Fishing with a Camera

by | Oct 19, 2017 | 9 comments


UPDATE: (Oct. 2017) — Two summers ago, I wrote this short guide for choosing a fishing camera and carrying it on the water. The point is simple — select something that you can accept losing, because whatever camera you fish with will eventually be destroyed. You can put off that inevitable destruction for as long as possible by protecting the camera with a case.. And yet, some protective cases make taking a few quick shots difficult and time consuming. We are anglers first, and not photographers, so carrying the camera shouldn’t get in the way of fishing.

This topic recently came up in conversation with a friend, and I remembered this post. I reread it, and I’m happy to report that 16 months later, I’m even more confident in this advice. Here it is, with a few additions.

— — — — — —

Burke and I watched our four young boys run circles through the kitchen as we visited and caught up on recent fishing and fatherhood stories.

“I’m gonna loan you my extra Nikon,” he said through the chaos.

I’d considered buying a DSLR for some time but hadn’t yet made the commitment. I thought the camera on my smartphone was good enough to capture the moments that I wanted to keep. I now know how wrong I was.

Burke loaning me his camera was the first step into a new passion that’s more enjoyable than anything I expected. Pictures tell a story in ways that I can’t with these words, and a good camera is a creative tool with no end.

Any time I’ve given advice on this blog, it’s been about something I’ve experienced, tested and developed for years. But with this camera thing, I’m making an exception. I don’t yet know much about cameras or the art of taking photos, but I already know a lot more than I used to. I’m only a few months into a hands-on education that I’m certain will take years to get where I’d like to be, and photography is another journey, like fishing and music, that (thankfully) has no finish line.

Here’s my simple advice: find a decent camera and find a friend who knows photography. Then dig in.

For me, that friend is Christie Clancy. We’ve bounced ideas around, she loaned me a few books, directed me to some online tutorials, helped me to understand editing software and loaned me her Canon.

The Canon is lighter than the Nikon, and to me that’s a valuable trait.

Early on, I decided to carry the camera all the time — on every fishing trip. I want the camera immediately accessible for those unexpected shots, and I know that if getting the camera out and putting it away isn’t quick and easy, then I won’t do it often enough. That’s human nature — or perhaps it’s just my nature. Either way.

I also need the camera  protected, and after much research, trial and error, this is what I’ve come down to …

The Camera

My philosophy on camera selection is to keep it in the price range of something you can accept losing. Bad stuff is going to happen while wading a river, and eventually, a camera taken on fishing trips will sustain fatal damage — it’s just a matter of time. I have a few friends with high-end cameras who won’t even consider taking their camera fishing because of the risks — so the camera and the opportunities for capturing some great moments both stay unpacked. That’s why I’ve decided to keep my own investment minimal.

Stepping up to a DSLR from a point-and-shoot or a smartphone immediately and drastically improves your photo quality and introduces a range of creative possibilities. What you can do with aperture, shutter speeds and a larger lens, combined with the editing possibilities gained from shooting in RAW format are a giant leap forward. And to me, at this stage, that’s enough.

The resale market is flooded with hardly-used DSLR’s in the $100-$200 range, and I’m perfectly happy with technology that was top-of-the-line stuff just a few years ago. I suspect that it will be good enough for quite a while. I doubt that I’ll ever take photography to the kind of level where I’m chasing the next and newest camera model or lens.

Try searching ebay and other sites. For a price that won’t cause you to leave the camera at home for fear of destroying it on the water, you can easily track down a used or refurbished DSLR that will make a good fishing partner.

Trying to postpone the inevitable destruction with a little protection, however, just makes good sense.

The Case

Everyone has their own requirements and preferences for carrying a camera, so I won’t strongly recommend any one thing here. Although there are an overwhelming array of options for a camera case, the list is quickly shortened when you need something waterproof.

My objective is to keep the camera very accessible, yet protected from clumsy bumps, streamside dirt and especially … water. Since I walk a lot and fish full days, I want a small case; and I want the weight of the camera on my hips whenever possible.

I first carried the camera by slinging the strap around my neck and stuffing the camera inside the top of my waders. That got uncomfortable quickly, however, and it doesn’t protect against the inevitable full-dunk-fall-ins that happen to me a couple times every year. I wade aggressively to get to the best spots on the river, and I’m not going to stop fishing hard just to protect a camera.

After a lot of searching and considering, I bought a SLR Holster from Ape Case. There are a bunch of similar options out there and I’m not going to tell you that the Ape Case is better. I’ve only had it for a couple months, and I need a lot more wear on something to call it durable. I like the case. It’s affordable, light, padded, and the zipper is sturdy. The belt loop is wide, yet snug enough to mount nicely on the utility belt that I use for wading. (I did preemptively reinforce the stitching on the belt loop with super glue).

