I hear it at least once a week.
“Man, you have a dream job.”
To which I invariably respond, “Guilty as charged.”
I do have a dream job, and although I work at it very hard, I never take a moment of it for granted. After all, any way you boil it down, I do get paid to go fishing.
Well, at least that’s the essence of the job. Done right, it entails a good bit more.
Although it’s a big part of the job, writing is only part of the job. The rest is all about images.
When the fish start biting it’s my duty to put down the rod and reel and pick up the Nikon or the video camera. After the first year or so, sometime around 1977, I finally realized that trophies are what you make them out to be.
My photos … at least the truly good ones … are my finest trophies. To this day, I get as big a thrill out of shooting a great image as I did the day I bought my first Nikkormat film camera (no motor drive on that one … an MD-11 drive, and a body that would accommodate it, remained a future goal at the time).
The Houston Post darkroom and the darkroom at the University of Houston’s School of Journalism became my trophy cases, places I would enter in the late afternoon with a 50-sheet pack of hard-earned Ilford matte-finish photo paper and not depart until the midnight hour was long past.
It’s very easy to lose track of time inside a darkroom. There is no light, after all, so days and nights lose meaning. Furthermore, when you’re literally focused on creating the ultimate black-and-white 8x10, two hours can rapidly and unconsciously condense into what seems more like a scant 15 minutes.
Those days are ancient history, along with the technology that was their trademark. I don’t know that I could unroll and process a roll of Tri-X black-and-white film today if my life depended on it.
Matter of fact, I’m sure I couldn’t. Five degrees or less of extra temperature, a minute-long error in the processing time, the correct and unforgiving placement of the film on the spool (executed in absolute darkness) all worked together to make black-and-white film processing a daunting task.
It was gratifying to get it right. Developing and printing my film and photos taught me a great deal about photography, things that I still employ today every time I go afield.
Still, I don’t miss that particular part of “the good old days.”
When digital photography came of age with Y2K, the face of photography was forever changed. I used to think it was awesome to get same-day delivery on color transparencies. Now, all I need to do is look at the LCD display on the back end of one of those high-resolution (and still high-dollar) Nikon bodies to know that I captured the image with precisely the proper exposure. If I didn’t, all I have to do is delete it and shoot again.
The new kids on the photography block are seriously spoiled. There isn’t much I wouldn’t give to have the 25 years’ worth of photos I relegated to film before the advent of digital shooting. Those images that had not yet succumbed to the unforgiving and destructive nature of humidity and sheer age mostly met their demise when Hurricane Ike flooded our home in Seabrook last September. A few precious black-and-white prints remain, and I am doing what I can to preserve those images in digital format.
I’m still looking for, and hoping to find, the black-and-white photos I took in December of 1980 while fishing for trophy largemouth bass near Pinar Del Rio province in Cuba. Ditto for the shots I took in the early 1980s while fishing the surf near Fifth Pass, Mexico. There are numerous others in that category, recordings of exotic getaways that I will likely not live to experience again. But I’m not yet through dissecting the last of the file cabinets that survived the storm, and perhaps at least some of those negatives will be there, still up to being printed one last time. Black-and-white negatives, unlike color slides, are amazingly durable. Those that show spots can be corrected via my ACDSee digital editing software, if only I can locate them.
If there is a down side to digital photography it’s that I now have an inventory of eight separate USB backup drives. Digital photography storage is a money- and space-eating monster, and as I shoot more images I will only need more. Everything has to be recorded once, and then backed up on at least one other drive. But unlike the images of yesteryear, I will always have those shots and they’ll always look as good as new.
To this day, an action shot of a trout, bass or tarpon jumping far clear of the water as an astonished angler looks on with rod and reel in hand is as great a trophy as I can hope to win.
The same goes for an outstanding shot of a big whitetail buck. It’s one thing to shoot a deer standing a hundred yards away with a scoped .270. It’s entirely another to get a really good photo of that very same deer with a telephoto lens.
So much has to go right. The light has to be favorable, soft and diffused. However, there has to be enough of it to allow for stop-action shooting. It can be a fine line at times, one that is often drawn by the “speed” (aperture capability) of the lens. Faster lenses, of course, cost more money … frequently, a lot more money. But all other things being equal, a photographer’s talent is always bound by the quality of his equipment.
I spend a fortune on camera gear. But, when the opportunity arises, it pays me back with images that will now last a lifetime (and while they are at it, hopefully help pay a few bills as well).
