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Discussing Fishing Pictures

Fishing is synonymous with picture taking, or vice versa.  After a trip everyone seems to ask, “lets see the pictures,” which may come off as either a truly pleasant or slightly skeptical inquiry, depending on the level and/or amount of bullshit you just spewed. 

Three "bonked" burbotMaybe a hundred years ago, when fish bonking and pile stacking was the rule, pictures weren’t as important as they are today.  But in the end, whether past or present, no one seems to believe a damn thing a fisherman says unless there is some type of proof, be it frozen in a bag, guts in a can, or ink on a piece of paper. 

Truth be told, I haven’t met a fisherman who doesn’t have at least some sort of modest fascination with taking pictures, which is not a complete shock.  Not even a slight shock, really.  Who would believe the crazy looking bum who lives in the house with the runaway lawn, and who’s gone for weeks at a time, unless there was some reasonable proof in front of them about what he just said?  He also may or may not have wild animals in the backyard for fly tying purposes.  Being the humane creature a fisherman is, he’ll keep the animals alive and simply pick off one or two features as the need arises. 

It is strange to me how fish always seems to shrink in a picture.  A camera is said to add ten pounds, so I guess fish must exist in some kind of alternate universe from the Guess the size on that one! rest of reality, because in the domain of fishermen, the main photographic-subject appears to lose a bit of its stature when it gets its picture taken –by my estimation, generally around ten percent of the reported size.  If someone claims to have landed a twenty-inch trout and you doubt that that is the truth once you see the picture, it was probably more like eighteen inches.  Maybe seventeen, or even sixteen.  It really depends on how long you’ve known the guy, and how glazed over his eyes get when he starts talking.

Generally speaking, the more shit one’s filled with, the more obvious it is just by looking at them.  And no, they typically don’t have the give away smell. 

Let's pull that one back a bit there Andy...A fisherman never tells you that the fish actually looks a little bigger in the picture than it did in real life, and it is really just the fisherman’s pose and a bit of distortion from the wide-angle lens that make it look the same size as your leg.

People always try to say things like, “Oh, my hands make it look small,” or “it was bigger than it looks.”  How they manage to convince themselves that the laws of physics and plain old common sense don’t apply to them or their fish is simply bizarre.  What may be even more bizarre is the amount of fishermen who fall into this trap, and worse yet, the ones who believe it with so much conviction that they start doing it for themselves.

I’m certainly not guilt free of this from my past days, and just to play it on the safe side I try not to put a definite label regarding size on the fish I catch nowadays.  I’ll generally say things like, “it was a good one,” or maybe, “one of the biggest I’ve got all year,” and just as often as not, simply “nice fish.”  The people I fish with often will know what I mean well enough, and if I just run into you on a stream somewhere, I don’t really give half a damn how big you end up thinking that fish was or could have been, so I’ll just let the listener conjure up just how big the fish was.  Again, how big his shit-eating grin gets is a good sign of his imagination, and possibly more importantly, all around helpless attitude. 

Don’t feel the need to tell him off, though.  Those sad souls who have to count everything often need all the help they can get, and fishermen are as adept as anyone to give advice.  If you’re a guide, or have been a guide, you’re more qualified than most to help others, and the only reason people you know who happen to have issues go to psychiatrists instead of fly-fishermen is so that they can get a prescription.  Mind you, the last thing you need is to know that you’re going on a weeklong trip with a really messed up guy, who may or may not crack completely while the two of you are away and alone.  Best let him get the drugs. 

There are various types of fishing pictures.  The most famous, and traditional, is of course the Hero Shot.  These are typically the most exaggerated of pictures at least if you consider a normal pose and actual emotion.  They are generally characterized by some doofus holding a fish, more often than not shoving it right into the camera lens, and as often as not, he’s trying not to smile, and looks pretty goofy most of the time.  I don’t know what some people have against smiling.  Personally, when I get a nice fish I’m usually just trying my best to contain myself, not mess my pants, and to make the picture at least respectable enough to put in a slideshow or hang on the living room wall. 

Andy with some winter trout for supper, and the kitchen poseThe Hero Shot is typically off-centre, slightly out of focus, and taken with no sense of proper proportioning.  Often enough they have a kitchen sink or backyard fence as a backdrop.  At the very least, remember to take the smoke out of your mouth. 