While searching, I considered one of the many roll top camera dry bags available from OverBoard and others. They certainly are the most popular option, and for good reason. But they don’t mount on a belt very well, they don’t have enough padding, and they aren’t quite as accessible as the camera holster. (Again, these are just my own preferences).

The Ape Case isn’t waterproof. It nicely protects from splashes and even light rain, but for the occasional and accidental submersion, I need more.  I made it waterproof by installing a simple, sliding Ziploc bag as an interior liner. I used double sided tape to keep the bottom of the bag anchored to the bottom interior of the case while removing the camera. A Ziploc bag may seem like a rudimentary, unsophisticated choice — and it is — but it gets the job done. I can’t find a thin dry bag of the correct size to fit as well as a gallon Ziploc bag does. I’ve waded over my waist and submersed the holster, camera, and Ziploc bag many times now, and I have confidence in it.

UPDATE: (Oct. 2017) — After 16 months of use, the Ape Case is still holding up strong. I’m impressed. I also have full confidence in the Ziploc bag solution. I routinely wade over the my belt and over the case with the camera submerged. The Ziploc bag always protects the camera. I use freezer bags because they’re a bit thicker, and I change the bag at any sign of wear (every few months). So after nearly a year and a half of testing, I still love this solution for carrying a camera on the water. It’s quickly accessible, light and waterproof. Nice.


Tracking down the right camera at the right price, and deciding how you want to carry it may take a little time, but fishing with a camera is well worth the effort.

Many thanks to my friends Pat Burke and Christie Clancy for getting me started. I’ll try to pay it forward.

Please feel free to share your own camera and case solutions in the comments section. We will all benefit from everyone’s ideas.


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. What is your current camera of choice? Can you give a recommendation of several camera models to look into? I am ready to take the leap and carry a camera but am overwhelmed by all of the options out there… Any lens suggestions you have would be great too!

    • Ben,

      I hate to do this, but I’m not going to answer your question because I know you can find better opinions out there than my own. I’m not experienced enough with different brands or models, nor am I deep enough into photography to give you good information about what you should choose.

      The article is purposely vague about those camera details. The point, really, is just to say that stepping up past a cell phone, and past a point and shoot camera is well worth it. And you don’t need to spend much money to get a decent camera. The larger lens and the controls over aperture, shutter speed and ISO give you far more creative control and make taking photos much more rewarding.

      Like I said in the article, technology from a few years ago is just fine with me.

  2. Fair enough. I got the impression from the article that you were a little further in your pursuit of fly fishing photography. I have a several friends who are accomplished fisherman/photographers who I will bug.

    • Cool. I’ve dug into photography and editing quite a bit.

      I just have not dug deep enough into the gear to offer you specific advice on one camera to choose over another. I’m happy enough with the camera I have. Hope that makes sense.

  3. Good advice Domenick. One thing I would add is, whatever system you come up with for protecting your camera from water, test it first before taking it out on the water. One photographer I used to work with would put his waterproof cases in a pool. I would stuff mine with paper towels, then put them in the shower and run water directly on them for at least 10 minutes.

  4. Everybody has their own particular necessities and inclinations for conveying a camera, so I won’t unequivocally suggest any one thing here. In spite of the fact that there are a staggering exhibit of
    alternatives for a camera case, the rundown is immediately abbreviated when you require something waterproof.

  5. I purchased a used Canon XTi for $75 last year. Even though it is the same megapixels as an iphone it does 100X the number of things an iphone can do, especially with all the lenses you can buy (also used). I take my camera 90% of the time now. I leave room in my Orvis hip pack for easy access. I don’t even waterproof it being that it was $75 (unless it’s raining hard)

  6. An “easier solution” is to use an iPhone in a waterproof case (for accidently dunking the phone) – you can keep it safely in your fly guide pack. Photos are just as good as any DSLR. The newest version has a 10x telephoto. Plus, you can convert any Live Photo to long duration exposure for those cool stream & waterfall photos. Finally, you can make 911 calls when a bear chases you up a tree!

  7. I love photography, but find it hard to do a photography + fishing trip without both parts suffering.

    I got an Olympus Tough waterproof camera for a non-fishing trip where I didn’t want to take my Fujifilm XT20 because of the conditions expected (humidity, spray, low to the water, knocks, etc).

    It’s a great fishing camera. I keep it in a neoprene can cozy on my wader belt. Being small and with actual buttons, it is easy to handle one handed and happily takes photos above or below the water. It has a tripod screw so can be mounted to a little gorilla pod for remote/timed options.

    Sometimes I wish it had more manual controls, but most of the time a bad photo is my fault anyway. And I have managed to get a couple of “artistic” underwater trout shots!


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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