Let me start by saying that, as a fish biologist, the best way to photograph a trout is in your mind. Handling trout out of the water can cause a lot of stress on the fish. The best way to catch and release a trout is to keep it in the water as much as possible. It is also great to use a rubber net, keep the fish in the water while removing the hook, and have another person take a photo if necessary. Unfortunately, unless you enjoy running with rubber nets, not all of these techniques are feasible when running the Flyathlon.
With that said, we saw a lot of photographs last year that were…well…difficult to discern.
Exhibit A: The “uh, could be 5 inches, could be 9…” mystery trout.
Exhibit B: The “I’m not dropping you this year” death grip…
I have provided some tips below that will hopefully help flyathletes successfully capture that important trout photograph while minimizing our footprint on the Middle Creek trout fishery.
- Be prepared. Between the trail running, keeping track of where other fisherman are, rigging your fly rod, deciding on a fly, checking your back cast, and catching your breath, it can be difficult to remember that you will need to photograph a fish if you are successful. My suggestion is to lay out your race bib near the shore or keep it readily accessible along with your camera/phone. Don’t forget your hemostat/ketchum tool as well for easy hook removal.
- Catch a fish. Often easier said than done. Good luck.
- Speed is key. Obviously, this is a race so anything you can do to speed up the photo process is good. It is also the most important thing you can do for the survival of the trout. Try to minimize the fight, and make sure your camera is ready to shoot prior to handling the fish. Once you have brought the fish in near your race bib, wet your hands before handling. Removing the slimy coat that covers a trout is very harmful to the fish. Try to quickly transfer the fish to the race bib and line up its nose (or tail depending on orientation) with the 0 mark. Hold down the fish with one hand while focusing the camera with the other. Remove your hand from the fish and start snapping. Take as many photos as you can before it starts flopping. Don’t be stingy with the amount of photos! You only get to submit one, so make sure you get a good one. Once you think you have a couple of good photos, wet your hands and bring the trout back to the water. Hold the fish in the water until it swims out of your hands. Do not try to rock the fish back and forth as their gills are not designed to take water in from backwards; rocking is actually more harmful to the fish. Let it regain its equilibrium in clean moving water rather than water that’s been muddied up by your feet (as I heard it once described: “How’d you like to run a 40-yard dash and then recover in the smoking lounge at the airport?”).
- You caught a trout! Tear down your gear and keep running.
Every fish will react differently to being handled. I find quickly handling them (almost surprising them) can be very effective. There are other times where the fish will just freak out. If the fish starts flopping, immediately bring it back to the water upright and hold it there until it settles and then try again. It might be a good idea to leave the hook in its mouth while photographing in case the fish darts back into the creek. Remember, keep the fish in the water as much as you can.
My fish from last year’s race came off of a barbless hook as soon as I got her to shore (I almost lost it). Once I was able to secure her in the water, I quickly transferred her to the race bib and got three decent photos with my phone:
Hopefully these tips help! I’d be happy to discuss this topic over a campfire and beers if you have questions or comments. Good luck this year and see you on Middle Creek!