This question haunts me virtually every time I am on the water. Like many of you, instead of counting sheep when I’m having trouble falling asleep, I close my eyes, drift away to the flats and think about casting to tailing fish. I love to fish and have ever since my dad and grandfather took me down to the lake to teach me how to cast my first closed-face Zebco spinning outfit. Since that time, things have changed a bit. Back then and for many years to follow, if a rod wasn’t in my hand, I wasn’t happy. Now, however, I love witnessing great bites, spectacular jumps and blistering runs, even if I’m not the one engaged in battle. But even when I’m rodless, I’m still fishing. The only difference is that instead of a rod, I choose a camera for the catching part of the sport. To me, freezing a moment in time with a still camera or capturing even a few seconds of good video makes me feel as though I’ve beaten the most educated, hard-fighting fish in the sea.
Years ago, while fishing in Guatemala, I had an epiphany that changed my view on sharing the deck. I was there to shoot a promotional video for the famed Casa Vieja Lodge. The idea was that I and Mark B. Hatter would alternate taking shots at sailfish and marlin. Hatter was up first, and as he often does, he hooked up to the first fish that came into casting range. As he worked to subdue the fish, I let the camera roll. After a quick release, I exchanged the camera for a 12-weight and stood at the ready. Like clockwork, another sailfish soon came into the spread. I made a cast, hooked up and smiled ear to ear as the fish tail-walked for what seemed like a solid minute. I can still remember my head swiveling back and forth, my eyes one second on the frenzied fish and then on the powered-down camera sitting just behind me. I knew that every time that fish leaped out of the water, that was one jump I wasn’t getting on film. It was killing me! On our final fishing day, I opted to ride along with a group of Casa Vieja clients just to shoot. We all stood on the deck as the captain and mates prepared, and the four buddies began reciting the rules for the day. “OK, if the fish tries to eat but misses the fly, you keep fishing. If it eats but you miss the hookup, your turn is over. If the fish doesn’t try to eat, you keep fishing.” To me, these rules were ridiculous, complicated and a recipe for a heated argument between close friends. But I kept my mouth shut and got my gear ready. Once we were on the grounds, the foursome stuck to their rules, but the thing that shocked me was that only the man with the rod in his hand remained on the deck. The others sat in the shade, sipped on water, napped or read a book. I realized right then and there that as long as a camera or a rod is in my hand, every fish is mine.
As much as I love shooting stills and video, I still find myself in quandary after quandary when it comes to choosing between rod and camera. With either, you have the ability to be a hero or a zero — both are fishing.