Engbretson Underwater Photography

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




Friday, August 26, 2016

In Fisherman 2017 Fish Calendar On Sale Now

 
We're thrilled to have partnered with In Fisherman on their 2017 wall calendar.  Art director Chuck Beasley has put together a truly wonderful fish calendar using a great many of our images to create a gift that will look great on the wall of your den or cabin.  The calendar is for sale now for $12.95 and can be purchased online from In-Fisherman or at Amazon.
 
Product Description: "For nearly four decades, In-Fisherman has worked with the industry's finest underwater photographers to help increase angler's understanding of fish and their environments. For this calendar, we present photos of 13 species from six leading photographers like Bill Lindner, Patrick Clayton, Eric Engbretson, Roger Peterson, Jeff Simpson and Paul Vecsei. Enjoy these wonderful photos done by outstanding photographers in the 2017 In-Fisherman Calendar."

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Underwater Video: Largemouth Bass Under Large Pine Tree


When large trees fall into our lakes, they create dynamic homes for a variety of fish.  In this clip you'll see how largemouth bass and panfish relate to this kind of important cover.  Filmed in Northern Wisconsin.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

New! Rare Images of Arctic Char Underwater

Just added to our stock collection are some brand new and amazing pictures of Arctic Char from our top-gun, Paul Vecsei.   Paul has just returned from an epic journey to the icy streams of the arctic circle to beautifully photograph these gorgeous fish in their natural habitat.   No other freshwater fish is found as far north.  See all of Paul Vecsei's fantastic fish photography in our Paul Vecsei gallery on this site.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

America Shad-New Underwater Pictures

Our Sean Landsman has been busy lately photographing some of the hard-to-shoot native fish of the North Atlantic Coast.  He's taken some beautiful new images of American Shad along with some interesting pictures of endangered Atlantic and Shortnose Sturgeon.  We're really pleased to add these news species to our ever-expanding collection of underwater fish images.  Sean's doing some great work and you can view all his images in our Sean Landsman Gallery.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Rainbow Smelt Underwater Photos

The spring smelt run is underway along many parts of the Atlantic coast and we've added some cool new images of  Rainbow Smelt to our collection.  Our Sean Landsman, has expertly taken some dynamic, new images of these migrating fish including some attractive over/under shots.  You can view all his images in our Sean Landsman Gallery.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Northern Pike Spawning

Today we've added some amazing new Northern Pike pictures to our library of fish photography.  Viktor Vrbovsky, one of our top photographers has been busy this spring working in very cold water to photograph spawning northern pike.  In these photos, large females are accompanied by two or more smaller males in this annual spring ritual that's rarely seen because it so often occurs under the ice.  You can see all of Viktor's underwater fish photography, including his excellent new Northern Pike pictures in our Viktor Vrbovsky Gallery.



Thursday, March 10, 2016

Minnows & Bass Underwater Video

In this short clip you'll see how a large school of minnows attract the attention of a group of largemouth bass.  A beneath-the-surface view of fish life and the close interaction between predator and prey.  Underwater HD footage.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

What Are Wisconsin's Clearest Lakes?


Time for my annual list of the clearest lakes in Wisconsin.  Every year, I consult with Jennifer Filbert at the Wisconsin DNR.  Jennifer manages the data for the state-wide citizen's lake monitoring group.  They're a network of individuals, usually lake-front property owners who monitor and regularly take a variety of water samples from lakes all across Wisconsin.  The data they compile helps to give us a look at how our lakes are doing. One of the many tasks lake monitors perform is to take regular sechi disc readings.  This is a universal way of assessing and comparing water clarity.  I'm always interested in knowing which Wisconsin inland lakes are the clearest.  Every year, Jennifer sends me a spreadsheet of some really comprehensive data that I'm happy to share with you.  Here are  the lakes that recorded the highest average water clarity in 2015. In short-here are Wisconsin's clearest inland lakes and their average water clarity in 2015:

1)   Black Oak Lake, Vilas Co. 33 feet
2)   Whitefish Lake, Douglas Co. 30 feet
3)   Big Newton Lake, Marinette Co. 29 feet
4)   Pine Lake, Waukesha Co. 26 feet
5)   Sugar Camp Lake, Oneida Co. 25 feet
6)   Millicent lake, Bayfield Co. 25 feet
7)   Maiden Lake, Oconto Co. 25 feet
8)   Blue Lake, Oneida Co. 25 feet
9)   Smoky Lake, Vilas Co. 24 feet
10) Presque Isle Lake, Vilas Co. 24 feet

To see the lake list from 2014, click here.  For the lake list from 2013, click here.  And for the 2012 list of clear lakes, click here.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Amazing Underwater Escapes


I've just put together another video clip.  In this one you'll see how large bass and walleye try to prey on crayfish and how they escape to live another day.  See the strategies they employ to evade capture.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Black Bullhead Underwater Video

Black Bullhead-The First 60 Days of Life:  Filmed over the course of 2 months, see black bullhead catfish move from fry stage to fingerlings.  After the eggs hatch, thousands of black bullhead fry fill the nest and are guarded diligently by the male.  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 .  Unique, HD underwater video takes you below the surface to see black bullhead fry navigate the underwater landscape in their first few weeks of life.

   

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Zebra Mussels Cover Lake Bottom



Underwater Video Footage Shows How Zebra Mussels Colonize a Lake and Attach to Rocks, Wood and Other Stable Habitat Elements on the Lake Floor.  Large Numbers of Zebra Mussels Filter Massive Amounts of Water Which Can Often Lead to Increased Water Clarity As Seen In This Video.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Artificial Fish Habitat or Fish Attractors: Which Do Fish Need and Why?

Artificial Fish Habitat or Fish Attractors: Which Do The Fish Need and Why?  First of its kind comparison of artificial fish attractors and artificial fish habitat, explaining what works best for fish reproduction, protection and sustainability of fisheries.

Newly placed, this Fishiding High Rise model towers 12 feet off the lake floor and will soon become a haven for fish in lakes where natural cover is at a premium.  (C)Eric Engbretson Photo

Friday, January 1, 2016

New Muskie Underwater Video

I just added a new video to my YouTube Channel.  This time, it's a short compilation clip of muskies I've encountered and photographed underwater.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Watch Bass Swim Where They Live | Bassmaster

            
       
 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Clearest Video of Smallmouth Bass Underwater

Often in the spring, some lakes in northern Wisconsin can be astoundingly clear.  Under these conditions, it's possible to get some truly outstanding video of the fish life underwater.  In water this clear I feel like I'm in an aquarium when I'm below the surface filming these fish.  In this latest clip you'll see chunky smallmouth bass in their underwater home in one of the clearest, sharpest underwater videos from a freshwater lake you'll ever see.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Underwater Photographer of The Week

Photographer of the Week – Eric Engbretson

By Joseph Tepper

Eric Engbretson's love affair is not so much with underwater photography, but more with the freshwater fish that make their homes in our local lakes and rivers. It was this desire to reach them that led him from snorkeling to scuba. Wanting to share what he saw is what, in turn, led to photography.
Eric’s photos of freshwater ecosystems stir something deep inside us as underwater photographers. Captions such as “bluegill,” “common carp,” “walleye” and “snapping turtle” replace “pygmy sea horse,” “soft coral” and “blue ringed octopus.” The images inspire us to ditch our passports, dust off our gear from storage, and hop into a nearby lake or stream. You never know what you might find…
 
Common carp, Lake Michigan
 
Largemouth bass
 
Muskellunge
 
School of redhorse suckers
 
Common snapping turtle sipping air from the surface
 
Walleye
 
School of yellow perch

You can find out more about Eric and his business through the Engbretson Underwater Photography website. On the site, you can browse through extensive galleries of gorgeous underwater images. You can also email Eric directly. 