Next in line is the nature shot.  This type of shot is done by the nature loving, peaceful, easy going type of guy who didn’t get a degree in visual poetry, and who sometimes tries to present some sort of off-centre connotation with nature as a backdrop.  Usually the whole picture is slightly exaggerated, at least when looked at in a normal context.  Extravagant poses, fish in the flower patch, or some other strange demeanor typifies this type of shot.  As long Nick in the aformentioned "flower patch"as we’re keeping score, these are also the ones that editors of the glossy fly-fishing magazines might buy from you –just don’t overdo it.

Lastly is my favorite.  The ‘Take what you can get’ shot, which sometimes can turn out quite brilliantly, but usually nothing except the true moment is captured.  I say “true moment” because we all know just how rarely big fish are landed gracefully, let alone maintaining a calm scramble after the fish is in the net.  Generally what we run into is a frantic escapade that defies the odds, at least it seems that way once you finish giggling, finish your beer, and have time to think, What the hell just happened?  Then you remember that pretty much everything that happened actually went wrong –at least according to the general “plan,” but somehow the fish still came to net and you got some sort of proof, although how appealing the proof is to look at is in part a conversation of scrutiny, and mostly a matter of opinion and self esteem. These are the pictures that have your buddy holding up a fish, but he’s soaking wet from falling in the creek after trying to unwrap his line from the unfortunately placed log.  Without a doubt, the rest of the roll of film will be your friend getting out of his waders and pouring the water out, with the angle of pictures getting lower and lower, tilting at a greater angle with each successive shot because you’re busy falling over and laughing and trying not to pee yourself.  Only about half of these pictures will be usable and in focus, because you’ll be laughing way to hard to do anything more than get your camera out and push the shutter, but those are the good moments worth remembering anyway. These pictures capture the true chaos that is fly-fishing.  They never seem to go as gracefully as you’d like, but they don’t really turn out all that bad, either. 

I guess I should take a minute to say: No I don’t really have an objection to fishing pictures.  Plainly and simply, I just think that fishermen should use a little bit of the discretion we are all born with to eliminate many of the things that can ruin an otherwise Ice fishing for trout perfectly acceptable photo.  Smile, take the sunglasses off, especially when facing directly at the camera, get in a comfortable, natural position so you don’t look like your taking a squat and someone just happened upon you.  Put the rod nicely under your arm, properly unwrap the line from your fish and remove excess clutter from the scene, hold the fish low to the water for a natural appearance, and please, for the love of god, don’t shove the fish as far as your arm can reach.  It looks unnatural and, well, just plain goofy and a little obvious –your not really fooling anyone when your thumb looks as big as your head.

As far as the photographer goes, use the rule of thirds and divide the picture into just that –thirds.  It can be horizontal, vertical, diagonal, or a spiral if you manage to pull it off, but this type of composition gives the picture an easy to look at, and otherwise jolly feel.  Also, think of using your fill flash more than you do now.  The flash really can bring out the colours in the subject, not to mention get rid of the annoying shadow on a guy’s face from his hat. 

The most awkward phenomenon of the fishing picture is the fact that you may actually start fishing with people who put off some sort of respectable self-image, at least respectable looking in the portrait.  Not that they have to be especially pretty or anything, but after a week of fishing and camping they tend to be able to walk down a sidewalk back in town and not have little old ladies madly scrambling across the street to safety. 

But you don’t want anyone who’s too good looking, either.  Not that fishing with them all that bad, but when you’re on a stream with one of these guys you’ll eventually wind up thinking, Why can’t I look that good in a picture, or at least something to that affect, and it is at that point that you should probably take some simple precautions to avoid further degeneration of your manhood.  Hiding his razor, breaking his sunglasses, or misplacing his hat, and pretty much anything else that could make him look like a pompous fool, like the rest of us, should do the trick. Then again, you may be better off by simply not shaving for a couple more weeks, and otherwise allow yourself to slip away, if for no other reason than to prove once and for all that you really don’t give a damn about much of anything.

Nick Sliwkanich, WesternSportfishing.ca 

Written by: Nick Sliwkanich