Engbretson Underwater Photography

Search The Fish Photos

News From Behind the Scenes at Engbretson Underwater Photo and Stories about the Freshwater Environments We Visit.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Sixty Seconds Underwater

Today, I started a new video series on my YouTube Channel called "Sixty Seconds Underwater". In each episode, I'll feature a specific fish and present sixty seconds of stunning underwater footage of that species in it's natural habitat. In the premiere episode, I spotlight Black Crappie.  In future episodes, I'll cover bass, walleye, musky and many other freshwater fish.  Join me in going beneath the surface of crystal clear lakes and rivers and seeing fish close-up in their own environments.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Special Underwater Friendships

Steve, the Smallmouth Bass. His image has appeared dozens of times over the years in many magazines. He's likely the single most famous fish in Wisconsin.
Occasionally I’m interviewed about my underwater photography and experiences I’ve had photographing fish in freshwater environments. In today’s post, I’d like to share a portion of a recent interview I did that I think you’ll enjoy.
Question: When did you first start interacting with fresh water fishes and why? What drew you to them?
Answer: I’ve told this story many times.  I’ve loved fish for as long as I can remember.  Growing up, my father had many aquariums in the house.  As a child, I remember staring into them for hours watching the tropical fish and imagining what it would be like to be in the tanks with them. Later, I became an avid fisherman-and what fisherman doesn't wonder what it all "looks like down there".  In 1990 I moved to a home on a small lake in northern Wisconsin.  Then, a few years later came the day that changed my life.  One sunny August afternoon, I was just sitting on the deck looking at the lake.  For some reason, I noticed how clear the water was. Whether it was an epiphany sparked by the natural surroundings or a simple act of fate, I impulsively drove to a local chain store and bought a cheap swim mask, snorkel and fins. The mask leaked and the fins were too small. It was a disaster.  But once in the water I couldn’t believe the clarity and the beauty. The underwater world was radiant.  The play of light on rocks, emerald plants, sunken trees, and glowing green algae. It was an astounding realm of pure silence and unsurpassed visual delight.  And then there were the fish.  So many of them!  I was finally inside that aquarium I had fantasized about as a child.  I saw more fish that first day than I had seen all year as a fisherman.  But for the first time I saw them differently.  I saw them in their realm, relaxed and peaceful.  At home.
The mask and snorkel became my passport into a whole new world I never imagined.  It wasn’t long before my fishing rods were banished to a dusty corner in the garage and instead of looking at the new lures at the sporting goods store, I was looking at the snorkels, the wetsuits and the fins.  These were the accoutrements I was interested in now.  These were the tools that would best serve me in exploring this new world.  These were the instruments that would enable me to commune with fish in a way that I previously could scarcely imagine.  I began visiting other lakes and for me, every day became another “moon landing”-Another trip to the top of Mount Everest. Every trip under the surface was filled with awe, wonder and discovery.  I wanted to share with others the amazing things I was seeing.  In the following weeks a whole new purpose revealed itself to me and I started taking pictures.  I began to devote myself to documenting fish in their natural environment.  I wanted to show others the inherent natural beauty of these fish and the uniqueness of the freshwater environments they live in. 
Question: Can you recall or describe any very special encounters you've had?
Answer: Impossible question for me to answer.  There’s been so many.  They’ve become almost routine.  But here’s one that happened last summer that comes to mind, because it was a new one for me. There’s a lake I go to often where there’s a bass that I know and have been working with for about five years.  I call him Steve.  Every time I go to this lake it doesn’t take him long to find me.  I think he must hear my bubbles from the scuba gear.  I don’t know how far away he can hear me or how far he swims to reach me.  Sometimes it only takes him 10 minutes…. Other times it’s an hour.  Once Steve finds me, he stays with me for however long I’m in the lake, follows me everywhere, poses for pictures, and we’ve had lots of adventures together. 
So anyway, one day last summer, I went to Steve’s lake.  I looked for him as I always do, but he wasn’t around.  I was carrying two cameras that day.  My main camera for taking still photographs, and a GoPro mounted on a rack with strobes.  While it’s no problem to swim around with two camera outfits, once you start shooting, you need both your hands so you need to set one of the cameras down.  I left my main camera on the bottom in a clear spot.  You always try to leave it where it’s completely obvious.  It’s easy to lose your bearings underwater and find the exact spot you were at before, so you want to make it easily visible so you can find it again when you return.  So I leave my main camera out in plain sight on the lake floor and move down the shoreline about 200 yards to another place where I’m filming video with my GoPro.  I’m starting to get a little bummed out now because it’s been more than an hour and I haven’t yet seen Steve.  I always worry that a fisherman will catch him one of these days and… well… You get the idea. (Sigh)
So after more than an hour, I decide I’m done filming with the GoPro and now I want to take stills with my other camera.  I swim back to the place I’ve left it.  When I arrive at the spot, I see my camera just as I left it and hovering quietly next to it is Steve. 
It was a magical moment because while I know Steve recognizes me, it showed me that he also knows my camera.  After years of posing in front of it, he came to know it, with its dome port and all its knobs and buttons.  He was probably swimming by and saw it on the lake floor and recognized it.  While he didn’t know where I was, I think he knew that I set it down and that if he waited with it I would return for it.  After all, he’s witnessed me do that very thing many times.   This was an astonishing event.  I hope anyone who hears this story is amazed.  If they’re not, I need to do a better job at explaining how utterly amazing a feat this was.  It was absolutely one of the most incredible, and revealing demonstrations of fish intelligence I’ve ever seen.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Do Muskies Eat Walleyes?

