Monday, May 19, 2008

Fishing photography

You have just finished an epic battle with the fish of a lifetime. Your mate takes out the camera and click, click a couple of pictures later, you release/bleed your trophy thinking it has been captured for future bragging rights.

By the time you get home and have a look at your photographic trophy you start to cry. The picture is dark, the detail is lost in shadow but the sky looks great.

This has to be one of the most common photographic mistakes made. The camera is fooled into thinking that everything is as bright as the sky and it does not compensate for the fact that your subject is in shadow.

Most people today use sophisticated point and shoot digital cameras with automatic metering. Some are using DSLR and some are shooting film. Whatever you are using unless you are schooled in photography you are probably taking picture in auto mode or some kind of program mode.

For the most part you will get decent pictures using these modes. The camera uses an averaging meter and auto focus, sounds a beep, you push the button, and you get a decent picture. Really quite impressive considering 20 years ago you had to take a class in photography just to get a picture that looked half way decent.

Taking pictures on the water presents a few hurdles for the auto mode cameras. The first problem being backlight and the second being reflected light. Both of these issues cause the camera to read the amount of available light on your subject as more than there really is. Your camera is seeing all the sky and water around your subject and averages that light with the light of your subject. The out come is your subject is dark but the sky looks great.

The easiest way to avoid this pitfall is to turn on the flash on your camera. Do not use the auto flash mode. Use the regular flash mode on you camera. Your flash acts as a fill for the shadow areas on your subject. This allows the sky and water to be exposed correctly and with the fill flash your subject looks good too.

The next problem that seems to plague a lot of point and shooters on the water is the horizon line. That bold line that separates the sea from the sky. For some reason when we get on a boat our sense of level seems to rock with the boat and many pictures have a skewed horizon line. That line usually cuts right through our pictures and becomes rather prominent. Like it or not the horizon is there to stay and the only way to remove it is get above or below your subject.

The best way to fix it without using Photoshop is to take one extra minute and look at the horizon before you take the picture. Once you have your subject framed and ready in the view finder then look past your subject and see the horizon, make sure it is fairly level then take your picture.

The last issue I will address will be your subject. One common mistake made is to include too much in you picture. The subject can get lost in all of the superfluous distractions that surround your subject. The best rule of thumb is “get close.” If you cannot get close then zoom in. Get rid of all the background distractions. Ask yourself what you are taking a picture of, the person with the fish or the back of the boat and the water and the fishing poles and the sky. If it is the person with the fish you are taking a picture then get rid of the rest of the background, as it is not needed.

With these few pointers you should see an improvement in your fishing photographs.

Trevally and Jacks in Fiji

The morning was calm. The clouds were not angry anymore and the sea was like molten glass. I could see blue sky and a small rainbow. I had a good feeling about this fishing trip, after all the last one ended with me being stung by a Sting Ray so anything would be better.

We set out with the electric trolling motor, just cruising along at a nice leisurely pace, Rosie and I casting poppers casually from side to side. We had a few lookers but no takers.

The water was a tinge of swimming pool blue and so clear you could see forever. We were slowly cruising over a series of coral heads in about 5 meters of water when Rosie looked down and saw a nice 2+ meter Bronze Whaler just lying on the bottom. With the most nonchalant flick of its tail it moved on and we resumed fishing.

We decided to skip our first fishing spot, a series of coral heads and rocks in a fast moving tide channel with a sandy bottom. Instead we went straight to another fishy spot where a small river comes to a little bay, known for holding nice Jacks and Trevally.
The water in this bay was a bit murky due to the rain and I was not having any luck with the poppers so I switched to a small dark X-Rap diver with loud rattles.

Rosie persisted with a small dark popper, and a really nice Trevally was the reward. After about a minute the fight ended with the front split ring being pulled straight. She upsized her popper and was back in the water in no time.

As we rounded the back of the bay my diver was absolutely smashed. The fight was dirty from the start, hard deep runs with a late run that made the drag scream in pain. Soon the telltale head thumps told me the fight was almost over. When we finally saw color, it proved why the fight was so good. A deep sided 4kg Trevally was netted and in the boat like clock work.

