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Fly Fishing Jazz: Stories Minus the Hero Shots

by Kirk Deeter
How can you write about fishing without hefting a creature for the camera in a way that clearly spells out, “been there, done that?” It’s simple, actually.

Fly-fishing photographer Tim Romano will tell you that getting a photo of me holding a fish (the classic “grip ‘n grin”) is like pulling teeth.  Timmy is my partner for the “Fly Talk” blog, as well as here at MidCurrent and with Angling Trade magazine.  We’ve rolled literally thousands of miles together and made many wonderful stories, catching tons of fish on the fly in the process.

Oh, those cheesy photos exist, and Tim took more of them than anyone else.  But they bother me.

You see, I’m not a grip ‘n grin man.  I prefer to fish from the shadows, and stay in the shadows, even after I land something big.  I have a face that’s made for radio, and a passion for fly fishing that’s rooted somewhere that can’t be captured, no matter how many megapixels are devoted to it.

Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis was notorious for turning his back on his audiences.  He was all about the notes and the music, and how those things all came together.  A lot of jazz insiders I’ve spoken with (some who knew Miles personally) have conceded that Davis was a pompous ass.  How can you turn your back, literally, on people who have paid to see you perform?

And how can you write about fishing without hefting a creature for the camera in a way that clearly spells out, “been there, done that?”

It’s simple, actually.  All you have to do is let yourself appreciate the experience for what it’s really worth.  If that’s something you choose to share, and you have the chops to do so, you can trust that it will happen in the words, and not the photo.

Sometimes, in fact, the literary aspects of describing chasing, tricking, and landing a fish on the fly can be spoiled by the hero shot.  Sometimes, recognizing and writing about the things that make such a connection happen in the first place is far more valuable than the end shot… at least when the descriptive writing is good.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that’s often true.  But in this day of blogs, and social media, and magazines clinging to survival, I’d say a great story is worth a thousand pictures.

Never, in my experience and opinion, is the telltale photo that makes or breaks a truly great story a “grip ‘n grin.” Those photos are usually cover-ups for the less-than-literary.  Take that for what it’s worth, but respect the writer who chooses to live in the shadows and focus the spotlight on the story itself.  Minus the hero shots.  Minus the cliché.  After all, the real emotions, as in jazz music, live and thrive in the shadows.  And they always will.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Kirk Deeter is the editor of TROUT, the national publication of Trout Unlimited, and a frequent contributor to MidCurrent.
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  • Steve Moss

    Well said, Kirk, on many levels. This compliment comes from a fly fisherman/blogger who not only fishes AND writes ‘from the shadows’, but has written steadily for three years about his fishing on the Spokane River and has yet to include a single ‘grip and grin’ photo. I have long found it more satisfying not only to be able to relate the hooking and landing of my fish with words rather than encapsulate the whole experience in a photograph and also read other accounts without having to view the ever popular seemingly obligatory digitally enhanced picture that all too frequently accompanies the article/ narrative. I think it draws more on the ability of the writer/photographer/fisherman to ‘literally’ draw us in to his story, rather than to divert attention away from the story with another ‘grip and grin’.
    There is one picture I wish I could include with many of my writings, and that is one of the tears that often run freely down my face when I’m again and again reminded how blessed I am to be able to pursue these magnificent trout that swim in the Spokane.

  • Jason Tucker

    Interesting perspective and one worth considering. A big reason so many of my hero shots are so bad is that we’re in a hurry trying not to stress the fish. My best shots happen when I just let the camera roll while we’re landing and releasing fish, so you may be on to something.

  • Battle

    Don’t keep the fish; don’t touch the fish; don’t photograph the fish.
    Hmmmm…..Maybe one day we’ll all be so enlightened that we simply walk down to the water and imagine ourselves fishing.

    • Photograph the fish all that you want — don’t harm it though — but please don’t clog the fishing media with boring fishporn, thinking that these pictures are what it’s all about.

  • Right on, Kirk. A first I was disappointed that I had no photos from the bear story at Yellowstone but at the end of the day, the story said something that a picture of a bear just couldn’t. Of course, I still stole a blurry picture of the bear that Rebecca took. 😉

  • Captain Robert Szychowski

    I quit taking pictures of fish when I realized they all looked pretty much the same and the fish never looked too happy about being photographed.Now I don’t need to haul a camera around in the boat and I don’t need to waste time taking pictures of fish that never look as good as they do in the water. I would like to have a picture of the tarpon I saw free jumping in the river.