In June 2007, Muskie Magazine published an article I wrote about my underwater observations photographing muskie.  In the last paragraph of that article I shared some conclusions I had made regarding muskie preying on walleye.  I said at the time that I believe muskie routinely prey on walleye and cited many of my own observations that led me to believe that.
In the last ten years, I’ve witnessed additional muskie behavior underwater and while humbling, I think it’s only fair that I set the record straight and tell you why I now believe I was wrong about my original conclusions.  
Here are the facts:
I have never once seen a muskie actually capture a walleye.  Certainly, when walleyes are around, a muskie will show interest as they do in all fish they encounter that might be regarded as potential prey.  I often saw muskies following walleyes-a term I called ‘stalking” or “targeting”.  On occasion, I had seen muskies “rush” a walleye in what could only be considered an attack.  The muskies were always unsuccessful.  The conclusion I made from these observations is that while I saw only misses, they must be successful most of the time when targeting walleye.  I now think that I completely misinterpreted those observations.  
Today, ten years after I wrote the article, I have a different idea of what I really saw.  I’ve had almost a decade more to observe many more muskies interact with other fish and I feel I’ve learned a great deal.  I’ve now seen a great many “misses” and still not a single successful capture. Today, I’m convinced that muskies actually eat very few walleyes.  The reason for this will seem counter intuitive to everything you know about muskie, but it’s a conclusion that seems well supported.  I don’t believe muskie are very efficient predators… at least not of walleyes.  In reviewing my underwater video of muskie attempting to prey on walleye, they fail time and time again because of many huge disadvantages they have.  Walleyes on the other hand, seem to be uniquely designed for the purpose of evading muskie.  Walleyes have excellent vision and are always keenly aware of the location of any nearby muskie.  It’s nearly impossible for a muskie to actually “sneak up” on a walleye.  My videos show that walleyes are speedy and agile and they escape with very little effort at all.  Muskie, it has to be said, are rather clumsy.  They have some speed but only for very short bursts.  Their long bodies are difficult to turn and they lack the mobility to out maneuver walleyes.  They have good vision that they use to their advantage in low light when preying on perch or suckers, but it’s no match against a walleye’s vision.  The videos that I’ve taken underwater show how positively feeble and overmatched muskie are when attempting to chase down a walleye.  In short, walleyes seem specifically designed by nature to possess the exact traits needed to evade muskie.  
It’s not surprising that walleye fisherman sometimes have muskie attack their catch as they’re reeling it in.  Only a walleye already hooked and struggling on a line would be incapable of escaping a muskie attack.  When this occurs, it’s easy to assume that muskie must eat walleye all the time.  I came to the same false conclusion myself.  But now I think only walleyes that are compromised ever become prey for muskie.
For people who appreciate or even revere the muskie, it almost seems blasphemous to suggest that muskies have any shortcomings whatsoever, but I think they do.  I now believe that muskies don’t eat many walleyes, not because they wouldn’t want to, but because they’re unable to.  At last, the mighty muskie has met his match and it’s the wily walleye.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Black Bullhead Tornado-Underwater Video