Things then quieted down for awhile. As we moved out of the bay, the water started to become clear again and we were fishing a deep drop off known for really big Trevally. I switched back to a popper and Rosie moved up to a 30lb spinning outfit. She was taking no chances of a bust off this time.

I was still bragging about my fish and not paying attention to my lure or retrieve when a nice little Emperor took my static lure for a run. These fish can fight. They were described to me by a friend as catching a freight train that wants to go home. This little fish proved it ten times over. Nevertheless, my braid proved victorious in the end.

A few minutes later and my popper was taken again by another nice Trevally. The water was so clear we watched the entire fight from take to finish. One of the bonuses of surface fishing.

We fished on a bit further but things got quiet. There was no surface activity and no bites so we decided to make our way back.
There was a lot of talking going on when all of a sudden off the back of the boat a huge Spanish mackerel launched itself into the air. We both stood there with our mouths open as this massive fish rocketed more that 5 meters into the air, turned around and shot straight back into the water.

If you have never seen this, let me tell you it is a remarkable sight. A big toothy grin and bold stripes gave away the species as well as the free jump.

Now, being a couple of true anglers Rosie and I immediately fire off a couple of casts. Within seconds the mackerel has launched itself out of the water again only this time it has my lure in it mouth. This is where all the years of experience comes into play, no steel leader and a small spinning reel, and a really big toothy fish, I am cut off before it even pulls tight. Luckily my little popper floats up right next to the boat and I retrieve it easily.

Rosie is undaunted by my ordeal and continues to cast out towards the general area. Within a couple of casts she has a massive strike that turns out to be a really big shark. She is still undaunted and continues to cast out there eventually enticing another massive strike from the shark. Now I think it has turned personal and she casts again followed by a white water explosion and as her line pulls tight and her rod loads up the shark proves that when fishing for toothy creature you need steel leader. With her popper now being worn as shark bling we get back to the business of fishing for obtainable fish.

On our way back we fish the little bay we started in. It starts out quiet so I switch to a diver in hopes of another Trevally. Rosie continues with a popper and after a few casts I hear the unmistakable boof of a Mangrove Jack. The fight is dirty by both parties. If you do not turn the Jack quickly you lose. She does it like a textbook fight and before long a beautiful Jack is in the boat.

A perfect end to a great day of fishing.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Fishing with sting rays

We had a break in the weather this afternoon so Rosie and I decided to go for a fish. The boat was dry as the tide was just starting to come in so we waded the flats for Trevally and Emperors. We started by fishing no more than 50-60 meters apart. A few minutes into fishing and I had a massive bow wave follow my little popper. Wow, the adrenalin goes from zero to 100% in less than a second. The wave came to with in 5 meters of me and then turns off to leave me wondering and wishing. A couple of casts later and no less than four Barracudas take turns jumping out of the water at my popper but to no avail. By now Rosie has moved on down the flats maybe 300 meters. A few more casts for me but no takers or lookers. As I am moving through the water about waist deep making a few blind casts I feel the unmistakable pain of a sting ray barb entering my ankle and the being removed very quickly. If you have never been stung by a salt water sting ray it is the most intense pain. Some injuries take a few second for you to feel them but not a sting ray. The pain is instant and unrelenting and with the prospect of the long walk back to the beach and then to my house it just got worse. Luckily Rosie saw me limping and decided to see what the matter with me was. We meet on shore where I took my shirt off and tied it around my ankle to stop the bleeding. Rosie took the gear and gave her shoulder for me to lean on, and almost cry on, due to the piercing pain that would not stop. We get back to the house and Rosie immediately puts the water on to boil and gives me a prescription pain killer. The boiling water is because the only thing to kill the poison is hot water or steam. The pain killer is for the pain. Luckily we have access to good pain killers and antibiotic because we live so far from anywhere. The trick with the sting is to keep it in hot water or steam for 90 minutes or until the pain stops. The trick with the pain killer is taking it first. Needless to say our fishing trip was cut very short and we caught squat.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Beginner popper fishing

Poppers are one of the most heart stopping, adrenalin pumping, and visually exciting forms of fishing there is.

