I remember a rock. It was large and grayish, pretty standard by all accounts. Nearby was a small river and above it was a bridge with wooden planks.
I don’t even remember actually catching the fish.
With photo in hand, though, I can tell you that I was pretty damn enthralled by that little fish.
That first fish, caught when I was all of four years old, created a monster. Soon I was memorizing all the fishing lures in the Bass Pro Shops catalogs. My book shelves filled with fishing books. Testing out new rods and reels gifted during Christmas had to happen immediately, never mind the nearly freezing temps and snow on the ground. I begged my dad to take me fishing constantly, a request he always granted and always with a smile on his face (and a request Mom always supported). When other kids tossed a ball around on the street in front of their homes (I did this, too), this guy practiced his double-haul technique, getting weird glances from neighbors and passing cars. Boring old Summer Camp became exciting go-fishing-for-a-week-three-times-a-day Summer Camp (I tried to find the website for the camp, but sadly they seem to have shut it down). And, eventually, that fish led to my interest in fisheries science.
The sunfish family (Centrarchidae) is composed of several very cool fishes. For my readers in Prince Edward Island, you won’t find any of these here, but you can over in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (e.g., smallmouth bass). With the exception of the Far North, pretty much every other corner of North America has a centrarchid of some sort. You’ll also find them in Latin America, South Africa, and Japan just to name a few non-North American locales.
Some of the more famous sunfishes are the various bass species (not to be confused with striped bass, which are “true” black bass in the family Moronidae… hehe call your boss that the next time he’s being a jerk) like largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass. The former species, aka Bucketmouths or Big Mouth Bass, receives the most attention from anglers, especially those in the United States. They are the focal species of a MASSIVE freshwater fishing industry, which is currently undergoing a revolution as the sport (feel free to debate that term in the comments) sees interest gaining rapidly in a young fan-base, particularly at the college level. At one time I had aspirations of becoming a professional bass angler. Though I shed that dream by my mid-teens, I still participated in bass fishing tournaments and was lucky enough to bring home the Big 10 Championship one year with several of my friends in the Fighting Illini Bass Club. Yet, there are plenty of other sunfishes that are awesome in their own right.
A couple of my favorites include the bluegill and green sunfish. The former is my home state’s state fish and the latter is just a hard-fighting, aggressive little creature with a tenacious appetite. I had the chance while home over the holidays to photograph these two species using a field studio/tank setup. If you’ve ever had your photo taken professionally in a studio you might remember standing/sitting on some sort of sheet – maybe black, white, brown, grey, or blue – with big flash units going off around you. It’s the same premise here, but everything is smaller and sometimes the sheet is replaced with a white reflector or piece of plexiglass/acrylic… and there’s a fish tank involved when working with anything aquatic. Same concept though of getting a seamless background to keep the viewer’s eyes focused on the subject. I meant to grab a behind-the-scenes shot of the setup during my last shoot, but simply forgot.
Taking this studio technique into the field has been done by various photographers, but an initiative begun several years ago has reinvigorated the style again for many people. The Meet Your Neighbors initiative seeks to photo document global biodiversity (using the aforementioned methods), particularly the things that live around your home area. The goal is to get the public more aware of what lives around them, in hopes of generating interest and appreciation for conserving our natural world. I love the idea and am hoping to become part of the effort in the near future.