2017 Fall Field Campaign – Yellowstone Day 4

Another grand day out in Yellowstone as Katie and Sarah traveled down to join the party (the smiles are priceless).  Once again, the fish were on as we put over 20 fish into the net but a few of them had the rare-intense spawning colors that made them truly stand out.  For the 4th straight day with the sun out and clear skies, we were able to sight fish all day trying to coax the largest fish to take our fly.

These were definitely some of the most impressive fish caught during the Fall Field Campaign.  Three more days this week to close out the season in the Park.  Still hunting for Mr. Brownzilla and will provide an update at the end of this week if he makes it into my net.

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Enjoy the photos and plan your trips.



Yellowstone Day 03 – The Most Beautiful Trout

The most beautiful trout I’ve ever seen…

The most beautiful trout I’ve ever seen…

The most beautiful trout I’ve ever seen…

What a day…  The weather was perfect AGAIN (sunny, a warm 48 degrees, no wind, no people – just elk, trout and gin clear water).  If it’s possible to have the most gratifying and frustrating day fishing all in the same 8 hours, well that’s what today was.  I landed 21 spectacular fish (all over 18” and up to 7 pounds) but I missed at least 30   :-0  More than 10 fish broke me off and I saw about half of them as they went airborne and they were really big.  Mid-day I switched over to a slightly heavier 4 X leader to increase the tippet strength about a pound but it didn’t seem to help.  These fish are HOT!

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The spawning colors are the most vivid I’ve ever seen and the fish are by far the healthiest in the 17 years that we’ve been fishing the secret spot.  It will take me a week to process all the photos but here are a few that defined the grand day out.

Enjoy and plan your trips.


Update from Yellowstone

Great day again yesterday temps in the 50’s with sunny skies and no wind.  19 to the net still with more Bows than Browns (the opposite of last week). Another cobalt blue sky day ordered up.  Still haven’t landed Brownzilla yet but 3 big boys broke me off yesterday.
 😳 😎 🎣

Creating “Fish Art” during the Fall Field Campaign

This week during the Fall Field Campaign in Yellowstone National Park fishing the headwaters of the Madison River, I had a chance to capture the best close up photos of migrating Rainbow and Brown Trout that I’ve ever taken.  A good friend of mine (Jim Squyres) who fished with me on Thursday, asked me…  T.O., now that you’ve had considerable practice in taking photos of fish, what were the variables that I took into account when focusing on taking the close up portraits? 

Well, for what it’s worth… Here is the anatomy of an FFP photo shoot.  And by the way, many of the variables that I’ve learned to manage can be applied to help anyone take better photos even with their cell phones.  It just takes practice and lots of shots to become “on-demand quick” and consistent.  Whereas I’ve never taken a photo course or had any coaching, It’s not that difficult if you are willing to experiment.

While I’ve always had a passion (borderline obsession) with fly fishing for spectacular game fish.  My new passion is to capture/document/share with people the special visual experiences of fly fishing in remote scenic locations around the world. This all started when I caught my first fish at age 4 (a yellow perch on Lake Marie in Bedford Hills, NY).  I remember it vividly with its bright contrasting colors of yellow on black.  You might say that it left a lasting impression as I’m now up to 60 species of game fish that I’ve managed to capture close up portraits.


The many variables I’ve learned to manage while taking “Self-Portraits” on the fly:


  1. The setting…  Identifying and then setting up a “field studio” in the vicinity of where you land your fish. In my case (at our secret spot), the studio is in a shallow channel along an island in the middle of the river.  I’m ideally looking for “Gin-Clear” water about 2 to 3 inches deep with a textured river bottom (gravel) and some deep green vegetation.  The water depth is important so that there is a constant flowing film of water over the body of the fish and the proper depth also allows the fish to “recover” from the battle with their gills staying submerged.  The gravel, vegetation and flowing water also gives a moving wavy texture to the photo capturing the fish’s natural river environment.  Sometimes I will include my landing net to add another element to show the fish “swimming out” and to manage positioning the fish without actually handling it with my hands.
  2. The fish…  You ideally should have a superb subject that represents a unique specimen. I’m looking for size, intense spawning colors and a unique individual feature of the fish.  Maybe one out of 10 fish will meet these criteria.  This year, the Brown and Fall Spawning Rainbow trout migrating up the Madison River are the healthiest I’ve ever seen in 17 years of fishing in this location.  Managing the fish when by yourself can be a challenge but if done properly, the fish will cooperate and stay relatively still while recovering in the water.  Think Fish Whisperer here.
  3. The light and angle…  If you can magically order-up a severe clear weather day with “cobalt blue” skies, the best light at this time of year is between 8:30 to 10:00 AM and 3:30 to 5:00 PM (now if you can only catch the best fish during these ideal windows of time – NOT easy).  The angle of the light has to be relatively low to create a shadow of the pectoral fin on the body of the fish as well as prevent light reflecting off the scales of the fish – directly back into the camera lens.  The low light angle also allows for the colors of the fish to be amplified with the natural light or when a flash is used (which I use most of the time – even during the daylight).
  4. The camera and lens…  I have a Nikon D-800 camera with a variable telephoto lens that zooms from 28 mm to 300mm (f 1:3.5 to 5.6).  The reason that I really prefer this lens is that it allows for maximum zoom (in for fish and out for landscape shots) with just one lens.  I also have UV and Polarizing filters that allow me to adjust the lens angle to cut through the water’s glare and have a perfect “window-pane view” through the water.  I virtually always use an automatic setting on the camera because the D-800 is rather large/heavy and trying to manage the settings of the camera with one hand while at the same time – managing the fish and other variables is just too challenging.  I also like to position the fish (considering the light angle) so that the body has about a 30-degree angle across the photo’s landscape orientation.  The focal point of the portrait (towards the leading edge of the fish) should allow for a gradual depth of field change that compliments the unique color features of the fish and the water’s texture.  Finally, I often like to have the crisp focal point on the eye of the fish or the gill plate to give the impression that the fish is looking directly at the camera. The orientation and scale:  My preference is an exaggerated landscape orientation that emphasizes any one of four body areas of the fish.  These include the head and jaw, gill plate, the body scales, fins, and tail section.  With each species and individual fish there is often a unique body element that can really make your photo.  For Trout and Steelhead, it’s the intense colors of the gill plate. The exposure:  I tend to slightly under expose all my photos -.3 because the fish’s scales often reflect the light back into the lens and whereas it’s easier to adjust the lighting up in post-production, it’s really difficult to do much with a photo that’s over exposed.
  5. Post-production work…  I routinely use a simple photo editing software included in the Microsoft Windows program (Microsoft Photo Gallery).  It allows me to edit a high volume of photos with minimal time.  Because the Nikon D-800 features a 36-megapixel processing image, I can crop the photos at virtually any size and still have a high-quality photo.  I usually shot in the highest quality JPEG image format for file management convenience and to quickly adjust for lighting-exposure, contrast, shadows, highlights, color saturation, and detail.  If you follow these guidelines and take great original pictures, there is virtually no need to “photo-shop” the images.  In fact, I have never used photoshop and only do minor editing of all my photos.

Final tip: Take care of your equipment if it’s not waterproof but remember, if you don’t take some calculated risks you will not be able to get really good shots.  I have actually fallen into the river once while wading with my D-800 and have been ejected out of a boat in Alaska with my D-7000 (each time with my camera inside my Gortex shell).  In both cases, the damage was relatively minor but my camera was toast until I could get it serviced by Nikon.

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Now that I’ve outlined the variables I’ve learned to manage while taking “self-portraits,” attached are some of the best shots that I’ve ever taken because all the unique elements came together this week.   I have another 7 days of fishing in the Park left for the season so the best is yet to come.

Enjoy and plan your trips.


PS:  In my next post, I will discuss the elements I’ve learned to manage with taking scenic and panoramic photos.

Bear Trap Canyon Expedition

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It was a special day yesterday as Dan Larson and I had the unique opportunity to float through and fish the Bear Trap Canyon section of the Lower Madison River.  I also took “Drone Boy” up for a flight to capture a few photos from 325 feet above the river. This stretch of the river is famous for its three “class IV sections” that can range from challenging to dangerous (depending upon the relative water flow). Dan and I elected to get out of the raft at the most extreme section so that we could get some shots of our Guides running the rapids.

20171016-Bear Trap Canyon Expedition

In spite of the crystal clear – Cobalt blue skies, it was risky business trying to control my DJI Mavic Pro drone in 20 MPH winds (that probably gusted to 30).  On both of my flights inside the steep walls of the canyon, the drone lost touch with the controller and would not respond to my flight commands.  The wind was so strong that the Drone interpreted the conditions as “an immediate obstacle threat” and it was all I could do to regain control of the quad.

20171016-Bear Trap Canyon Expedition

Fortunately, I was finally able to control the elevation and when I dropped down to about 50 ft. in height above the river, I was able to maneuver behind a large Lodge Pole Pine.   Once sheltered by the wind, I regained control and was able to land the craft on the rocky river bank.  To the guide’s knowledge (based upon the simple fact that they are the only outfitter that has access to the canyon), I am the only person to attempt to fly a drone in this remote location.

20171016-Bear Trap Canyon Expedition

The fishing was slow (Dan and I managed to net about 10 fish each) but the experience was extraordinary and I can’t wait to go back under more favorable weather conditions (CALM).


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Enjoy and plan your trips.


PS:  The best photo taken during the day was the panoramic picture taken by my i-phone of the “Kitchen Sink” rapids.  Note how the camera’s processor interpreted the water flowing at a whitewater pace.  It is uniquely textured with fish scales.  🙂

Good Morning From Bozeman

While walking down to the new pond… I had the chance to shoot this panorama that in one photo captures the beautiful morning sunrise accented against the golden Autumn colors with a light dusting of fresh snow on the rails.

Bozeman Morning

All I can say is…  Plan your trips.



2017 Fall Field Campaign Start

50-LB Grouper

The 2017 Fall Field Campaign kicked off with an intense four days of fishing in Daytona FL for a variety of species. After 10 months of mediocre fishing at best, I was seriously motivated to get back on the water.  I mentioned to some of you that 2017 could be considered the worst angling season I’ve had since I was 4.  I’ve just had bad timing, harsh weather, health issues and uncooperative fish.