Almost every type of fishing uses poppers from fly fishing to spinning, bait casters, trolling, and even hand lining, inshore, offshore, lakes, streams, rivers, and estuaries.

The variety of fish species that can be caught on poppers is only comparable to the shear number of lure styles. Poppers are possibly one of the most versatile lures you can have in you tackle box. They come in sizes as small as 1cm and as large as 30cm and every imaginable color scheme, from clear to reflective holographic scale like imagery.

The first step to using and being successful with poppers is to make the commitment to give it a go. I mean a real go. It may take awhile for you to break the popper code. Going out once and casting a popper around for 20-30 minutes and giving up because you did not catch anything is not going to cut it. You have to put in the hard time. I have taught many people to fish using poppers and not a single one caught a fish their first time out.

The saying “big bait big fish, small bait all fish” holds true. I started popper fishing with a 5cm Sure Catch. I bought them in every color I could find. I fished them every time I went out until I cracked the popper code and could catch fish consistently by changing colors and retrieves. Then I started to buy different kinds and sizes of poppers. I learned to read the bait fish for size and color. I also learned to change colors and retrieves with the weather.

It has been said that one fish on a popper is equal to seven fish caught almost any other way. The surface strike is one of the most exciting things to see. It can be compared to the thrill of switch baiting for large game fish. You see it all happen right in front of you. Once you catch your first fish on a popper you will be hooked.

For the sake of space I will assume you have an idea as to the kind of fish you want to catch. I will also assume that you have caught them before using other lures such as divers, soft plastics etc. If you have not then you will need to do some initial research before you try fishing with poppers.

I have found the Uni Knot to be one of the best and easiest to tie. You can leave a loop in it or pull it right down. It tests close to 100% in most applications. “The strength of the Uni-Knot isn’t diminished when the line is broken with a jerk,” Vic Dunaway. When taking big hits from Trevally you need that kind of insurance. I also use a lot of offshore snap swivels, makes it easy to change lures. I have only ever had 3-4 fail in many years of fishing. The Uni Knot also works with braid. I usually tie a Bimini Twist in my braid and then use a Double Uni Knot for my connection to the leader and then a Uni Knot to lure or snap. I have also found the action is not lessened much without a loop. That being said, if it is very calm and water is clear then I would usually go to a loop for presentation purposes.

The general rule is the darker the day the darker the color the brighter the day the lighter the color. I use the water color also, if the water is very green I lean towards a greener colored lure, brown water towards darker brown with loud rattles.

If you look at the front of a popper it has a cupped shape to it. When I say pop, I mean for you to pull that cupped face through the water with a rapid but smooth jerk using the rod tip or you can give a very quick turn of your reel. This action will make your popper go pop in the water and also throw a little splash out the front. Depending on the size of the popper as to how hard to pop it, also the style and type of fish you are chasing. If you have a lot of chop you will need to create a bigger pop so you can be seen and heard where as if you have a glassy day your pops do not have to be that big and aggressive.

The retrieve is one of the key elements to successful poppering. Different fish respond to different retrieves. I find Jacks and Emperors prefer a pop with a long pause followed by another pop and long pause. Sometime you will need to ad a little wiggle in if there is interest but no bite. When fishing for Trevally I use a rather steady pop and retrieve. If there are bites but no takers then I try a flat out retrieve, still nothing then long pauses and erratic retrieves.

Bream can be a bit tricky, as you need to place your cast spot on, usually under an overhanging branch or over the top of a partially sunken log or in the middle of some oyster racks. Let it sit for about the count of ten then start your retrieve one pop followed by a long pause and so on.

When fishing for Barramundi it is much the same as bream a slower retrieve and maybe a few wiggles added in for good measure.