The deer has to be standing in relatively clear sight. As much as anything, it needs to be standing. Running shots are cool, but given my ‘druthers I’d much rather have a few quality standing shots in the camera before I take the “Hail Mary” shutter snap at an alarmed 10-point buck spinning on its hooves.
I remember looking at wildlife photos in outdoor magazines as a kid, dreaming of the day when I would finally own a bona fide telephoto lens. When I got my first good one, a 400mm Nikkor 3.5ED that I bought from my late dear friend Earl Woodell of San Antonio, I was ecstatic. I soon discovered, however, that my enthusiastic and unbounded visions of getting close-ups of critters from 200 yards away were sheer and unfettered fantasy. Even with that lens, the equivalent of 8-power binoculars, anything outside of 30 yards is a stretch. That’s not a problem if you are shooting deer inside a breeding pen, but I’ve learned over the years that plastic ear tags don’t do much for the salability of a photo.
Plus, there is a thrill to shooting a big whitetail buck on open-range property that can’t be matched by photographing an even-bigger buck inside a small enclosure. You have to be a hunter, and a good one, to pull it off. Matter of fact, you need to be the equivalent of a skilled bowhunter, considering the scant distances necessary to getting top-end deer photos.
Fish, however, are exponentially more difficult to capture than deer. You’re dealing, after all, with a creature that lives underwater. Its out-of-the-water moments, unless they consist of a broadly-smiling guy proudly holding it up after the catch, are extremely fleeting.
The timing factor is critical. One-half of a second can make a huge difference, the margin between a fish squarely composed inside the frame or the fleeting blur of its thrashing tail exiting the scene. Anything shot at less than 1/500 of a second is marginal for stop-action photography, and even then, it’s dicey. I’ve seen plenty of thrashing and jumping fish blur out at 1/1000th of a second or even less.
Video-shooting is a play date by comparison. But it yields some amazing insights, particularly when you slow it down.
I recall, back in 1990, while hosting the Texas Fisherman television show, taking the time to view a jumping speckled trout in the extreme slow-motion playback mode. What I saw at full speed was the typical blur, out of the water and immediately back in.
Slowed down, the scene was breathtaking.
The fish … and it was only a school trout … exited the water and executed a dramatic triple-cartwheel inside of all of a second. Remember the old Budweiser commercials shot by legendary outdoor filmmaker Glen Lau, the 10-pound-caliber largemouth bass that rocketed out of the water and performed an awe-inspiring, water-kicking aquatic ballet? Those commercials were astounding (and the same goes for Lau’s classic film “Bigmouth” … if you haven’t seen that one, buy it. You’ll definitely watch it more than once).
It’s a hot, rainy day here in Seabrook, and it finds me pondering just how wonderful it is to sit inside this studio, review and edit photos, work on story ideas and manuscripts, and in the absence of being outdoors for the moment nonetheless sit here and dedicate the entirety of my thoughts to all of the possibilities that are still out there, waiting to be enjoyed, explored and recorded.
And yes, I have to confess to a fair bit of daydreaming.
After all, it is a dream job.
I.F. ANDERSON FARMS’ FORAGE FISH FRY SOLD OUT FOR THE YEAR; ADVANCE ORDERS BEING TAKEN FOR NEXT SPRING
A heads-up … and a sincere word of thanks … to those of you who have expressed an interest in, or ordered, golden shiner forage fish fry for pond-stocking purposes from I.F. Anderson Farms. The annual spawning process has run full-circle, so at this point the crew at the farm is taking orders for next spring’s fish shipments. Again, many thanks to those of you who ordered forage fish fry for your ponds. I look forward to hearing from you as to how the forage injection impacted your fishery.
If history means anything, based on what I have witnessed in the past two years I believe you will be impressed.
As for the Black Salty live baitfish, the baits continue to ship out twice a week via Federal Express overnight on Mondays and Thursdays for Tuesday and Friday deliveries. If I can help you in any way with getting the most out of your bait order, let me know and I will do whatever I can. Ditto if you are simply looking for information on fishing conditions, particularly here on the Upper Texas Coast.
There is a great deal of Black Salty-related information, and a new selection of field photos to boot, at www.blacksalty.com.
For more information, or to order, call the toll-free Black Salty Hotline at 1-877-GO-SALTY (1-877-467-2589).