After the eggs hatch, thousands of black bullhead are guarded diligently by the male parent. Predation reduces their numbers, and by fall only a handful remain. No longer under the protection of their parents, survivors from multiple nests begin to reform in large schools in shallow water, as a new year class of fish is created.  At first the schools can be small, consisting only of the survivors from any given nest. But eventually, by early fall, each nest has merged with others creating giants schools that can number in the thousands.

In this unique, HD underwater video, you'll go below the surface to see black bullhead fry navigate the underwater landscape in their first year of life.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

How To Shoot Better GoPro Videos of Fish Underwater

We've been getting some nice underwater footage lately from the clear lakes of northern Wisconsin, like this short clip of walleyes relating to sunken timber and rocks.

I'm often asked for advice on ways one can improve the quality of underwater fish videos shot with GoPro cameras in freshwater.  Here are my three best tips for aspiring underwater shooters. 1) Shoot in the clearest water you can find. Lakes or rivers that are cloudy or discolored will ruin image fidelity and definition. If the water isn't clear, nothing else really matters. 2) Use strobe lights to bring out colors and fill in dark shadows. 3) Don't chase the fish! Let them come right into the camera. This is a much more interesting view of them than the "tail shot" you'll always get if you chase them.  Fish are naturally curious and if you're patient, you'll find that they'll swim directly into your lens on their own.

Of course, there are many other tips, but in my mind, these are three things you can start doing today that will dramatically improve your underwater videos taken of freshwater fish.
To see more of our underwater fish videos, visit our YouTube Channel.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Can you Recommend a Good Underwater Camera?

Scott P. wrote to me recently asking about Spearfishing and Underwater Photography:

Been spearfishing for a while. Wanting to get into underwater photography. Any tips on a decent, but simple to operate camera? – Scott P.”
As an underwater photographer, I can always tell when a lake or a river gets a certain amount of spearfishing pressure because the fish become very wary of divers. They learn to avoid us. In waters where spearfishing doesn't happen, the fish tend to be friendlier and you can approach them closely and quite easily.  I mention this to you because if you start doing any underwater photography, you will definitely want to avoid lakes you spearfish and vice versa.

Spearfishing is outlawed in most counties of the northern Wisconsin where I spend a lot of time so luckily I don't encounter fish that are inherently frightened of divers. When I go to southern Wisconsin, or even Lake Michigan, it's a different story. When photographing fish, ideally you want to be about 2 feet away from them. As you can imagine, on lakes where spearfishing occurs, the fish never let you approach that closely.
There's a lot of digital cameras on the market that work well underwater. As a rule, the more expensive they are, the better they perform. If I had to single out one to recommend to you, I'd say go with a GoPro Hero. The latest one is the Hero 6, but the Hero 5 and Hero 4 models are also excellent. You'll be able to get some nice photos with any of these models along with truly exceptional video. You won't be disappointed. Trust me. They're small, easy to use and the results are very impressive. Both the GoPro Hero 5 and Hero 6 are waterproof to 33 feet. The Hero 4 requires a waterproof housing.  All the GoPro models shoot exceptional videos. However, their still photo capabilities are limited to 12MP images, which is a little less than we like to use for professional purposes.  All that means is that unless you’re a professional photographer, the images from the GoPros will be more than satisfactory.

Thanks for your question Scott.  If you have a question about fish, underwater photography or any related subjects, feel free to email me here.