As with all fish trial and error and matching the hatch. Sometimes the only thing working is a clear lure and other times it might be a black and orange one.

It is going to take practice to get the kinks worked out of your retrieve after all Rome was not built in a day. You will get the line wrapped around the rod tip, the hooks will be fouled, and even the occasional birds’ nest on a spinning reel is not unheard of.

Be sure you wind on the down stroke after you pop. Pay attention to your spool, if the line is getting slack on the spool make a long cast and wind back with out popping to get your line laid down tight. If you pop too hard you will find the lure jumps out of the water and will usually foul the hooks.

While you are still learning go slow and expect to have many foul-ups. It is a new style of fishing for most and will take time to get it right.

In no time at all the thrill of your popper disappearing in a sudden explosion of foamy water will have you hooked and coming back for more.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Bluefins in Fiji

The latest update from Fiji. We had a break in the weather and decided to go fishing. Low tide at about 1pm so we thought we would head out at about 9am and fish the falling tide. We are not 5 min out and my brother, who has had a run of bad luck lately, hooks a lovely Bluefin Trevally on 15lb braid. Boy can they put up a fight. Not nearly as dirty as the GT’s, it is more of a mid water fight lots of high powered runs until exhaustion sets in. Right after that fish the wind kicked up but we fished on to no avail. One or two lookers but no takers. On our way home the wind died and the bay flattened out for a beautiful, if not very fishy end.

Fishing with visitors

Most people who come and visit us whether from Fiji or from overseas eventually want to try their luck/skill at fishing. Partly because we are right on the water and partly because they end up seeing lots of fish pictures here at home.

That being said we have a visitor staying with us for a week, Rosie’s cousin Helen. She lives in Pacific Harbour, outside of Suva. She has done a little bit of fishing before and of course with in a day she is asking to go fishing.

With the weather being up and down, blowing 30+knots then dead calm we had to jump on any window of opportunity. That window happened to be today at 12 noon, falling tide, no rain partly cloudy and a little breeze out of the NW.

With three anglers in our boat and only 14FT long, things can get interesting even with experienced people. When you throw a beginner in it gets really interesting and a bit dangerous. Being the adventurous type and a bit gullible I said ok, lets go.

With that comment I end up in the middle, Rosie at the rear and Helen in the front. After a bit of instruction and a few close calls with a pair of treble hooks we are off and fishing.

Not more than 10 minutes and I am on to my first fish, a nice perch that was almost lost to a really nice black tip shark. Needless to say the perch did a bit of water skiing and a quick lift into the boat.

I am feeling a bit smug after all of my instructions to our beginner, so it is right back in the water hoping for number two. After another 30 minutes of what I call casting practice and not a bite, it’s time to try another spot.

As we are cruising along using the electric, casts going in all directions and non stop chatter about previous fishing exploits Helen and I hear the unmistakable sound of Rosie’s drag screaming. We retrieve our lines and I get the net ready, stand back and watch the ensuing fight. After a few minutes we see color and soon after a really nice 4.2kg Trevally is in the net.

Now I am not feeling so smug anymore but there is still time for my spectacular come back. A few pictures and we are all back to fishing. Of course there is a giant smile at the back of the boat and now there is chatter about a very recent fish.

Within 5 minutes Helen and I hear that familiar sound of Rosie’s drag screaming. This time it is a much better fish and a really good fight. Lots of hard deep runs and plenty of head shakes. Maybe 5minutes later a 5+kg and very healthy Trevally gets netted and the smile at the back of the boat gets bigger.

With my smugness gone and a few line tangles later Rosie lands a nice little jack and I am at a loss for words. It is time to head back, after all we have been fishing for almost two hours and I can’t take much more of this. I try to tell myself I am just having and off day but this is my third trip in a row with not much to speak of. Such is the life of a fisherman.

Normally we eat our fish whole unless they are very big. This time it is decided that one of the Trevally is going to be filleted so we can have sashimi. If you have never had Trevally sashimi you are missing out.

