A #keepemslimy photo essay
Since Erin Block's piece a year ago in Trout Magazine, the flyfishing community’s conversation on the negative impact of grip-and-grin photos has grown louder. The Internet has been saturated with pictures of exhausted fish held high and dry for your viewing pleasure for too long. And the #keepemwet backlash continues. In Germany, catch-and-release is illegal for being inhumane. The debate we're having can lead toward a similar outcome in the U.S., unless we get our shit together.
One of the first things I discuss with clients is what we’re going to do when they catch fish. While they’re bringing the fish in, I’m prepping the net, putting the landing glove on their seat, and getting the camera ready.
I net the fish, reminding them to put the landing glove on while I’m removing the hook. The client pulls the wet fish out of the net, says cheese, and moments later, it’s swimming away. The whole process takes about 10 to 15 seconds, tops.
The key is we’re working as a team, we have a plan, and we know what steps we’re going to take in those moments between when the fish is landed and released.
By “keeping ’em wet” through the process and limiting handling time, those dry, leathery, brink-of-death fish photos can—and should be—eliminated from the mix.
Shallow Water Expeditions' film Out of Touch hits the F3T with overstuffed reds and a special alert
Outdoor photographers fight Forest Service for First Amendment rights
Sketch a line around the pristine and safeguard its natural integrity against human missteps and, in a nutshell, you have the foundational elements for wilderness. In 1964, Congress staked those perimeters with a Wilderness Act designed to preserve millions of acres in perpetuity.
From Montana’s Bob Marshall to Pennsylvania’s Allegheny, we can thank the act for allowing us to explore uncut forests and untamed rivers. Just don’t snap that selfie and sell it. At least not without forking over a wad to the man.
Last fall, First Amendment advocates blasted the U.S. Forest Service for its plan to charge up to $1,500 for commercial filming and photography permits in federally designated wilderness areas. “Good luck, come find me,” was the response of many in the business, including freelance photographer Tim Romano, who alongside groups like the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA) said the rules ignored essential press freedoms.
“By showing these places in a good light, we’re showing people what’s out there,” Romano says. “Even if I was to portray something the feds considered ‘not in a good light’ it’s still within my First Amendment rights. I’m legally allowed to take a photo anywhere in a public space and sell it for money, why would a national park be different?”
The service, on the other hand, argued that its proposal merely aligned with the Wilderness Act’s mandate to protect the sacred and holy from commercial profiteering and exploitation, and that these types of rules are nothing new.
But therein lies the problem. The laws of the wilds have become a little creaky.
Sure, the 1964 Wilderness Act has prohibited commercial enterprise in wilderness areas from the get-go. But our understanding of “commercial use” has evolved during the time between now and an era when The Beatles still had groupies. Today, everyone who pecks emoticons into iPhones or Samsung Galaxys, by default, packs a camera that shoots decent stills and video. Many manufacturers in the outdoors industry, including flyfishing companies, take advantage of that user-generated content to sell product. Therefore, defining “commercial use” has become an increasingly knotty prospect.
This much, however, is clear: “Nobody wants to see full-scale big budget commercial shoots at every national park location or scenic spot, it would be a free for all,” says freelance photographer Bryan Gregson, whose portfolio includes beyond-the-studio editorial and commercial work. “In this day and age when everyone’s second job is a weekend photographer, my vote is always for the common-sense approach.”
Sensible observers, too, might recognize uncommon cases between, say, shooting a casting sequence and the chaos of capturing a F150 throwdown deep inside the Hoh rainforest. And leave it to a Texas Republican and America’s preeminent outdoor photographer to make that posthumous point.
The unlikely marriage of outgoing Rep. Steve Stockman to a deceased wilderness defender came to fruition earlier this month, with the introduction of the Ansel Adams Act—a last-ditch bill with the lofty goal of protecting constitutional rights. Stockman, who was saying adios after a failed U.S. Senate run, left knowing his bill lacked teeth. But thanks to media professionals across the country rallying behind its message, the act that bears Ansel Adams’ name is gaining traction beyond the trash bin.