Smallmouth Bass Feeding on Crayfish



It's interesting to see exactly how bass pick up crayfish and eat them.  In this compilation showing several different crayfish being consumed by Smallmouth Bass, you can see how the fish almost always head toward the surface.  Small stones, plants, detritus and even parts of the crayfish claws that break off are expelled from the mouth before the crayfish is swallowed.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Walleyes Underwater

I've been experimenting with shooting underwater video this year.  Here's a clip of some walleyes from a northern Wisconsin Lake.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Wisconsin's Shrinking Panfish

Large Bluegill

Often, when I’m coming out of lakes in my scuba gear with cameras, I’m approached by fisherman who ask me “if I saw any big ones?”  The answer is usually yes and no.  As you might expect, the large fish I tend to see are species where catch and release fishing is the norm.  It’s common to see giant smallmouth bass and large muskies, because while fishing pressure is often heavy on these species, they’re almost always released to grow bigger.  Conversely, species that don’t enjoy high levels of catch and release and are kept for the dinner table like walleyes, bluegills, crappie, and yellow perch have a harder time reaching their full potential.  So I don’t often see large panfish with regularity.  I still encounter some very large walleyes because regulations like slot limits that are in place in many waters help to keep fish in the system longer which means they have an improved chance to reach larger sizes. 

So how much does harvest affect fish sizes?  I think it’s pretty significant. 

Liberal bag limits on panfish for example will likely not lead to decreased abundance, but they do cause poor size structure.  When bluegills get around 7 inches, and are at a size worth cleaning and eating, very few of them are released.  So the population gets further compressed into mainly fish that are 6 inches or less.  It tends to be the same way with yellow perch and crappie.  The problem is not the total amount of the harvest, but the selective harvest of what fish managers call “quality fish”. 

Since larger panfish are less common than smaller, younger fish, they often can’t sustain this extra selective targeting.  While many fisherman have long encouraged letting the big ones go and keeping a few smaller ones for the frying pan, it doesn’t seem like this is happening on a scale that could make any real difference.  Quality panfish are being targeted and harvested and the numbers of larger, older fish have plummeted. 

I spend 70-90 days a year in lakes taking fish pictures.  That’s a lot of time underwater where I observe many fish.  In an average year, in dozens of different lakes, I might see only one or two 12 inch bluegills a year.  That’s how rare they are.  Perch of the same size are also rare as are large crappie.  I think it’s important for fisherman to realize that when they catch an 11 or 12 inch bluegill and put it on the stringer, they are very likely removing the largest bluegill from that lake.  On smaller sized bodies of water, this is most certainly true.  You might erroneously think there must be many others of that size, so taking that single large fish wouldn’t be reason to pause.  But if you could be with me in these lakes and see what I see, you would realize how truly rare and special these large panfish are.  If you knew you were removing the largest fish of that species from the lake, would it make any difference to you? 

Fish managers are aware of the declining numbers of larger panfish available in Wisconsin Lakes, and have been working on new panfish regulations that would address overharvesting of quality fish.  When I asked Andrew Rypel, the top panfish expert with Wisconsin’s DNR about the problem, here’s what he told me:
 
“There is no doubt that anglers probably affect bluegill size structure more than any other factor in Wisconsin. However in our statewide surveys of angler attitudes and public hearings, we were unable to find public support at this point in time for changing the statewide panfish regulation, but we did find support for doing something about problem lakes where we thought angling was the problem. The adaptive panfish management plan is definitely not a permanent solution to broad-scale overfishing of panfish, but it does allow us to conduct a large-scale science-based study that will allow us to learn more about conservation management of all three of our big panfish species. It's unique among approaches taken in other states (almost all of which still have only high bag limits) and allows for the potential to manage lakes in the future on more of a lake-specific basis. So in a sense, Wisconsin is becoming a leader on this topic, albeit on a limited basis. However, I believe the results of this work will be helpful to our managers in the near future. For example, some lakes can probably take more harvest sustainably, however others can tolerate only very little harvest. I'll bet you could take a pretty good guess at which lakes might fall into these categories based on your knowledge of underwater habitats, lake fertility and fish abundances. It is indeed amazing to see unfished bluegill populations - to see the full complement of ages in their population.  It would be nice to have some populations like this in Wisconsin that weren't in the middle of nowhere, and only have size-structures like this because people cannot access the lakes. However, we are taking a step in the right direction, and my sense is that most anglers want to do the right thing for future generations.”

