Posted by: Kirk Deeter
March 7, 2012

The Fifteen Second Rule


We all love to take photographs of the fish we catch. But do we spend enough time (or, perhaps more accurately, do we spend too much time) thinking about how we take those photos?

A catch-and-release angler can actually harm fish by handling them the wrong way, and that often involves taking pictures.

Put it this way… Imagine if you ran a 5-kilometer road race, and a few seconds after you crossed the finish line, somebody submerged your head in a bucket of water. That’s basically what happens when you hold a fish in the air, with their gills out of the water.

As a magazine editor, I know that a photo of half a fish doesn’t have nearly the cover appeal as that grip-and-grin shot.

But, as anglers, we can do three things that help the fish we photograph survive better. First, we can be more selective about how many photos we take. Do we really need to photograph every fish we catch? Of course not.

Second, we can take pictures of fish while they are still in the water. Those handy waterproof cameras work remarkably well, and you might be surprised by how interesting those images are. Some fish, particularly big ones like tarpon, do not belong out of the water at all.

Third, we should follow the fifteen second rule. I used to suggest that if you hold your breath as you hold a fish for a photo, as you feel uncomfortable, you can assume the fish do also. Well, some of the fish biologists I know say that may be too long. They suggest a 15 second limit– not 15 seconds per snapshot you take. Fifteen seconds total air time.

So have your camera ready before you lift the fish out of the water. And then take a great shot, and be done. Will you miss the “perfect shot” now and then? Sure. But you–and the other anglers you share the water with–will have more fish for photographing.

Kirk Deeter is the editor of TROUT, the national publication of Trout Unlimited, and an editor-at-large for Field & Stream.

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