Photos On The Fly

I have a friend who makes beautiful time-lapse videos of New York Harbor. He takes them from his tugboat with his GoPro action camera, and we have all probably seen what a dedicated skier or surfer can do with one of those.

What about the angler who wants to document his or her experience?

This establishing shot with the contrast bumped up just a bit gives the stream a sense of scale.


Many fly fishermen practice catch-and-release at least some of the time, and other than deep personal satisfaction and memories (let’s not discount those), pictures are often the only thing we have to show for our efforts.

Or, as another friend of mine says, “Pictures, or it didn’t happen.”

A water-level point-of-view imparts some drama to this sunset shot.

The Action Camera Option
GoPro and other action cameras have the advantage of being highly portable, waterproof, and increasingly offer high-quality (and high-definition) video and photos. There is a host of mounts – like this one that attaches to a backpack or chest sling strap – that allow the photographer to position the camera almost anywhere.

That’s great for hands-free recording.

If you are an aspiring filmmaker or the fly fishing is incidental to your photography, a high-end action camera (or even digital SLR) is probably a good choice.

But there are others.

The winter river is the star of this photo.


The Compact Sports Camera Option
Most major camera manufacturers offer compact, “point-and-shoot” cameras that have been ruggedized; that is, they are waterproof (some to a depth of 10 meters or more), shockproof, dustproof, etc.

Image quality–depending on the manufacturer, sensor, and capture mode–can be quite good. Some models include a GPS sensor, and a few are available with WiFi connectivity so that photos can be uploaded to social media directly from the camera (when on a WiFi network, of course).

This release photo highlights the dorsal pattern on the bass and also subtly reminds viewers that catch and release can be a good thing.


The Camera You Already Carry
I shared a fishing photo with a family member recently and she said: “Wow! How did you get that photo?”

“Well,” I replied, “I stuck my phone under the water.”

That’s right. My phone. That thing I’m already carrying to navigate, call home with and check the weather on. It also has the advantage of allowing me to share photos in near real time.

I happen to use a Samsung Galaxy S7, which includes a surprisingly competent camera. But there are plenty of other water-resistant options out there, including the Apple iPhone 7, Sony Xperia XZ, Motorola Moto G4, Kyocera DuraForce XD and more.

Each of these phones sports an “IP,” or “international – or ingress — protection” rating, such as IP67 or IP68. The first number is the level of protection against solid objects, such as metal shavings or dust. The second number is the level of protection against moisture.

An IP rating of 7 (the second number) means that the device has been engineered to withstand submersion in 1 meter of still water for a minimum of 30 minutes. A rating of 8 (again, the second number) means the device can withstand submersion in more than 1 meter (the manufacturer must specify the depth, but usually it’s at least 9 feet).

For splashing along a river bed, wading a sandy flat or handling with wet hands, IP67 or IP68 is more than adequate.

Some folks – I’m one – are even comfortable sticking their phones under the water’s surface to capture underwater images.

For added protection, or to use a phone that is not otherwise ruggedized, consider a waterproof case. Many third-party manufacturers offer cases with protection levels also expressed in IP numbers.


This redbreast sunfish was captured twice: first by a foam spider, and then with a Samsung Galaxy S7.


Another underwater shot — this time a bluegill that fell to a super bugger.

A Few Tips for Fly Fishing Photos
If you are going to stick your phone (or any other camera) under the water, in general, make sure the flash is disabled. Even the clearest streams have plenty of small particles – not to mention air bubbles – suspended in them, and the light from the flash will bounce off all those tiny obstructions and you’ll be unhappy with the result most of the time.

Processing – whether you use Photoshop, Lightroom, Snapseed (my favorite) or some other application – can rectify any number of sins. That said, the better your original photo, the more options you have (and time you will save) later.

  • Pay attention to composition; in practice, this means try to make sure your horizon lines are straight, that you or more or less abiding by “the rule of thirds,” and your camera angle avoids any unnecessary clutter.
  • That said, don’t be afraid to experiment with unorthodox angles – they can impart a sense of action or fun to your photos.
  • Digital “zoom” is just cropping. You can do that when you process the photo, so there’s really no point in doing it in the camera. Try to get as close to your subject as your composition will allow and shoot at the lowest reasonable zoom setting.
  • If you are fishing solo, or your partner is hooked-up and too busy to play photographer, or you are juggling a wet fish, a fly rod, line and your footing, consider posing your fish with your rod and reel.
  • Avoid backlighting subjects – that is, put the sun over your shoulder if you can.
  • Wet fish are prettier than dry fish. Fish also need water to breathe, so it is generally a good idea to leave your fish in the water until you are ready to take a picture; at a minimum, re-wet the fish immediately before making the photograph.
  • If you are taking a photo of someone holding a fish (or a selfie), make sure you are supporting the animal’s body and return it quickly to the water.
  • No one wants to see a bloody fish.
  • Don’t forget scenic and “establishing” shots; after all, one of the reasons we chase fish with long rods is the attractiveness of the venue!
  • Likewise, macro or close-up shots can reveal beautiful details.

Though I own several digital SLR cameras and a handful of waterproof point-and-shoot cameras as well – and at one time in my life I published many photos in sporting magazines — I most often find myself making photographs with the device I’m already carrying for navigation, safety, and convenience. The fact that it takes pretty good pictures is a bonus.

And while I’m confident in my particular phone’s watertight integrity, I recently discovered the hard way that it doesn’t float. Add “insurance” to my list of recommendations…

Happy shooting!

Written by Aaron Reed

We have some roots in photography at AvidMax and we have a great selection of photo & travel gear to help you document your adventures. We hope through this article you can start taking more pictures and improve your images as well! Check out our selection here!

Aaron Reed is a native Texan who splits his time between the Gulf Coast and the Texas Hill Country. Now a commercial mariner, he previously worked as the news editor at the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and has written for a number of outdoor publications, including Kayak Angler, Texas Sporting Journal, Lone Star Outdoor News, and many more.

If you have something you are passionate about, you can write for us too! Each published article gets $50! Learn more on guest writing for us here.

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