 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Looking for a 2016 Walleye Calendar?


If you're looking for a cool 2016 wall calendar, check out the  2016 Walleye Calendar from Willow Creek Press.  It's widely available at many retail outlets including Amazon.com.  Seven of our underwater walleye images were used for this calendar. (These are some of our older images.  The awesome new walleye pictures we took this summer will appear in the 2017 version of this calendar.)


Monday, August 24, 2015

Another Fisheries Scientist Joins Our Team!

Rainbow Smelt (c)Sean Landsman/Engbretson Underwater Photography
Today, I'm very excited to welcome yet another outstanding fish photographer to our team of talented underwater shooters.  Sean Landsman is an accomplished fisheries scientist and is presently working toward his PhD in this area.  He currently lives in Canada on Prince Edward Island which gives him unique access to many interesting coastal species like Herring, American Eel, Alewife and Smelt to name a few.  Sean has wonderfully documented with his photographs the difficulties these migrating fish too often face negotiating man-made obstacles like pollution and dams to reach their historic spawning sites.  Braving water that's often frigid and with strong currents, Sean regularly captures amazing underwater images of some of the country's most difficult to photograph species.
I'm absolutely thrilled to welcome him to our team.  You can view all of his images here in our Sean Landsman Gallery.  Sean's work is available for commercial and editorial licensing purposes by contacting us here at Engbretson Underwater Photography.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Amazing Underwater Pictures of Invasive Carp!

Bighead Carp (c)Viktor Vrbovsky/Engbretson Underwater Photography
I'd like to welcome the newest talent to our "Dream Team" of the world's best freshwater fish photographers!  Viktor Vrbovsky is an award-winning underwater photographer who travels the world shooting the most amazing fish in both freshwater and marine environments.  His collection of Bighead Carp images are likely the best ever taken of this species in the wild. There's been enormous interest in invasive Asian Carp species in recent years and now we're pleased to have some incredible underwater images of this enigmatic fish.  Viktor's images are now available for commercial, editorial and educational licensing from Engbretson Underwater Photography

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Legendary Fish Photographer Joins Our Team!

Bluegills under dock (c)Doug Stamm

Engbretson Underwater Photography is honored to now be representing the work of Award-winning photographer Doug Stamm.  Best known for his action close-ups of fighting game fish and attractive scenes of people fishing lakes, streams and rivers, it’s Doug’s amazing underwater images that have mesmerized me for over 30 years. 
Doug’s underwater pictures were the first I’d ever seen of native freshwater fish in their natural habitat.  Watching Jacques Cousteau on TV was one thing, but here were pictures of bass and sunfish…. the fish I knew and fished for all my life.  To see them for the first time in their spectacular underwater world was captivating.  Doug was an instant hero to me. 
As a former aquatic biologist, Doug became the most published photographer in the country of fish and sport fishing images.  Many of his pictures of jumping bass are iconic.  You may not recognize his name but you’ve certainly seen his photos many times in magazines, books, encyclopedias, calendars, and field guides. 
Doug has traveled with the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History to the headwaters of the Amazon River in eastern Peru in search of fishes unknown to science. He’s joined Jacques Cousteau’s diving team to photograph fishes beneath winter ice in the northern Mississippi River.

Doug is the author and photographer of two books of underwater natural history which were the first of their kind.  His first book, “Underwater-The Northern Lakes”, (University of Wisconsin Press 1977) revealed and explained the clear lake environments in the northern United States. His second book, “The Spring of Florida, (Pineapple Press, Sarasota, 1994) photographs the underwater inhabitants and terrain of the clearest fresh water environments in the world.