The legislation would prohibit photography permits or fees on federal lands. It also would enable federal agencies to obtain court orders to prevent photography in specific cases that might be deemed a threat to national security. “Future ‘Ansel Adams’,” the bill states, “must not have their paths blocked, regulated, and made more expensive with fees and fines, or be threatened with arrest and seizure of their equipment.”
Montana-based freelance photographer and POMA board member Tony Bynum calls that kind of language refreshing.
“We’ve been muddling in the regulations and dealing with the administrative bureaucracy for a long time,” he says. “At this point we can just lay down and get run-over when it comes to freedom of the press for the media. Or, instead, we can support this kind of legislation because I’d hate to be ‘breaking the law’ if I’m on public land trying to take a simple picture.”
Yuletide means Gift Guide, so without further ado welcome to The Drake's Annual Holiday Shopper, 2014—a full assortment of staff-curated picks to wow the flyfisher in your family.
Book: Crazy Sh*t Bamboo Fly-Rodders Say
You may not know the subtle differences between a Leonard, Jenkins, Sweetgrass, or Suzuki, but don't you wonder what the ones who do say to each other? Now you can with this classic book. $15, woodpolepublishing.com
Made entirely from the pounded and drawn flesh of rapacious invasive rodents, this trail-worthy dried meat product "rivals squirrel" in taste and texture and doubles as a weight-loss product "mostly because it rivals squirrel." $15/6 oz. packet, go4guts.com
Untangle your mind and open your wallets to the function and zen-comfort of Tenkara® Knickers. Woven on state-of-the-art spool-less mills, .5-layer Gore-Tex® knickers leak less and chafe a little. $250, tenkaraknickers.com
Assorted John Barr-Like Flies Tied by Guys Not Named John Barr
Featuring: Jasper Flannigan's "Whistling Meat"; Stephen Hill's "Hump Luster"; and Gill Winslow's "Copper Joey". $75, johnbarrlikeflies.com
Getaway: St. Brandon’s with “Dog”
Combine street smarts, romance, teamwork, and a philosophy of hope and second chance, while casting alongside reality TV sensation (and anti-sunscreen advocate), Duane “the Dog” Chapman. $15,000, bountyhunterbonefishing.com
Spread joy to the flyfisher in your life with comfort meets salmon. SockeyeSocks® are warmer than wool, while natural oils grease wader internals for easy on/off applications. $38, slipperyfishsocks.com
Ken Morrish spent two months staring at a grasshopper he’d pinned to a block of wood. He alternated holding first the real thing and then his fly pattern against the light. His decision: The only way to duplicate a hopper’s unusual shape was with foam.
“I backed into the fly,” said the 47-year-old trip planner, angler and photographer from Ashland, Oregon. “It was shape first and choose the materials second. Fortunately my hoppers have turned into my best sellers and supplied me a good identity.”
Modern vernacular labels Morrish as a “signature/contract/royalty fly tyer.” Offering commissions from revenues generated by annual sales of their patterns is how giant commercial fly providers/importers like Umpqua Feather Merchants, Montana Fly Company, Orvis and Spirit River attract creative Morrish-like fly designers to their stables.
Around our household the popularity of tan, green, pink, yellow and black Morrish Hoppers in sizes 6-14 is soaring. My wife, Jean, raves about Ken’s hoppers for both her personal and guided fishing. Several years ago she couldn’t wait to introduce this hopper revelation to me.
Some of my notable fly discoveries, much like Jean’s, come from prowling many fly bins. On-the-water results are far more important to a “professional fly buyer” such as myself than suffering lackluster creations from great self-promoters.
Discovery in a bin
Around 2001 the handful of lustrous size 12 green nymphs with black bead heads from an old High Country Flies bin was my introduction to the talented inner workings of the Morrish mind. In our Snake River system, prevalent Hydropsychidae caddis make excellent producers of green nymph patterns such as a Zug Bug, Prince and Peeking Caddis. Everywhere I plopped one of Ken’s green Dirty Bird nymphs, something with spots was in an eating mood.
Shortly thereafter, longtime fishing pal and talented fly tyer Joe Burke, suggested I try one of the “new brown sculpin patterns named for some guy.” Soon Morrish Sculpins in olive, spinach (dark olive) and brown proved advantageous for late fall browns, cutthroat and rainbows on local and Idaho portions of the Snake and for lake trout as well.
