeze a fish. This doesn’t help. Most anglers hold fish way too tightly. When you squeeze a fish, it panics and struggles. If you respond by squeezing tighter, it struggles more. This is how photos get ruined and fish get damaged. No grip is needed, I assure you. If you let the fish balance in your hand he will relax and you will not have to fight him. Furthermore, use both hands. Let the front of the fish rest on one of your hands. Keep your thumb and index fingers under the hard part of the fish's skull to support the weight. Put your other hand just in front of his tail. This part of the fish is all muscle so you can grip him firmly here. If possible, put this hand on the back side of the fish, away from the camera. It makes a much better photo.
Try this and you’ll be surprised how much better your photos look.
5. Keep the fish in the water
It’s not just good for the fish, it’s good for the photo. Fish apparently start to lose their color as soon as you take them out of the water. Keep them fully submerged until you are ready to snap the picture, then lift them for no more than 10 seconds at a time. Fish don’t have lungs, so they can’t hold their breath.
6. Leave the fly in the fish
If you’re worried about dropping the fish and missing the picture, there’s a simple solution: leave the fly in his mouth. He won’t go far.
7. Get settled down
There’s no need to stress and destroy your back. Kneel in the river or in the lake with your fish. This makes for a better composed photo and makes it easier to keep the fish in the water.
Most of the beginners I see taking fish photos make errors due to tense/stressed anglers. Of course, it's normal you’re tense. You've just played a beautiful fish and feel exhilarated. But take a deep breath and chill. Everything will run smoother. I know you might think you’re never going to catch another fish like this one, but you will, lots of them. Just contemplate the moment and relax.
9. There’s one more thing that I don’t think gets talked about enough.
I think most fly anglers agree that it is in our own best interest to protect the fish which give us so much pleasure. It’s a practical stance, if nothing else. There was a time when we could all take what we wanted with no consequences. Unfortunately, the sheer number of us makes that unsustainable. In the same way that we once learned that we shouldn’t throw our rubbish on the ground, that we must recycle it, we are now learning that it’s best for us all to release our fish. So please - release that next trophy pike, or that monster rainbow. It's not much effort, but it's worth it.
Thanks for reading and hope to see you on the blog some time soon,