Fly fishing rod

EXTERIOR: Fishography: A mix of fishing, photograph of a kayak | Opinion

I became addicted to kayak fishing over ten years ago.

My wife and I were paddling a lake in Obatanga Provincial Park in Ontario. I dragged a decoy to see what might happen.

A northern northern pike snapped the spoon. After a short, fiery fight, I released the fish next to the kayak. Kayak fishing has never freed me.

I probably started carrying a small digital camera on such kayaking trips on the same trip. In the years that followed, I made hundreds, if not thousands, of such trips, carrying fishing and photography gear.

I love the proximity to the water when I bring a bass to the boat and the bass is named after the splash it makes when it jumps next to me. I love when a bigger fish tows the kayak for a while. And I appreciate the craft’s ability to squeeze through grassy areas or through beds of wild rice to find lightly fished areas in sometimes heavily fished lakes.

I like to shoot as I go for similar reasons from a near water perspective and being able to enter areas that other photographers don’t frequent. What I’m doing might be called photografishing or fishography – a hybrid chase that might leave purists shaking their heads.

In recent years, I have worked more diligently on the photography part of the hybrid. I have been rewarded for this effort. If fishing is measured sometimes by the quality of the fish caught, sometimes by quantity and sometimes by experience, I have had more success with photography than with fishing this year.

The photos shared here are some of my “trophies” for most of this summer. I’ll go up my walls and I’ll be happy to tell the experience of taking it to anyone foolish enough to ask me.

I have photographed quite often along a small Upper Peninsula river near our Lake Superior cabin this summer. Often I get up before dawn to paddle down to the mouth of the river in the calm and light early morning in search of a family of eagles that I have observed for several years.

A few years ago, the adult pair abandoned a distant nest that was about 20 minutes upstream from the mouth for a newer nest where the river widens into a pond at the mouth. It’s similar to exiting the Big Sable River to Lake Michigan in Ludington State Park.

This year, the couple successfully raised two offspring. I have observed the young as soon as they glance out of the nest, to the branching stage when they perch on limbs beside the nest but are unable to fly, and later in the summer when they also took off.

Most of the time, an adult perches on a pile in the lake in front of the mouth of the river. There he scans the expanse of Whitefish Bay. There is no need to sneak up on it. At first it flew when I was out of photography range. A summer of kayakers – many more discovered the nest and many kayakers paddled alongside – made the eagles more comfortable with the kayaks. I find that if I get into position in a favorable wind and let the wind push me towards the perch, the eagle lets me get closer. It seems that the less movements I make when preparing to take a photo, the more comfortable the eagle is with me. The same is true for other wild animals.

I carry my camera in a dry bag, pulling it out as I approach where I want to shoot. I bought a refurbished Nikon D7500 for kayaking photography in part because the thought of accidentally dropping my larger camera body into the drink worried me. I have found it best to take out the camera and lens of my choice long before I reach the eagles or other wildlife that I hope to photograph.

When photographing eagles, birds, and other wildlife, I mount a 150-600mm zoom lens before I reach where I expect to find my subjects. I put the camera and lens hanging from my neck on my knees. The lens penetrates the open dry bag to keep it dry from drops falling from the paddles when I get into position. I shoot manually, so I choose my settings before I move, adjusting as needed when I shoot.

For kayaking wildlife, I typically use an ISO setting of 1600 or with a shutter speed of 1/1600 of a second or faster. The fast shutter speed reduces shaking and freezes the action – a problem with even small waves – and because birds and wildlife can move quickly. I also bring a mid-range 24-120 zoom lens for shooting landscapes.

As stated, like a hunter, I minimize movement, remain silent, and blend into the landscape as much as possible.

I start filming as I approach, slowly raising the camera to minimize movement. I try to focus on the eyes when possible. If the eye of a bird, bear, or insect is in focus, the image usually has a chance to make an impact. After a few shots, I float closer pushed by the wind or current. Sometimes the eagles let me pass under the nest without moving. Other times they fly before I can lift the camera. I’m sure gun hunters experience a similar reaction when hunting game or waterfowl.

I captured the image of the eagle with raised feathers drying out as I floated around a bend in the river, knowing that the adults had perched there the night before. When my brother and I floated next to them during the evening in the drizzle and the light too dim for photography, the couple perched did not move.

In the morning I came back ready to shoot and was rewarded.

The image of the swimming bear was taken upstream of the same river in a flooded area where I had photographed a moose grazing in the water a few years before. It was the only time I saw a moose there. For some reason I left confident that morning that I was going to photograph a moose or a bear. I remember thinking I was going to have a dual program – photograph a moose and a bear on the outing. You must have goals and dreams.

Well I ran into the bear swimming surprisingly fast through the flood as I was circling around a peninsula. I first saw its wake in the distance. At first I thought I saw a moose until I realized the antlers were not coming out of the water, but round black ears. This is the only time I have encountered a swimming bear and the first time in decades that I have seen one along the shore of this river. I hid behind a small brush island, pulled out the camera, and braced myself before paddling to where it looked like the bear was swimming. I didn’t paddle directly over it; rather I inclined towards its destination. The bear never changed direction. I was able to watch and photograph it from a safe for each of us for several minutes or more.

I had also dragged a Johnson’s Silver Minnow without weeds while paddling. The fishing rod was in a holder behind me. I found it strange that I hadn’t had a shot from at least one small northern pike so I checked my rod. The decoy hung at its end. I forgot to put it back in the water after seeing the bear for the first time.

Multitasking has its limits, I guess.

Steve Begnoche will display images taken of the kayak and more at its American Coot Photography booth at the Pentwater Fall Festival art fair next weekend.

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