By JEFF LUND
February 17, 2015
A trip is not just about the pictures, but a memory isn’t really complete without them.
Left without a frame of reference or guide, the brain can do all sorts of things. (This is why the one you lost is always the biggest). But a picture, even if it’s one of those locked-elbowed, shove-it-at-the-camera types that would make the fish look Biblical if your fingers didn’t wrap around it, takes the guesswork out. It was an exact, accurate moment, leaving just the events leading up to and after, prone to embellishment.
In the world of fishing and hunting there is an understood element of braggadocio. It’s a natural reaction to hold a fish up (and out) and get a shot for the computer archives to go with the one behind your eyes. So naturally, you want it to look good.
You buy a nice camera to take nice pictures and why spend $450 or more just to use the automatic setting? If you’re alone, and in a catch and release situation, you want to take a picture as quickly as possible as to preserve the life of the fish. You set the timer, get the photo, and let the fish go. Only then do you realize the ISO was set for daytime in desert rather than overcast in Alaska, so you’re chances of fixing it in Photoshop are about the same as Jessica Alba being next year’s Valentine.
That happened to me. The picture part, not the Jessica Alba part.
The moment is still there in my memory, but the proof is ruined. It doesn't ruin the trip, but when anyone asks about the fish, they have to take my word for it. Which they say they do, but you know the saying about fishermen and their lies...
I was showing a couple of close friends an unnamed body of water which can be easily found on Google Earth if you know where to look. I had already lost a fish, and we were working back upriver to spots we had already hit when my fly searched through a riffle and found a mouth. The water was just over the top of the bank, making a waist -high table of sorts. My gear and camera bags were off to the side on a tuft of grass. I worked the steelhead to shore, tailed it, then as it recovered in the two inches of water that spilled onto the shelf, I grabbed my camera, set the timer and held up the fish. Big smile, beautiful fish. I took another, then released it.
I didn’t think to look at the image because I had just held the thing in my hands. When I met the others I scrolled through to find a sharp, close up of absolute darkness. A starless night sky in the shape of a big fish.
Yeah it was great to be out with my friends. Yeah the weather was great, but I had actually caught a steelhead. A big one. It wasn’t a “you gave it your best shot” 14th place ribbon type day. I got one and the fragile mind of a steelhead fisherman sometimes just needs to scroll through the digital library weeks later and remember what life is like when it doesn’t involve work. I documented blackness - a steelhead-shaped hole.
Given some time, perspective returns. It’s just a picture. Though documentation is easier and probably more important to us than ever before, missing out on a picture isn’t a big deal.
Especially when you catch three in fifteen minutes the next day - and a competent friend is there waiting with a camera.
Jeff Lund is a Teacher, Freelance Writer, living in Ketchikan, Alaska