Photography & Birding go Hand-in-Hand with Fishing

Photography & Birding go Hand-in-Hand with Fishing

I’ve said and written many times that fishing isn’t always about catching. There are many ways to have an enjoyable day on the water. Beyond hunting, fishing and woodworking I also thoroughly enjoy capturing photographs of the things I see and experience in the woods and on the water. It is a greater challenge to take a quality photograph of a fish than it is to catch it on a fly. It is a challenge I find myself embracing more deeply as I get older.

Photography is one of those hobbies that pushes me to do better because no matter how good the photograph, there is always a feeling it could be a little better. I enjoy diving deep into subjects and there is an endless amount of information out there to absorb. Techniques, math, art, theories, experimentation and more are all a part of the process. Fully understanding and grasping the capabilities of your gear while also knowing its limitations is essential. Practice is important. And lastly, working through the images in post processing on the computer is a vital part of it all and admittedly my weakest area. Almost sounds like I could be talking about fishing.

In your fishing, you know what your weakness is. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable working a topwater. Perhaps it is a lack of confidence in working a soft plastic. It could just be in tying knots. Study it. Talk with those better than you. Practice. Repeat.  We’re all learning and striving to get better at whatever activity rings our bell. If not, then are you truly passionate about it? If you feel like you know it all, then you are likely being dishonest with yourself. Self-examination and critique is how you get better at anything.  

Unfortunately, I find that I likely have too many passions sometimes. A few years back I was out in the marsh poling my skiff on a day off from guiding. The redfish were in their typical fall pattern of roving schools pushing down shorelines devouring shrimp pushed from the cord grass. I’d been guiding this pattern for weeks and only had one day off before another long run of guiding and I was determined to take full advantage of my day. The reds were doing their part, but I was failing miserably in all aspects. My photos weren't working and I couldn’t seem to seal the deal on hooking one either.

I was poling towards the next school when I looked down at the bow of the skiff and it all came into perfect focus. There was a casting rod with a DOA shrimp, a fly rod with 50’ of line stripped off, my camera with the big lens on a tripod and a GoPro. In that moment I realized that I couldn’t do any of it well if I was trying to do it all. It’s a lesson that applies to many aspects of life. I often have to remind myself to slow down and concentrate on what needs to be the priority for that day. 

I say all of that to say this, if you want to capture some amazing images of what you experience in the outdoors you need to put away the rod or gun and accept that you will not catch or shoot anything…other than with the camera. If you are still at that point in your angling life where you feel you must catch as many fish as possible, then you aren't there yet. There is nothing wrong with that at all, but it is not compatible with making the best images possible.

Since that day in the marsh I have stuck to a plan. When I pack the boat I either lean towards fishing or photography. On a photography day I may stick a fly rod in the rack if I intend to stay out through the midday hours. Photography is best with the low sun angle of early morning.  Once the sun gets higher in the sky the harsh light makes for poor photos. Fortunately that same high sun angle is what we need to see fish for sightcasting. During a full day on the water I put the rod away and get the camera back out as the evening sun angle gets right again. I know that I’m passing up prime fishing times, but at least I get to scratch the itch and I’m not compromising my enjoyment of either one by letting the other get in the way. 

I get almost as many questions via email or messaging regarding photography as I do about fishing. I started this article with the thought of writing an instructional piece, but as often happens my original plan morphs into something else. There are unlimited on-line articles and books on gear, techniques and other “how-to” aspects. You can also spiral into a rabbit hole watching YouTube videos to gain the knowledge needed to get into serious photography. However, I’ve seen very few articles discussing the mental side of the hobby. True photography, not just snapping some pics with the camera on auto, requires commitment and a willingness to immerse yourself into it. 

If you would like to learn more about it and maybe spend some time on the water working on your photography skills, I plan to start offering birding and photo trips this year. I can accommodate a pair of photographers on my Sabine skiff while poling through the back lakes of Matagorda Island. Many outdoor photographers are also bird watchers. Throughout the winter the poling skiff affords the ability to get in close to the whooping cranes as well as all of the other waterfowl in the marsh making for some great photo opportunities. The whoopers will be here another couple of months so if there is a birder in your life please send them my way and we’ll work on getting them on a unique trip.