It’s truly an honor to welcome the legendary Doug Stamm to this agency.  Doug joins Patrick Clayton, Bryce Gibson, Todd Pearsons, Christopher Morey, Isaac Szabo, Paul Vecsei and Roger Peterson on our “dream team “of the USA’s best freshwater fish photographers.  His work can be licensed for commercial and editorial purposes by contacting us here at Engbretson Underwater Photography.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Underwater Photography is Window into Fish Habitat

 From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Lookout below: Underwater photography is window into fish habitat

Fish photos are arresting – and are windows into habitat. 
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A depth to his work Eric Engbretson and his photographers make stunning underwater photos. Top, a northern pike moves amid pondweed and pencil reeds. (Paul Vecsei/Engbretson Underwater Photo)                                                         
Eric Engbretson clearly remembers the day he first donned mask, snorkel and fins to view fish underwater.
It was 1993. He was standing beside the 40-acre lake that ran into the woods behind his newly bought home. On this day, unlike all others, he decided to look into the lake rather than across it.
“So on a whim I went to town and purchased the best snorkeling equipment Kmart had to offer,” Engbretson recalled. “I got home. Geared up. Put my head under water and was astounded. I knew my next purchase would be an underwater camera.”
Today, Engbretson Underwater Photography of Florence, Wis., is the nation’s top supplier of photos of fish taken in their natural habitats. His photos appear in national fishing magazines, many government websites and publications and at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium.
During the past 22 years, Engbretson also has evolved into an articulate spokesman and blogger for fish habitat conservation. He has shared his photos and underwater observations with stakeholders attending the annual Minnesota Department of Natural Resources roundtable. He has done the same with biologists attending the Midwest Fish and Wildlife Association annual conference.
“Most of my images are taken in water 15 feet deep or less,” said Engbretson. “Coincidentally, natural resource managers are intensely interested in this same depth because virtually every species of fish uses near shore areas during some portion of their life cycle.”
Paul Radomski, a DNR fisheries and aquatic vegetation biologist, focuses on Minnesota’s shorelines. His research from a decade ago suggests that between 1939 and 2003 about 25 percent of the lily pads, bulrush and other emergent plants disappeared from the state’s north-central lakes.
“No one was intentionally trying to destroy fish habitat,” Radomski said. “It simply became open space for boat channels, swimming areas and other recreational activities.” He said Engbretson’s images illustrate how fish use vegetation and other natural features for spawning sites, nursery areas, protective cover and more.
Engbretson sees the correlation of natural habitat and fish. In fact, when he arrives at a lake he has never photographed he looks for trees that have fallen in the water. “I can’t think of a fish that doesn’t like wood,” he said. “Unfortunately, all too often when a tree lands in a lake it soon becomes chain saw dust.”
 
What can anglers and others learn from Engbretson’s underwater photography? Said he:
Bulrush beds: They are buffet lines for fish. Insects inhabit the stems. Small fish feed on the emerging insects. Big fish feed on the small fish. Frogs are thickest in the near shore areas, where bass often lurk in exceptionally shallow water. “What’s cool about bulrush is that underwater insects use the stems as a ladder to climb up to the surface, and as they climb they get picked off.”
Lily pad beds: They provide shade and cover for bluegills, bass and other species. However, they often do not hold as many fish as many anglers imagine. That’s because lily pads have thin, stringy stems that don’t provide a lot of protective cover between the surface and bottom of the lake. Bulrush beds look like underwater forests; pure lily pad beds don’t. “However, bass do zero in on lily pad beds before the pads grow to the surface. These are good areas to target during the early season.”
Woody cover: The gnarly, old pine that tips into a lake is colonized immediately. The space between the branches provides excellent cover for fish. Wood that rises up to the surface is best because it provides a vertical element. “The neat thing about vertical wood is that you see fish stage at various heights based on water temperature. The difference may be only a degree or two but it makes a difference as to where the fish suspend in the water column.”
Aquatic plants in general: Fish relate to vegetation. Few are in the barrens, and those that are tend to be on the move because they know they are vulnerable to aerial predators. “Plants hold fish, keep soil in place, absorb the nutrients that would otherwise turn water green and they provide habitat for ducks and many other species. That’s why they are so valuable.”
Despite Engbretson’s advocacy for habitat, he chooses his words carefully. He is not a biologist. He knows his subjective observations are limited to the small number of lakes clear enough for his photography. “I am hesitant to make sweeping statements that are better left for biologists,” he said.
 
