Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fish Tales...Part 2

Bob Cammarata
Even if you are already a fan of Bob Cammarata's stories
( On Snake Mountain , Next Stop OzWhen Mother Nature Lends a Hand and Fish Tales...Part 1) you are going to discover a new, fresh, and hilarious side of Bob in "Fish Tales...Part 2."

I find his writing to be like a precision tool--every word and phrase carefully chosen to produce the perfect result--and in this case, written with tongue placed firmly in cheek to create maximum enjoyment.  You won't believe the lengths he has gone to in Relentless Pursuit of "the shot!"

And even though this story is a joyful riot, I'm told (by "agent" Carolyn Fletcher) that the next one will knock your socks off!


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Michelle Alton

FISH TALES…Part 2 (Anything for a Photo)
By Bob Cammarata

What do a fish, a camera, and a stick of chewing gum all have in common? The mind could easily become clouded in confusion trying to figure out how these three seemingly incongruous elements could possibly be linked together.  If I’ve piqued your interest enough to read on, the answer to this puzzling question can be found in this latest installment of Fish Tales.

If you’ve read Part 1, you know that much of what I’ve learned about photography can be attributed to my angling years, exploring and experimenting with various remote control gadgets and techniques in relentless pursuit of that perfect trophy trout or bass photo. You also learned that my infatuation was fueled by the need for action sequences to augment my “fish talks” and slide shows. Deep down within the recesses of my gut, I was also obsessed with the aspiration that one day millions of folks might be seeing one of my creations gracing the front cover of Field and Stream. Though that was a dream never realized, in looking back, it sure was fun trying.

In those days, one of the most prolific gadgets in my arsenal was my trusty Quantum Radio Slave.

Radio Slave Remote with Motor-Driven Film Camera
This versatile tool was acquired back in the late 80’s and accounted for most of my simulated action photos while fishing. With a cord linking it to my motor drive, it was possible to remotely activate the camera from up to 200 feet away.

It’s worth mentioning that a lesson painfully learned back then was that the clandestine nature of catch and release trophy trout fishing in local streams necessitated fishing alone almost all of the time.

So as one might imagine, attempting to shoot action sequences in the field while alone was truly beset with many challenges and learning experiences. Since in those days I was shooting slide film exclusively, my delete file was a large, ravenous refuse receptacle…who’s home was just to the left of my light table. (I called him “Mr. Happy”.)

The learning curve needed to be rapidly accelerated by the fact that every time my finger touched the remote trigger, it ended up costing me around 23 cents in film and processing.

Yeah,…Mr. Happy was one happy guy!

A Happy Feast
Among the many challenges incurred during what was an arduous learning process, composition was one of the easiest to overcome. (…after I’d fed “Mr. H.”. a few rolls of slides with only part of the fish showing, and/or, with my head cut off.)

I eventually learned to compose my scenes more effectively and economically by including a pre-determined, physical point of reference. If no such reference point existed, a stick was jammed into the stream bed where I would later be standing with my prized catch. As for the height issue…well, that was pretty much a guess.

Where's the Rest of my Head?

It was vital that the focus, composition and exposure were all pre-set perfectly since, if either was off by even the slightest of immeasurable margins, EVERY SHOT in the sequence would end up adding more sustenance to Mr. Happy’s insatiable appetite.

Another obstacle which needed to be addressed was the simple fact that the protracted set-up procedure had to be performed AFTER a fish was caught, so a fool-proof system had to be developed to keep the fish alive and healthy so it could be released once the brief photo session had concluded.

A small meshed laundry bag, which was carried in my fishing vest, was the perfect solution to this dilemma. After its capture, the fish was eased gently into the bag, which was then placed back into the stream.

This simple live-bag system actually served a double purpose. Not only did it permit ample time to set up everything and test-fire the remote, it allowed a larger fish a little extra time to recover from a long fight and regain its stamina before it was ultimately released into heavy current.

In practice, the Radio Slave receiver would hang freely onto one of the tripod legs affixed with a little piece of Velcro. Since the trigger was so small and easy to conceal, it was common practice to hide it inside of a pocket on my fishing vest….where it could be covertly and nonchalantly activated. This system worked very well…sometimes!

