Words & Photographs by Mark Hatter
1. Redfish in the Fog: A few years back, my personal friend and guide, Greg Dini, called me at the last minute to come fish the Biloxi Marsh with him on a busmen’s holiday. His charter for the next few days had canceled at the last minute. Fishing the marsh in the winter is always a crap shoot due to the ever-changing weather but Dini has always found big fish every time we’ve been able to get together. I arrived just as the next cold front had stalled north of New Orleans leaving conditions cold, calm and foggy. With the dark conditions, we could easily see the classic “red glow” of “floaters.” Although we slammed decent fish all morning, the 40-inch class cruisers eluded us….that is, until late afternoon when Dini shot us over to a small, cul-de-sac shaped pond where he assured me that, “there [had] been some pigs floating in the middle of this gut.”
It was my turn to pole and it wasn’t long before a red glow, considerably larger than the footballs we’d been catching, morphed out of the fog. With a single false cast Dini adroitly placed the fly in front of the shape. One twitch and the fish surged, inhaling the fly deeply with a flare of its gills. It was the big fish we’d been hunting all day. I staked the boat and grabbed my camera.
The dim light and thick fog resulted in this low contrast image that seems to evoke something more impressionistic than photographic.
2. Bluefin Trevally: Although it’s a pain in the ass, I always travel with a cumbersome underwater camera system that I tow behind me on a boogie board with a leash, “just in case.” As luck would have it, my fishing partner, John, sight-fished this trophy bluefin trevally on an un-named reef flat at the north end of Providence Atoll in the Seychelles Islands in a Hail Mary fashion. It was the last day of our trip and the flood tide of the new moon gave us precious few hours to fish the tide pools inside the reef on foot. As we plied the “potholes” between the table-top reef sections for anything that would eat a fly, the water inched up our legs to the point where I can no longer levitate the line of my 12-weight rig in any semblance of a cast. I had ceased fishing when behind us, our guide hollered-out that the tide was now too high to wade and that he would bring the boat over to pick us up. John was still in the game. On his last cast to the final pothole at the end of the reef, a blue flash rocketed out of nowhere and slammed John’s brush-fly. Suddenly, the burden of the UW camera system was replaced with the justification garnered from this cool shot of John’s fish at the release.
3. Bonefish: There is a lodge on South Caicos Island in the Turks and Caicos that has taken bonefishing to the next level. Beyond the Blue Charters, famous for its access to the uber-shallow flats behind South Caicos by employing an airboat, has added paddle boarding to the fishing options list. Owner Bibo Jayne has mounted paddle board racks to the sides of the airboat which has broadened access to back country lagoons and sloughs that even his airboat cannot access. His paddle boards are a custom “no slap” design from Dragonfly boats which enable anglers to sneak up on bones in places where they have always dreamed to hunting them. The Yeti cooler mounted to the deck is perfect for storing lunch, tackle and for me, camera equipment. In addition, his for and aft anchor system affords anglers (and photographers) the ability to hold position to cast or shoot images of fish. This is an image of a bonefish I was able to take from my anchored paddle board along a narrow channel, deep in the mangroves of SC’s back country.
4. Tarpon Tail: Late one July, my fishing buddy, Charlie Madden, called to invite me to join him and Cliff Parsons to fish some late season poons in the back of Charlotte Harbor on Boca Grande. “Cliff and I found pods of fish feeding on small bait up the river.” He said, “Get your ass down here.” That evening I arrived at Charlie’s house on BG after dinner. “Where are your fly rods? ” he asked. “I have my camera gear, I’m just gonna shoot you guys jumping poons.” I said. The following morning we zoomed to the back of Charlotte Harbor where the tannin stained confluence of the Peace and Myakka Rivers offered a broad expanse where poons were busting a hatch of small shrimp. All around the skiff, big fish (some triple digits) slurped, popped and sucked hapless shrimp off the surface. It pains me to admit (well, just a little) that my immediate reflex was to grab one of the 12-weights from under the gunnel and start casting rather than grab my Nikon to shoot images. This remains continued fodder, years later, for the boys to rib me about. Yes, I jumped a few poons first to get the fishing itch scratched. Happily, we were all into fish and I eventually put the rod down to pick up my camera. With plenty of opportunities, I began looking for more than just the classic jumping shot which resulted in this image of a tarpon’s tail at the end of a roll right next to the boat. The cool thing that draws me to this shot is the bronze color assumed by the fish in the tannin stained waters of the river.
5. Tarpon UW by the Jaw: One of the advantages of shooting images from a skiff is the ability to haul all kinds of camera gear in relative dry safety. My skiff has enough storage space to hold even my bulky underwater camera rig, which consists of a housed camera body and a 9-inch diameter domed port.
On many trips, the UW rig never sees the light of day.
However, sometimes the conditions and the subjects are perfect for spending time doing some unique image captures. This is an image of an estimated 40-pound tarpon my fishing buddy, Cliff Parsons, landed just off Boca Grande Beach.
Nearly half the size of the average 70-pound BG poon, this fish was the Goldilocks “just right” size to work with effectively. The bright sun, calm conditions and relatively clean water allowed Cliff and I to capture this unique perspective from a series of shots. And, because this fish never left the water for the image’s sake, we can testify that “no animals were harmed in the process of shooting this image.”
6. Barracuda: One afternoon on South Caicos Island, fishing out of Beyond the Blue Lodge on their paddle boards, Charlie Madden and I were slamming bonefish on a falling tide somewhere deep in the back country.
Where there are bonefish, there are also barracuda. Because of the Lodge’s stealthy, custom-built paddle boards, Charlie was able to see this fish well down range and prep in advance for a shot on fly. Upon rigging a small baitfish fly with a wire trace, he maneuvered into casting range, quietly anchored-up and fired the fly to his target. Caught completely off guard, the ‘cuda had no idea the fly was a fake and struck it hard and fast in typical ‘cuda fashion. The hook set was solid and the trace held allowing me to help Charlie land and release his prize. But not before I grabbed my UW camera rig and fired off several shots of his fish at the tail end of the fight. My camera’s 9-inch dome port and fisheye lens allowed me to capture both the fish underwater and Charlie with his kayak in the background. Charlie came away with a rare flats trophy, sight fished on fly and I came away with a rare split-level image of an angler and his barracuda.
Mark’s Bio: With film, you had to be a technical expert with your equipment. Film limited you in the number of shots you could take and it would be days or even weeks before you found out whether or not you got ‘the shot.’ Nowadays, the digital gear is so good, anyone can capture amazing action shots. You can literally “buy” yourself into potentially great shots with no experience. So, to stay relevant, I needed to step it up a notch by focusing on a unique niche mixing underwater and surface image capture. That said, I’m still always on the hunt for that ‘wow’ factor; you want your viewer to say first, ‘that is a great image!’ Not,’ that is a great fish.’”