Martin Jennings, DNR aquatic habitat manager, is such a biologist. He concurred with Engbretson that habitat conservation in the littoral zone — water 15 feet deep or less — is important but stresses that conservation efforts above the water line are critical, too.
“Good fishing starts with good water quality,” said Jennings. “And good water quality starts with keeping soils and nutrients on the land rather than entering our lakes and flowing waters.” In central and northern Minnesota, he said sound forest management “at a scale that is meaningful” will be increasingly important for providing fish with the clear, well-oxygenated water they need.
“It would be a mistake to believe that simply dropping trees in a lake will sustain or improve fish numbers and quality,” he said. “However, combined shoreline and watershed conservation will get us a long way down that road.”
 
C.B. Bylander is a freelance writer from Baxter, Minn.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ode to a Forbidden Lake

(Today's post comes courtesy of contributing photographer Christopher Morey. All photos (c)Chris Morey)

In 2013 a young man, tragically, drowned in North Twin Lake (near Traverse City, MI.).  Naturally, there were very strong reactions.  I heard and read a lot of sensible talk about respecting the water, and making swim lessons available for children.  Really important things in an area with many lakes, and many drownings each year.  But, after this drowning in that particular lake, there was an immediate and concerted effort on the part of the Parks and Recreation Commission  to assign blame. A lot of the discourse appeared to go beyond the desire to improve things.  There were allegations of inadequate warnings and facilities. (Which consist of a lovely park,  a defined swim area,  and very clear warning signs – which have been there for years) 
The warning signs have been there for a long time because the lake, being sheltered and surrounded by woods, and with a nice park, is a springtime gathering place for high-school seniors, and there had been other accidents. There were assertions, some of which bordered on superstition, that the lake was intrinsically dangerous. That it was brutally cold; had currents and undertows; abrupt drop-offs and ‘false bottoms’. County commissioners interviewed local divers. I was invited to come to the lake and help determine what the problem was.

While I understood the urgency, I was not comfortable with the publicity and tone of the proceedings so soon after such a sad thing had happened.  It felt disrespectful.  Even so, the initial steps taken by the Parks and Rec Department were prudent and practical.  They beefed up the warning signs.   They put in throw rings.   They put in an emergency phone.   Good ideas. Especially with kids hanging out there a lot.  After all of the publicity and discussion I was curious.  So, the following summer, my daughter, a dive buddy, and I thoroughly investigated North Twin Lake.  We went literally everywhere – repeatedly – throughout spring, summer and fall.   Top to bottom, side to side.
Here is what we found:  In the heat of summer – when the bay, and virtually every inland lake in the area, is full of boats – North Twin is blissfully quiet, and clear, and – no matter the wind; calm.  It gets warm enough to swim in a full month before West Bay.  There are no waves.  There are no rip-tides, undertows, or significant currents of any kind.

My daughter, enjoying the balmy depths about 20 feet down in North Twin.
 
Throughout late spring and summer of 2014 the surface temperature – out from the shallows, which are much warmer – ranged from 66-74f, down to a very consistent depth of around 23 feet.  Not paralyzingly cold.   Not unpredictable.  The shoreline of North Twin varies.   The defined wading area has a sand/silt bottom typical of inland lakes. It gradually and predictably drops off as you get further from shore. The angle at which it drops off is governed by something called ‘the angle of repose’. Generally speaking, water-permeated sand has an angle of repose between 10-30 degrees. The fine sand in North Twin is mixed with silt from decaying vegetable matter and tends to the low end of that range.

The ‘drop off’ in the swim area at North Twin Lake. Image taken at about 8 feet of depth – this is the steepest part of the angle – it is less to the right, in the critical 5-foot range.  The soft, silt and sand, bottom does not support steep angles.