Small Stream Action
The primary drawback was that one hand was always required to activate the remote trigger…leaving only one free hand to try to control a lively and slippery trout, which was usually pretty P.O.’d and intent upon escaping. More often than not, my prize catch would scoot out of my hand and disappear before I could get off a shot.

In an attempt to combat this all-too-common dilemma, I started shopping around for yet another gadget. A Wein SST Super Sound Trigger was eventually selected as the possible answer to my prayers.  With this newest remote-control unit, it would hopefully become possible to activate my camera by means other than by manually pressing a button…thus, leaving both hands free to control the action. Aside from attempting to grow another appendage, this seemed like the most practical course of action to insure that Mr. Happy’s much needed diet plan remained steadily on track.

From what I'd read, the sensitivity of the sound triggering mechanism could be easily adjusted to any level of sound from a whisper to a gunshot, and this nifty device could be accessorized to use that sound to activate a motor-driven camera.
And best of all, proudly listed among my repertoire of unique talents, is the ability to pop chewing gum in my mouth louder than any other civilized person I know. (…what can I say…. “It’s a gift”.)

So when the day finally arrived when my new sound trigger was delivered, I was that proverbial kid in the candy store as I quickly unpacked everything and installed the batteries. With everything set up at the house, and with a viscous gob of Juicy Fruit at the ready, a few “test pops” proved that the new system worked great. It would now be possible to use BOTH hands to control a slippery fish and use the gum to trigger the camera. It was perfect!

“Watch out now, Field and Stream!”

And so the new sound-triggering device and a pack of chewing gum made their way into the ever-growing list of accessories which comprised my combined, and already overloaded, fishing/photography gear bag. (Fortunately, a 5-pack of Wrigley’s didn’t weigh much.)

It was a few months later when I finally had the opportunity to implement the sound trigger for the first time in the field when I happened upon a real hammer while fishing for brown trout at one of my favorite local streams. (For the benefit of the non-fishers, the term “hammer” is commonly used to describe a  trophy catch…that Fish of a Lifetime.)

From deep within an undercut root ledge just downstream from an old rickety wooden bridge, the big brown rolled out and took a half-hearted swipe at my lure before vanishing back into the security of its lair. I estimated its weight at over 6 lbs. It was handsome male in full breeding colors and, by local standards…this was a REALLY big fish!

Before attempting another cast, I paused momentarily to fully assess the situation. This was a big trout…one of the biggest I’d ever seen locally. The autumn light was perfect and that wooden bridge surrounded by brilliant fall foliage appeared to provide the perfect background for a full-body shot of me holding this monster trout at streamside. But it would surely take two hands to handle THIS whopper!

Knowing that my new sound trigger was tucked away in my back-pack, I quietly backed up away from the behemoth’s secretive lair and hurried to get everything set up.
The camera and remote receiver were meticulously positioned onto the tripod and the scene was composed to incorporate that picturesque old bridge in the background. All of my prior “learning experiences” were being vitally tested as the aperture/shutter combination was set to insure perfect exposure. A critical focus point was pre-determined by poking a stick into the stream bed where, if premonition and providence prevailed, I would later be displaying my prized trophy.

But while assembling the camera gear and attaching the sound trigger, I noticed with dismay that my pack of gum (my “trigger”) was empty! Apparently, I’d gotten hungry on a few previous trips and had forgotten to replace the pack.

I figured…“No problem….Why can’t I just yell at the darn thing?”

So after everything was in place and all components were turned on, I gave a “test holler” near the sound trigger and was excited and relieved to hear the motor drive advance the film to the next frame. To insure that I would get at least a few good photos from this once in a lifetime session, I re-set the motor-drive to “continuous mode”. (This setting would start the motor-drive on the first sound, and the camera would continue to expose frames until a second sound turned it off.)

OK…now that everything was perfectly set, tested,  and ready to go, the only thing left was the attempt to actually CATCH this beast.