Pleased with Ken’s sculpin imitation’s quick sinking, hook-up jiggy action and heavy wire hook, I wanted them to investigate larger southern Argentine rivers with Rance Rathie’s and Travis Smith’s Patagonia River Guides in December 2007. Presented on either floating or 200-grain sink tips, Morrish Sculpins delighted big Southern Hemisphere trout.
My support of the pale belly, dark back Moorish Sculpin has been continuous but minor compared with the enthusiasm it gets from vocal local wild trout defender and lake trout hunter Peter Moyer. In recent years he has triumphantly amped his sinking line skulduggery from once puny intermediate-tip lines to 525-grain behemoths that drag his navy of brown and olive Morrish Sculpins to depths beyond the view of his kick boat’s sonar system. Imagine when Peter discovers Ken’s latest black-and-white streamer — said to be in Umpqua’s future pattern department.
The mention of Umpqua Feather Merchants requires a Morrish history update. If there were fly-tying child prodigies like in music, Morrish was Juilliard quality at age 12. A product of the Diablo Valley Flyfishers club youth program, he had additional motivation from Andy Puyans, whose Creative Sports Enterprises was considered one of West Coast fly tying’s holy grails.
“We were little fly tying mercenaries, locked in rooms at West Yellowstone (Federation of Fly Fishers Conclave headquarters) and told to produce.”
Morrish’s father and grandfather were well-known Nor-Cal fly anglers, and his attendance at Lewis and Clark during college years forced him to become involved with anadromous fishing. Obviously this led to a life of guiding, fly fishing retail and continuous lonesome travels involving coastal streams of Oregon, Washington, Alaska and British Columbia.
Years of writing outdoor columns and magazine pieces has brought me in contact with a wide range of anglers, hunters, outdoorsmen and talented fly tyers. Morrish ranks with the thoroughly unique ones due to his many abilities, or perhaps quirks.
For instance, in attempting to track down the mercurial madman behind the Dirty Bird and the Morrish Sculpin, I began stumbling over stunning wildlife and fishing photos by Ken Morrish. Lo and behold, the guy, along with his partner Brian Gies, owns Flywater Travel in Ashland, Oregon. While running down giant B.C. steelhead, Bolivian golden dorado or massive Russian Atlantic salmon, Morrish finds time to click off a few breathtakers before swimming for his life. He’s a self-taught photographer who doesn’t have time to pursue the job except occasionally.
Insiders report his fly tying addiction became such a problem that in order to preserve domestic tranquility, the operation took a forced exit to a backyard cabin Ken straightens only when he can’t find his tying vise.
Ken’s contract fly tying began with Idylwilde Flies, and he soon became the company’s leading sales producer. In 2000 the Dirty Bird, a modernization of Cal Bird’s popular Birds Nest, was his first royalty fly in hare’s ear, olive and rust bodies.
“People don’t buy it like I think they should,” Ken lamented during our recent several-hour conversation. “Were I to have one fly to fish for trout forever, that’s what it would be,” he said.
My Dirty Bird experience tends to agree with Ken’s pattern assessment. But from September on, a brown or spinach sculpin might complicate the choice.
Travel inspires fly designs
Fortunately when Idylwilde went under (Morrish flies are still visible on the website), Umpqua Feather Merchants bought the Idylwilde facility. Happily they added Morrish to their expert staff, and he didn’t have to re-create pattern information or tying instructions, which he says he couldn’t have found time to do.
“Trout tying is the contact fly market,” Ken said. That puts his lifetime dedication to anadromous fishing at a slight disadvantage. “You really don’t see many fishing for steelhead with hoppers,” he said.
But because Morrish can get to so many fishing destinations through Flywater Travel, before each expedition he devotes thought to engineering a new fly with great fishability.
An inveterate wader, the man never has owned a boat.
“I’d rather hike, watch and bushwhack, and I know that I still fish too fast,” he said.
“The physical challenge of landing big fish on very light tackle is where my joy of fishing originates.” That’s how he came up with the newly popular Morrish Mouse.