40-LB Redfish

Apparently, the single best Rehab to recover from hip replacement surgery (at six weeks post OP) is bobbing in a boat for 4 days and battling monster fish on light tackle. There were… great stress angles, constant balance adjustments, abrupt boat wake waves to anticipate and the challenge of maintaining a death grip on your fishing rod as the fish make unpredictable head-shaking/surging/screaming runs under the boat and against the ripping tide current.  :-0

The weather was unstable with high heat/humidity, swirling winds, intermittent rain, thunderstorms, storm surge tides and the drainage of dirty freshwater runoff left over from the recent hurricanes.  In other words… Just the way we like it because all the Rasta fair weather fisherman stayed home.


The best fish of the trip included a 12-pound Tripletail, 40-pound Redfish, a 50 pound Goliath Grouper and a 60-pound Tarpon.  All totaled, we managed to land 12 migratory Reds mostly in the 30+ pound range.  Many thanks to Austin Campbell and Billy Rotne for their efforts to find the fish under adverse conditions.


A note about Tarpon:

For those of you that have never done so, catching a Tarpon anytime is a special event especially on light tackle. To begin with, their entire head-mouth and gill plate is as hard as bone so achieving a secure hook-set is rare.  When hooked, they immediately go airborne leaping, somersaulting and tail-walking across the water. If at that point they have not managed to throw the hook with their violent head shakes, they make screaming runs both towards and away from the boat so maintaining constant line pressure can be extremely difficult.

In the second phase of the battle, Tarpon typically go deep and try to use their “broom sized” tail to propel them with maximum leverage against the tidal current.  The hardest thing to do at this point is to avoid breaking the rod on the boat gunnel as the fish dives back and forth under the boat and tries to wrap the line around the motor, hydraulic power poles and/or the anchor rope. 

In the third phase (once under control – NOT), the angler is trying to break the fish’s will by wearing it out. The only problem is that Tarpon are anatomically equipped with a prehistoric air bladder (lung) that actually allows them to take a gulp of fresh air when on the surface and rid their muscles of the accumulated lactic acid build up (thus reviving them to keep fighting).

Eventually (if all goes as planned – NEVER), you can maneuver the fish alongside the boat (after about 6 attempts) to have your guide grab the beast with both hands by the lower jaw and hold on for dear life as the fish makes one more attempt to violently shake it’s head to get free.  Now the fun starts because getting quality pictures of a Tarpon is next to impossible.  Not only are they notoriously uncooperative but their huge armor-like scales reflect light similar to a mirror which wreaks havoc on the camera’s aperture settings. You have to take dozens of shots quickly to get just the right angle, focus and clear water film covering the length of the body.

This time, however, it all went perfectly for Billy and I as we managed to get great photos reviving the fish in the water before releasing it unharmed (discounting a sore lip and a lasting memory).  In fact, the close-up photos we captured were the best I’ve ever managed to get from a perfect sized fish that was approximately 60 pounds.


Enjoy the photos and be sure to plan your trips.  The Fall Field Campaign continues next week hunting the migratory Brown and Rainbow trout in Yellowstone National Park.


Monster Chinook – September 2017

Jay Peck - Monster Chinook - FFPCongrats to Jay Peck and his client who just landed the largest King Salmon ever to visit his net.  At 45 Lbs it is also one of the largest ever landed on the Salmon River in Pulaski, NY.  The beast ran-them around the meadow pool for over 20 minutes.

FFP, LLC partners with IGFA


Well, this just made my day.  The IGFA is going to use a large inventory of my photos for marketing and membership drive purposes.  This is a sample that was featured in their monthly newsletter for September.  The fish portrait of the Steelhead was taken in 2013 on Little Sandy Creek in Hamlin NY.  The angler was actually “The one and only” Rod Mergardt (our favorite coach).

More to follow.


Where The Deer And The Antelope Play

Just when you can’t imagine it getting any better, another nature experience redefines extraordinary.

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Last night produced another repeat “low crawl” sunset photo shoot of Annie the Antelope and during the process, Curious George the adolescent Whitetail Buck showed up to join the party. I somehow managed to get even closer to Annie (about 25 Ft.) and captured some amazing shots with her silhouetted by the sunset.

20170707-Where The Deer And The Antelope Play (2)Just when she became uncomfortable with me invading her space, George showed up and he proceeded to allow me to get within 15 Ft. to take close-ups with my camera’s flash as he ate leaves off our Aspen trees. Katie suggested that we open a petting Zoo and charge admission for photo ops.

Finally, It’s unbelievable how much the two Prong horn fawns have grown in 3 weeks. They are now very feisty and strong – running around, jumping and playing with the discovery of their newfound leg strength.

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More to follow and – Plan your trips!


PS: Had to take a snake away from Earnie (the Cat) and I was, fortunately, able to release it unharmed. He wasn’t happy at all. He later had a Montana Standoff with George before sprinting to the Garage for cover.