It is not very often that I get on my soap box but a recent set of events compelled me to put this piece together on basic fish care. Now I am not talking about how good your unhooking mat or cradle is, or how good your sling is, but how to minimise the amount of time that your capture is out of the water.
The recent set of events that sparked me into life is not a stand alone incident and I see similar practice on a regular basis. The sequence of events that I saw were from a sponsored angler who very quickly had a photo of the carp on the mat on Facebook. I do not know at what point in the proceedings this was done but what I saw went along these lines.
The fish was caught and put on the mat/cradle. The angler then went to get his weigh sling, took it to the water to wet it up then took this to the mat. He then went to his bivvy to get his scales, took them to the mat and adjusted them to zero with the weight of the wet sling. All this occurred whilst the fish was on out of the water and on the mat. The fish was then weighed and put into the edge in the retainer.
For me this practice leaves the fish unattended for too long on the mat or in the cradle. I will stick my neck out here and say that this is one of the reasons I am not a fan of cradles. They almost provide a false sense of security and encourage anglers to leave the fish in the cradle unattended whilst they are off fetching other bits and pieces. I think they have a place and are good for the inexperienced angler, but they should not be seen as a safe pair of hands watching over the fish whilst rummaging around in the bivvy for other bits of tackle.
Since first starting this piece, I witnessed exactly the same set of circumstances on another water with an angler and friend on standby to lend a hand. After another member yelled across the lake for the fish to be kept in the water, the helpful friend lifted the fish up from the mat in the net and what can only be described as dipped the fish in the margins that were only inches deep!! It really does beggar belief. When later questioned it transpired that they had chest waders with them and all other necessary kit. But between the two of them, they landed the fish without getting in the water to a decent depth and then left the fish unattended on the mat whilst they were rummaging around for slings, scales and camera.
My approach for every capture is simple. Once safely engulfed in the net, leave the fish at the waters edge in the net until you have sorted everything out on the bank that you need. If the margins are very shallow, either use a Net Station to secure the fish in slightly deeper water or keep your retainer at the waters edge and then transfer the fish and net straight into the retainer and secure it in deeper water.
If the margins are deep enough, leave the fish in the net at the waters edge. Alternatively break down the landing net and slide the net and fish into a retaining sling and push out into deep water making sure it is securely tied to a bankstick, or permanent fixture on the bank, such as a tree trunk, or post holding the front board of the swim etc.
This does two things, firstly you know your capture is safe and having some time to recover from the fight and secondly it allows the angler to calm down after the excitement of the capture and to get every bit of equipment needed together so that once out of the water, the fish is never left unattended.
Personally, I like to weigh my fish first and then secure it in the water whist I sort out my camera. I do this as the fish tend to be more calm in the waters edge once they have been unhooked, plus it gives me some time to take in the size of the fish and again calm down before tackling the photos. I know other anglers prefer to weigh and photograph all in one go to reduce handling. I prefer the former as it reduces the amount of time that the fish is out of the water for.
So once I have caught a fish, I will make sure it is secure at the waters edge. I will then get my sling and scales, soak the sling at the waters edge, take it to my unhooking mat and wet the mat. I will then zero the scales to the sling. If my fish and net are already in the sling due to the margins being shallow, I will just set the scales to zero and then deduct the weight of the wet sling once the fish is returned.
Only once everything is to hand will I bring the fish to the mat. Once on the mat, I don’t have to go off anywhere so can give the fish my full attention. After weighing the fish I will secure it in the margin in the retainer and then sort out my camera. If there is an angler nearby, I will get assistance to take my pictures. More often than not, I am fishing on my own so will take my own pictures using a tripod.
Everything I need for photographing is at hand before the fish is removed from the water.
Again, I make sure everything is sorted before I remove the fish from the water. I pick my photo spot, get the mat in place, get a bucket of water and get my Klinic antiseptic. If I am doing self takes, my tripod is set up, camera framed and I have taken a number of trial pictures making all necessary adjustments to the framing, flash etc, so that once the fish is on the bank, all I need to worry about is pressing the shutter release.
Trial pictures are taken to ensure that the framing is correct before the fish is removed from the water.
When I have the fish on the mat I will apply Klinic to the hook mark and then do the pictures. The bucket of water is kept close to the mat to keep the fish wet during the pictures. I don’t worry about having this close to the mat – if it appears in the edge of the picture, I just crop the image to cut out the bucket.
Whilst mentioning self take photography, for me I am not keen on the use of self timers, as again they do not allow the angler full control of the fish. Remotes are ok, but for me you can’t beat using an air release. The added bonus of the air release is that you can get a universal bracket to attach to your camera, whether it be a compact camera or SLR, that allows the air release to be positioned over the shutter button. All you need to do is put the bulb under your foot when holding the fish and press down to take your picture when ready. You’ve got two hands on the fish at all times and it really is as good as someone else taking the picture for you.
Whether you have a compact camera or SLR camera, shutter release brackets are available which make self takes really simple.
Shutter release bracket with air release cable screwed in. This holds the pin over the shutter.
With the air bulb below your foot, when pressed this pushes the pin onto the shutter button and takes the picture for you.
Another finished picture taken with the minimum of fuss, and with the fish never left unattended. Whether someone is taking the pictures for you or you have to take your own pictures, if you always have two free hands to care for the fish, all will be well. For me the air release operated with foot pressure is better than trying to hold a remote and remain 100% in control of the fish.
Once pictures are done, the fish is returned having only been out of the water for a short period of time. One final thing to do is, if you haven’t deducted the weight of your sling at the time of weighing, weigh you wet sling once the fish has gone back and deduct the weight from the figure you previously recorded (typically for a large retainer sling it’s around 5lb).
It really is pretty simple, but so many times I see fish left on mats or in cradles whilst slings are fetched, scales are fetched, cameras are fetched and all manner of other things are done. My rule of thumb is that if I have to leave the fish unattended for ANY length of time to do something, change your process to make sure that the fish is never unattended.