Clean up you fillet nicely and take one half on one fillet and slice it thinly. Spread out on a cookie sheet and chill in freezer for 1 to 2 hours then serve with wasabi and soy sauce, rice or crackers and don’t forget the beer or in our case a nice vodka on ice. Now you’re living the good life and I almost forgot I didn’t catch it.

You never know what you will catch

When fishing in the tropics you never really know what you will catch. You can target a specific species of fish but there will always be other takers. This day would prove that.

The plan had been set, we would fish the falling tide until the low at 10AM. We would be on the water at 7AM. This time of year the sun is just clearing Taviuni Island at 7AM and the sky was clear blue with absolutely no breeze. With coffee in hand and gear ready we head out for the morning.

With the electric in the water, Rosie at the rear and myself in front we were off and fishing. Shallow divers and poppers were the lures of choice for the day. First spot would hopefully produce a few good size Emperors. After about 20min I pulled the first fish, a nice little Jack, from his hiding place under a coral head on a 10cm green diver.

We were being pushed along by the falling tide at a pretty good pace, so I used the electric to slow us down so we could work the surrounding coral heads. Another 30 min or so saw a few small cods but nothing to brag about and no Emperors.

A quick meeting of the minds and we decided to move to another favorite spot known to produce drag testing Trevally and freight train Jacks. Another 30 min go by and not even a looker. Otherwise known as casting practice. Next spot is known for some delicious Coral Trout and the odd Jack, lots of sharp coral and rock hiding spots and only a meter deep.

I am busy flicking a shallow diver over the coral while Rosie decides to put a large Chug Bug popper on and take a few casts out over the drop off. With in seconds the water explodes and I hear the oh so lovely sound of her drag screaming. I get my line in and try to give chase with the electric motor but after only 30 seconds it is all over. The GT made it to his home turf and Rosie was left with coral cut braid and a look of bewilderment. After a quick retie we decide to head to a point known for big GT’s.

On the way to the next spot I am casually asked, “Do you think there are any big fish in this deep section?” As I am about to answer with some sophisticated, analytical and philosophical response about fish habits and the largeness of the ocean, the water explodes not 10meters from the boat followed but the unmistakable sound of braid breaking under extreme tension. I turn to see a GT at least a meter long swim away and I am sure he had a smile on his face. As Rosie reels in her limp braid, a quick examination shows the braid double had been cut, more than likely by the scutes on the tail wrist of the GT. Another retie and we are at our next spot.

I had just finished saying how not to cast over the coral edge because the GT’s will swim straight down and break you off, when I saw some bait getting busted up on the surface. What do I do? Cast over the coral edge and get busted up by a GT swimming straight down. Now I deserved that and I was kicking myself for such a stupid move and finishing up another retie when I hear another surface explosion and screaming drag from the back of the boat. As I look up Rosie yells out that there’s a shark and as I see it I realize she is not hooked to the shark but it is going for her fish. After 2 bust offs there is no way she is loosing this one to a shark. Her fish heads straight down and luckily the shark goes the other way. After a decent fight Rosie calls out that her fish is a Spanish mackerel and I had better not drop it. I get it on board and after a round of high fives I let her deal with the prep, as we are keeping this one for the table.

Now it is my turn, the bait is still getting busted up and I am rigged and ready. First cast only lookers, second cast and the typical surface explosion and screaming drag. A good 5 min fight and we boat a nice GT. Not long after the bait disappear as well as the predators.

No complaints from us as it is now 10am and we head home both smiling and with a feed on board.

The gear we use is Cabalas Salt Striker graphite rods, Shimano Symetre 4000FI reel spooled with P-Line 15lb braid, 40lb MOMI leader. I replace all hardware on the lures with heavy duty split ring and VMC 4X saltwater trebles. The boat is a 14ft tinny with a Minn Kota 55lb autopilot electric.
We live in Fiji on the Island of Vanua Levu. We are about 62km from the nearest town and are situated on Fawn Harbour inside the barrier reef.