Handling a fish after a fight is very important to the health and survival of the fish. When you want to snap a few ‘grip and grin” shots, how you approach this become critical. This week, Barry Beck shares his viewpoints and tips on safe handling of fish when you need to snap some pictures.
I handle fish almost on a daily basis as either guide, trip host, or fishing photographer and I know that most anglers would love to have a picture of that special fish. With the advent of digital capture it’s become relatively easy for anyone with a digital camera to take a good “grip and grin” image. Let’s take a minute and think about the fish that we may want to photograph.
There are plenty of toothy critters out there and when we decide to photograph these there are some things to think about. A big barracuda is the first fish that comes to mind. Sharks can be a dangerous handful and even a small jack crevalle can give a nasty wound if handled improperly. Heck, you can get a sore hand for a couple of days by getting poked with the dorsal fin of a harmless panfish! These potentially hazardous situations can be the result of getting hands too close to a mouthful of teeth (as in barracuda), or coming in contact with a sharp spine or gill plate (jack or snook), or an actual intended bite (shark). My wife Cathy once grabbed a decaying sockeye salmon for a photo in Alaska and managed to get her fingers inside its mouth. It took a month of antibiotics to finally rid her hands of infection caused by bacteria in the rotting process. Be careful where you put your hands. Often on big fish a boca grip is the safest way to handle them for a photograph.
After catching the fish, how we handle it for the photographs is critical to its survival after being released. Nothing is set in cement here as there are so many variables, but there are a couple things to keep in mind. If the fish is taxed from being played too long it will take longer to revive and even then it may not survive. If he has put up a hard fight and is obviously played out, we often help revive and release him using the method described below without chancing a photograph. We don’t believe any photograph is worth killing the fish.
This is the system we use whenever we photograph fish. The longer we hold a fish out of the water the better the odds are of it not surviving the event. Remember they breathe under water not out. If the fish is in good shape one of us will compose the photo while the other is safely holding the fish under water either gently cradling it or using a net. The person in charge of the fish can be getting it into the correct position for the photograph before lifting it when the photographer gives the word. If the head of the fish is gently cradled in one hand while gripping just ahead of the tail with the other hand, you’ll see plenty of the fish in the photograph and have a comfortable hold on the fish. For big, slippery fish a fishing glove or even a sun glove will help grip the tail. Make sure the glove is wet to protect the fish.
We work with Nikon digital cameras and we take our first picture of the angler holding the fish safely underwater and then check our composition and light in the monitor. If we like it we do a one-two-three count, the angler lifts the fish out of the water, smiles, and the photographer fires three quick shots and the fish goes back underwater.
If the images look good in the monitor, it’s time to release the fish. We’re still holding the fish with a firm grip just ahead of the tail keeping it in an upright position in the water. If it’s not anxious to go we slowly move it back and forth facing into the current making the gills work. Make sure the fish is in clean water — turtle grass, sand, or mud can foul the gills. If the fish starts to turn sideways or upside down it’s in trouble, rescue it and repeat the revival process. Sometimes it seems to take a lot of patience and effort but if a fish is worthy of a picture its always worth ensuring it’s survival.