“I get to go on great trips,” he said. “I heard that on the Kamchatka Peninsula in far eastern Russia, the big rainbows love mice. Most mouse flies are cute but not practical to fish for a very long. Mine is a threestep fly with a back, a tail and a big profile of minimal mass that swims forever and can be cast on a light rod (5-weight).”
Morrish and Gies opened Flywater Travel in 1999. They offer clients more than 150 destinations, but as one might expect, Morrish specializes in British Columbia and other challenging sea-run fishing locations as well as South America, Mexico, Russia and the South Pacific for bonefish.
As with his flies, Morrish also undersells travel. Providing the proper service is more important to their 10 employees than making a commission.
“We’ve actually unsold trips upon realizing customers weren’t scheduled for places that suited their expectations,” he said.
Ken visited the Jackson One Fly event two years ago. This week he has other commitments. I’d hoped to see him again, but until then I’ll be satisfied pitching his flies and waiting for Umpqua to get the black and white sculpin to a fly bin nearby.
[This article first appeared in the Jackson Hole News & Guide. —ed.]
Forensic science identifies Colorado’s true state fish
The story of Colorado’s official state fish, the greenback cutthroat, would make one hell of an episode of CSI Trout. As it turns out, about half of the fish that scientists had been calling greenbacks actually have genes more similar to the Colorado Cutthroat subspecies.
The discovery was the work of Jessica Metcalf, a young researcher from the University of Colorado, who used DNA testing and tissue samples from the 1850s to identify the genetic fingerprint of “purebred” greenbacks. About two years ago, Metcalf’s findings ignited an international “Trout-Gate” within the scientific community. Up until that point, greenback cutthroat recovery had been considered a hallmark achievement. The species was thought to be extinct in 1937. But biologists were boasting the existence of 20 self-sustaining populations in the state, and those fish were about to be removed from the Endangered Species Act.
Metcalf’s research, however, blew that science out of the water: It proved that greenbacks existed in only one small stream—Bear Creek, a tributary of the Arkansas River—and that the population was less than 1,000. I recently caught up with Metcalf and Kevin Rogers, head Aquatic Researcher for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Both are currently working on projects to repopulate Colorado’s true state fish. Here’s what they had to say.
Help me sort out the confusion between Greenback cutthroat, and what you’re actually stocking here today at Zimmerman Lake, the Bear Creek cutthroat, right?
Right, that’s kind of the challenge. We thought historically that we had three subspecies of cutthroat trout in the state. We had greenbacks on the east side, Colorado River cutthroat on the west, and Rio Grande cutthroat in the San Luis Valley on down into New Mexico. But Jessica showed with her work that we have actually six different lineages.
One of those is the yellow fin cutthroat that’s thought to be endemic to Twin Lakes. It grew up to 10 pounds—an awesome fish! It was discovered in 1885, but it was basically pronounced extinct in 1903.
But on the Front Range, Jessica found that these fish in the South Platte Basin were in fact like the Bear Creek cutthroats. So the fish we thought were greenbacks actually were not. They were fish stocked from the Western Slope, from either Trappers Lake or Grand Mesa.
So these fish in Bear Creek are thought to be the only cutthroat trout native to the East Slope, so technically they’re Colorado’s state fish—the last remaining greenbacks?
Yes, what was there [South Platte Basin] historically was this fish that looks like the Bear Creek fish. So if you assume that the native of the South Platte Basin was supposed to be the greenback cutthroat trout, then these Bear Creek fish are really heir to the title.
How large does the Bear Creek cutthroat get?
They only get about 10 to 12 inches long in Bear Creek, but I suspect they will get larger in Zimmerman. Most of our native cutts live 6 to 10 years, but that fact is, we just don't have much experience yet with the Bear Creek fish. I guess we'll find out.
And they’re dangerously close to extinction?
Yes, there’s only one population, and there are only about 800 individuals in the wild. Obviously we’re concerned about replicating that population so we can preserve that diversity for future generations.
So now we’ve taken spawn from the wild and brought that into our hatchery system. The eggs are split into two locations, our Poudre River hatchery and also down at the National Fish Hatchery in Leadville. We divide them up so that if something bad happens, we don’t have all of our eggs in one basket.
