Fish pictures are the grand compromise of catch and release. An Instagram feed with a full gallery of trout is replacing the stringer of dead fish for bragging rights. And that’s a good thing. They look better alive anyway.
Would a trout be better off if we didn’t take its picture? Sure it would. Moreover, wouldn’t a trout be better off if we didn’t set a hook in its mouth and drag it through the water? Yup. So I think we have to be a little careful how self-righteous we get. Point is, we all draw the line somewhere, and I firmly believe that a quick picture, taken responsibly (I’ll get to that), won’t hurt a trout.
Most of the fishermen I know who’ve spent a great deal of time with their boots in the water have caught on to catch and release. The bare facts stare you in the face pretty quickly if you start keeping your limit on every trip. You soon realize that a good fisherman can thin out a stretch of water in short order, and a group of good fishermen can probably take down an entire watershed.
So we take pictures instead.
I’ve learned to play fish fast and hard, and even the Whiskeys are brought to hand in just a couple minutes. I rarely use anything less than 5X. I prefer a rod with a good backbone, and the average fight lasts less than, I’d guess, thirty seconds.
After playing a fish quickly, I scoop it in a rubber mesh net. I find an area next to the bank with cold, moving water about a foot deep and let the wooden frame of my net suspend the fish in the bag while I set up the camera and tripod. I have a routine for this, and it takes less than a minute. It’s important to keep the trout positioned in the net with its nose in the current, where the gills are free to breath. Done that way, a trout could survive in this small live-well for a long time. But we don’t ask it to.
When it’s time to take the picture, I slide one hand under and behind the pectoral fins so my palm and three fingers support most of the weight, and I like to support the head of larger fish with my extended index finger. I use my other hand to raise the tail. The key point here is to lift — don’t grip.
Bishop writes, “Gripping a fish in the pectoral area using inward force and squeezing pressure will compress the heart and maybe the liver and gills. The outcome for the fish is not going to be good, even if it does manage to swim away on release.“
Surprisingly, Bishop has taken some criticism from anglers asserting that squeezing the heart and the vital organs of a trout might not kill it. What? People are strange. It can’t be good for a trout, and pictures look better when the fish is lifted instead of squeezed anyway. So why take the discussion any further? It’s an easy adjustment to make. There’s no reason to squeeze — just lift and balance the fish. Again, a trout cannot be calmed by squeezing it.
Later in the article, however, Bishop makes a point that I respectfully disagree with. He argues that you can’t hold the tail underhand (what he calls the UK Grip) without squeezing with the forward hand.
I often grasp the tail underhand, and I get a firm hold around the bony part of the tail (the wrist). But if the fish does any thrashing around, I just put it back in the net. I never squeeze if it starts to move.
My favorite fish pictures are a simple lift and shoot. I’m usually kneeling, since that puts me close to the net and keeps the trout near the water. And I only lift the fish from the water for a few moments. (More than five seconds is a long time to me.) If the fish is not dripping water, it’s probably been out of the water for too long. If I’ve gotten the pic, then I release the fish into the river. If I want a second shot, I put the fish back in the net and admire it for a minute or so, then I lift it again. If I don’t get the shot I want after two tries, I usually release the fish anyway because it just seems like the right thing to do.
And, candidly . . . I’ve learned a lot more about what’s right and wrong through the years. I’ve made mistakes. We all do. The more you fish, the more those moments speak to you. The trout and the river will show you the way forward.
Catch & Release with a Picture
— On a camera, use the timer setting or a remote shutter. Or on a smart phone, turn on the voice activated shooting mode.
— Go barbless, especially in the larger hook sizes. I pinch down even small, micro-barbed hooks.
— Fight ‘em quick. My strategy: when the fish isn’t pulling, then I am.
— Keep them in a rubber net in clear and cold water, not muddy sidewater.
— Be sure the net isn’t blocking the gills from breathing.
— Lift only for a few seconds.
— Stay close to the water surface.
— If the fish struggles, don’t squeeze. Just let it go. I often try to slide it back into my net.
— Don’t grip the trout’s heart.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N