It took nearly a dozen perfectly positioned casts before the obscured trout finally rolled out of its protective root ledge to engulf my lure -- and the ensuing fight was on. The big brown was strong. It thrashed and cavorted with a fury against the pressure of my ultra-light tackle but was eventually subdued. Before long, an exhausted, but beautiful 26” trout was lying at my feet in the clear shallows. After briefly admiring this handsome specimen, I carefully eased the fish into my pre-determined position to get my photos. I kicked away the stick which was marking the position, dropped to one knee and posed photogenically, holding the big trout horizontally at the water’s edge.
I yelled a fairly loud ..“Hey..” but nothing happened.

So I tried a little louder  “…HEY”…and still nothing.

I remember chuckling to myself after briefly glancing around to make sure that there wasn’t anybody watching this inane fool kneeling in a cold creek holding a fish…and yelling at no one
Then I yelled louder still “…HEY ..”. But the shutter on the camera still wasn’t being activated.

I finally figured that the decibel level on the trigger was set too low, so my only viable option was to slip the fish into the live bag while I adjusted the sensitivity to a higher level.

As I was sliding the somewhat confused trout into the bag, I heard the sound of an approaching vehicle. This was truly bad news, since where I’d chosen to set up was in plain view from the bridge and I had to be very discrete, so as not to reveal to any of the locals what was actually residing in this tiny, obscure creek. I quickly secured the big trout in the live bag, then cowered behind a bush…hidden from view, as I waited for the vehicle to pass.

It was a fuel truck…and a noisy one.  The truck eventually came into view and bounced raucously across that rickety wooden bridge. The racket it made was loud enough to activate the sound trigger attached to my camera which, if you remember, had been set to “continuous”….and my motor-drive immediately began gobbling film at 3.1 frames per second! I jumped from my hiding place and quickly ran over to turn it off but it was too late. Buy the time I got to where the camera was set up, an entire roll of 36 frames had been consumed. To make matters even worse, I had no back-up rolls with me that day.

After the truck had long passed, I was standing there feeling somewhat dejected, but satisfied as I realized that I was staring down with admiration at one of the biggest trout I’d ever seen! Although I’d failed to produce a single photograph to document the experience, the memory of that magnificent trout on that tiny stream will remain indelibly etched in my mind.

…especially when someone offers me a stick of gum.

  All photography by Bob Cammarata

Bob Cammarata's Biographical Sketch

I am a Maryland photographer who specializes in nature in all its forms.
For as long as I can remember, my love for the outdoors has inspired me to capture nature's beauty and intrigue. My primary interests photographically involve traveling the country and getting up close and personal with subjects in nature. My travels have taken me to every corner of the U.S. and parts of Canada but the majority of my photography occurs less than a tank of gas away.
I prefer to shoot in full-manual 100% of the time because I believe that it affords the ultimate in control and accurately represents the challenges and rewards that this great art has to offer. I’m an active member of and a regular contributor to their Forums and Newsletters. My photos have been published in business and travel brochures, on Bugguide and other popular wildlife sites, and many have been sold as fine art prints. I’m currently working on my first book, which should be completed some time next year.

I consider photography to be the therapy which keeps one sane in a crazy world
Feel free to visit my website at

Bonus Photos…A few that didn’t get away!
(Note…All of these were shot using the Radio Slave Remote and were scanned from old Kodachrome slides.)

Flyrodding on the Gunpowder River

Falling Waters

Winter Trout Fishing
Landing a Nice Trout
A Hefty Handful
Brown Trout Up Close

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Monnie Ryan said...

An interesting fun read and terrific photos!

Art Rosch said...

Bob, I thought astrophotography was complicated. The gum-trigger method is one of the nuttiest things I've ever heard of. Is there a particular brand that goes "bang" better than another? I think Bazooka would be a logical choice.

Joe DiGilio said...

Bob, I love this "one that got away story", and your photos too. I share your love of the great outdoors, nature and photography. Looking forward to the next one. Art is right,"Bazooka" pops best.

Bill Vanko said...

Your words, in this case, are worth a thousand pictures! I have told you many times over the years that your photos have a particular "pop" to them that is hard to find. Now I understand why!