[Troy Hawks is a public relations, communications, and content consultant with clients that include Colorado Ski Country USA, Snowsports Industries America, National Ski Patrol, Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month, and Ski Nation. He writes freelance articles from his home in Denver, Colorado. Follow him on Twitter via @HawksSquawk]
In the mid-’90s I was doing programs for the Canadian Sportsmen's Show in Vancouver B.C. The event was at B.C. Place Stadium and I stayed in The Georgian Court Hotel across the street.
At that time, the hotel was home to many actors that came to “Hollywood North” for filming. Robin Williams was there and happened to see one of my televised demonstrations. Turned out he was interested in flyfishing and needed some pointers before heading to Alaska. He wanted to learn how to throw a shooting-head with a floating running line. The “Teeny Tip” as it’s called in the business. He contacted the show and asked if I could give him a private demonstration.
Robin had a free morning from filming and we met early before the show opened. He was shy, calm, and small in stature, and once inside the stadium, we started working on his casting at the pond.
Surprisingly, he was quite good. As the show floors started to fill a few people began milling around. He suggested that he might want to make a quick exit if it got too hectic. But he wanted to make a few more casts before he left.
I showed him that a pull or “haul” in flyfishing lingo would add another 10 feet or more to the cast. He was ready to try it. The casting pool had a barrier to protect people from getting hit by the line. Robin let go a cast that went beyond the barrier and hit a biker chick right in the chest as she was walking up the aisle with her boyfriend.
The biker guy was right out of central casting. He was huge, and wore chains and tattoos and leather pants. The girlfriend let out a yell as the line drilled her. As they looked up to see us standing on the casting platform, Robin handed me the rod and stuck his hands in his pockets.
The biker ran down the middle of the pool, water splashing, and heading directly at me. Within a few feet of punching my lights out, he looked up and saw Robin.
“Robin Williams,” he yelled, “you are my hero!” The furious girlfriend demanded that punishment be given to the man holding the rod, me. But within a few minutes there was a crowd and Robin was entertaining everyone.
Security whisked me away and all was forgotten. A couple of nights later, I was having my end of the show dinner and a bottle of champagne showed up with a note from Robin.
It read: “Thanks for the lesson, I now know the Harley-Davidson cast.”
At some point in every young angler’s life, you’ll have to sit them down and have “the hex talk.” Conversation timing completely depends on the person. Some may not be ready, some will, and others are already experimenting with hex—without you even knowing.
Here are a few key points to remember when it’s time for that all-important heart to heart, considering a lot of what’s portrayed in the media is not real:
1) You don’t just go out and immediately start having hex. The hatch bounces around, and a stretch of river that was blowing up with bugs one day won’t fish well the next.
2) Every hookup isn’t going to be with a trophy. Don’t feel bad about lowering your standards at times.
3) Just because every fish in the river is up and eating on the surface, doesn’t mean you’re going to score. You still need to spit a little game in the form of a well-timed drag-free drift.
4) Bring a wingman. Doing it in the dark is a team sport—especially if you're in a boat. Good positioning is essential. Your wingman needs to be hyper-aware, focused on opportunities. And the guy on the rod needs to perform.
5) When it’s good, it’s addicting. Make sure they know their decisions can have lifelong consequences.
Finally, once you’ve had the talk, accept the fact that new anglers are going to be the ones making these decisions on their own. As much as you might want to, you can no longer control or dictate their actions.
And I already know what you’re thinking, If I sit down and talk hex with them, won’t that just make them want to do it more? Absolutely.
Quebec-based graphic artist Mathieu Laroche—aka, Matel—has worked with brands such as Volcom, Rome, and Spy, lending his street-inspired art to everything from snowboard designs to accessories and streetwear. His latest “Reel Art” collection stems from trout, Atlantic salmon, and striper hankerings, and was prompted by close friends seeking reels with a one-of-a-kind look.
“The project came about randomly,” the 33 year old says. “We wanted to customize our reels and did it with the help of friend Martin Gravel, who distributes TFO in Quebec."
Gravel provided the blank-slate reels and Matel went to work on their transformations, washing them in vibrant colors and adding intricate "Aqua" and "Topographic" accents to the spools and frames. Like all his works, mediums vary: from spray paint to acrylic to ink to marker. “Anything I can find to achieve the results I’m looking for.”
