Few can take credit for bungling more fish pictures than I over the past 40-some years. Few are more qualified to write an article on what not to do.


During the days of film, I expected the worse and hoped for at least something good to happen. Today’s digital cameras show you how terrible the photo is up front. Problem is, the fish and the person holding the fish have little desire to wait all day for you to get the shot right. So, here are some suggestions for not bungling a one-take shot.


Most modern-day trophy fish are caught and released. However, keeping a fish alive and fresh looking for photos is necessary. I learned this lesson from the great photographer, Billy Linder, of the famous Linder fishing family.


We were doing a magazine-photo-cover shoot at Devil’s Lake in North Dakota. Billy set up the shot so a man and woman were watching from a boat while I stood on the dock displaying a good stringer of walleye.


An ultimate professional like Billy knew to keep the walleye’s skin wet for a fresher fish photo and he occasionally threw a cup of water on the fish. The longer we worked on the shot, the bigger his cups of water seemed to be. Problem was, some of the water was soaking my jeans – just below the zipper line. When finished he had the right shot, although some of the photos looked like I had an accident. Thankfully, the photos used included dry jeans.


Being aware of your terrain is very helpful to keeping your subject healthy. Early in my career I posed a man with a good crappie on a pond bank about 20 feet above the water. I told him to take another step backward while watching through my viewfinder and gathering all surrounding cover.


I knew he had plenty of room before reaching the edge. Sadly, what I didn’t know was that erosion had washed out the bank down to inches. My friend, his fish and fishing tackle were soon plummeting through space while he let out a blood curdling yell or maybe he was calling me a name – I don’t remember. He hit hard, but was uninjured, only smashing a frog.


Knowing something about your fish before handling is important too. Many years ago, several bass fishing buddies and I drove up to Canada. We wanted to try our luck at catching northern pike and walleye. One of our older fishing buddies had caught a good-sized pike and he wanted a photo.


He picked the pike up by its lip, like handling a bass, and stood there with a sick grin and pained expressions in his eyes while muttering, “Take the picture, please take it quickly.”


Blood dripping down the fish turned out to be his, a lesson learned of sharp teeth not found in bass. We all learned a second lesson later that day when he tried to hold a big walleye by its razor-sharp gills – another bloody lesson learned and a quick trip to the hospital for a couple of stitches.


Controlling a fish during your photo shoot is important. A twisting fish will eliminate any perfect shot that shows its features and beauty. There are several fish holding devices that make displaying a fish easier. But you still have to control the twisting fish.


This problem doubles when a squeamish child is trying to hold the fish. I suggest that a second adult is present to set up the subject, then quickly take the shot when ready – no hesitation. This means turning the fish to capture its best markings and color. I have seen many bass or catfish turn, making the shot worthless.


Position the fish how you want it, then make sure your model is completely ready. I took a recent shot of a young boy with his first catfish. The catfish was turned correctly and everything worked perfect except he picked his nose when I squeezed off the shot.


Several years ago, I was photographing two young kids holding a bluegill on a pond bank. The kids were trying their best to make the photo work. I was ready to take my first series of shots when the little girl screamed and threw her fish in the air. I turned to find that a good-sized water snake had swum up behind me – in fact, about a foot behind my feet – to peacefully sit and watch the photo shoot. The kids were done that day and so was I.


Everybody holds their fish closer to the camera lens, making it appear even bigger. I recently caught a good trout and was asked to display it for a quick photo. The guide had me hold the fish in two places. I did and he took the shot. Problem is, I wear a size 18 ring and the 20-inch rainbow trout looked smaller in the photos because of my big hands.


There are many other ways to screw up a fishing photo. My bottom line is this, take a zillion photos and hope for one good shot while remembering,


“Those that expect nothing will never be deceived.”


– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at kieserkenneth@gmail.com.