[For more of Matel’s animated POV, check out mrmatel.com and IFOUND—a brotherly brand focused on shred accessories, with some flyfishing flavor in the mix. Matel's Morgan Bridge Gallery is based in Quebec City and includes works from emergent and underground artists from across the province.]
Utah-based photographer Jay Morr can often be found with his lens slipping back and forth between separate universes. The first is familiar. It’s places with trout, drift boats, requisite dudes looking dude-ish, and the awesome esthetics of the West’s best waters.
But Morr’s alternate reality, I hate to say it, looks even better. Musicians. Models. And did I mention, models? Between flyfishing and portraiture work, Mr. Morr and his shutterfinger are working full-throttle these days.
The result is a collision of inspired images that are hard to ignore. Here’s the scoop.
The Drake: Tell us about yourself, Mr. Jay Morr.
Jay Morr: Growing up, my folks put a huge emphasis on the arts and gave me every opportunity to learn and excel at it. I decided to get involved in my high-school photography program. My Father was quick to offer up his Minolta camera body for the cause.
After graduation I quickly realized that renting lab time and purchasing quality film was really expensive. I was more into buying flyfishing gear with the little money I made. When digital first hit the scene I ended up buying my first point-and-shoot. It was a 3.2 megapixel and I started taking bug shots and photos of my fly patterns. Digital changed the game and the rest is history.
The Drake: You say on your site: “I believe that imagery is therapeutic to the soul, can inspire the uninspired, and can save the lost. I know it to be true, because it has on all accounts done this for me.”
How has photography shaped you as a person?
JM: That quote pretty much sums it up for me. Photography has given me an immediate outlet to express how I feel and has become an extension of who I am as a person, an artist, and someone who loves to huck [flies]. Hopefully it inspires others to do the same. Sharing my imagery has given me great opportunities to meet people from all over, and I appreciate the relationships I’ve made beyond the shutter click.
The Drake: Actors, models, musicians… flyfishers. Which one of these doesn’t belong?
JM: That's pretty damn funny. There are a lot of photographers that only shoot a certain style or genre. People often assume that if a guy holding a camera can take a kick ass photo of a fish then they must be able to photograph a wedding, a pin-up, or can shoot product. I’m inspired by being able to photograph any subject and at a high level. It takes a lot of dedication, patience, and time.
It was flyfishing work that helped me land my first wedding gig. At the time I was thinking of the money and the new fishing gear I could buy. Shit got real when I was photographing a moment that could only be captured once and the client was paying a good sum of cash to make sure I nailed it.
The Drake: What’s the key, in your opinion, to staying fresh and standing out from the standard?
JM: I’ve always felt that true professionals set themselves apart by offering something unique. The proof is in the imagery. The way I stay fresh is by focusing on my own work and not getting caught up in what someone else is doing. I bully myself, look to improve my own game, and bounce my ideas off a great group of people I trust and respect. Being progressive is demanding and it requires relentless dedication. I can look back at my portfolio and see that progression. What I photographed last year was the best I could produce last year; it may be a ‘throwaway’ today.
The Drake: Where do you concentrate your fishing/shooting efforts… and what kind of esthetic floats your boat?
JM: I love any time on the water. Living in Utah, I’m surrounded by great options. I’m 3 hours from the Green, about 20 minutes away from several blue ribbon fisheries, and heading north I can be in Idaho or Montana in just a few hours. I feel very fortunate. Ideally I love heading out-of-state each year because I get more time to photograph certain things that are on my radar.
The Drake: What clients are you shooting with today, and what are your photo inspirations on—and off—the water?
JM: I share studio space with a couple other photographers. I spend most of my weeknights and weekends photographing full time. I’ve never been motivated by print. The amount of time it takes to send images to editors a certain way in order to meet submission guidelines is not something I have time to do. And I think there’s a misconception that print pays and also that by being in print a photographer is ‘killin’ it.’ Although it may not be as cool as landing on the cover of The Drake, the bulk of my work and client list consists of shooting portraits, models, weddings, product, and events.
The Drake: Last thoughts?
JM: Hmmmm… Rasta vibes. Nikon. Support stream access. Huck meat. Hot models. And turn the dial to "P".
See more at, jaymorrphotography.com