In other words – it drops off at about the same rate as every other inland lake around here. There is not a lot of shallow water, but you do not just suddenly step off some kind of ledge.  In every way North Twin is pretty much like other small lakes in our area, except for some factors that make it much safer than most for moderately skilled swimmers.  No boats, No waves, No currents, and a very consistent and relatively deep thermocline (ie – it stays warm above 23 feet). West Bay, for example, can have rip-tides, undertows and, in the summer, is very busy with fast moving boats. The thermoclines in West Bay are all over the map depending on the day.  One day my daughter and I went freediving in West Bay and the water temperature was 73 degrees.   The next morning, at the very same location, it was 48. That’s approaching 30 degrees overnight just because the wind changed.  Not possible in North Twin.  Because the lake is spring fed it has a couple of other big plusses. Other than the sandy shoreline, it does not get super-warm; hovering in the upper-sixties to low-seventies throughout late spring, summer, and much of fall. This keeps the bacteria count down compared with other small lakes. It can also be stunningly clear, which makes for beautiful diving – particularly along the West Shore (far from the swimming area) where there are some fallen trees.
I fell in love with that lake. Here was a quiet, beautiful, meditative, freediving spot not five minutes from my house. The facilities there are great.  The underwater habitat, while limited in terms of species, is lovely and vibrant. On the far side I found fallen trees playing host to a curious audience of sunfish and largemouth bass. The surface was so still, the water so clear, that I could look up through fallen branches and see fish seemingly suspended in clear, blue sky.

‘Flying fish’ against a glassy surface

I thought it was an undiscovered wonder and made plans to do an article on the lake with Traverse Magazine.  I started contacting other freediving instructors about doing beginners residential clinics using the facilities there. It’s a tailor made safe environment for basic freediving classes.  I’d planned to bring my adult son, who has autism, with me on freediving expeditions.  At long last I’d found a place where he could safely kayak nearby and I wouldn’t have to worry about boats, waves, winds or currents.  The peace and quiet would be relaxing for him and, If he jumped in and paddled around, I knew he’d be fine. Despite his severe learning disability he has been able to tread water and breast-stroke for long periods of time since he was 7 – thanks to his teachers and to the wonderful staff and facilities at our community pool.  Now none of that can happen.  Putting in additional safety equipment wasn’t enough for the Parks and Rec Commission.  They went further.  A warning and rings and a phone were good ideas.  Making swimming outside the line a civil infraction?  A $100 fine? Not so much.  I asked if there were exceptions for scuba and free diving.  No exceptions.  The lake is effectively locked out of the very activities to which it is most suited – recreational/work-out surface swimming and free diving/snorkeling.  I’m feeling pretty ripped-off. 

North Twin lake does contain water.  Water can, under certain circumstances, be dangerous.
Thats about it.

Incontrovertible Evidence of Actual Water in North Twin

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Starting Our 23rd Year...

Engbretson Underwater Photography is about to begin our 23rd year of capturing stunning images of freshwater game fish in their natural habitat. If your agency or company uses stock photography, we invite you to have a look at our online library of fish images.
 
 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Twenty Years of Underwater Observations: What's Changed?


Trophy Smallmouth Bass (c)Eric Engbretson
2015 will mark my agency’s 23rd year of photographing freshwater fish, underwater in the wild.  As I thought about that, I began to reflect on two trends I’ve noticed over the past two decades, especially in lakes in Wisconsin and Northern Michigan where I live.  A few things stand out regarding fish sizes and abundance and general lake quality. 
Water Clarity:

As an underwater photographer, water clarity is critically important for getting good images.  Because of that, we make it our business to know where the clearest waters are.  One disturbing trend over the past 20 years is that we seem to be losing many of our historically clear lakes in Wisconsin.  More than a dozen lakes that were once very clear are no longer suitable for underwater photography because they simply are no longer clear enough.  Whether it’s because of run off, phosphorus overload or natural eutrophication is unknown.  But since these dramatic changes have occurred over such a short period of time, it suggests that the causes are not natural and are probably indications of damage we as lake users are facilitating.  On the other hand, there are also lakes that were once turbid or had poor water clarity that are now excellent.  The bad news is that virtually every lake that has significantly improved water clarity, it’s because of the presence of zebra mussels.  That may be a nice byproduct for snorkelers and divers, but the expansion of invasive species may also cause long-term negative consequences that aren’t as desirable as clearer water.

Changes in Fish Size and Abundance:

In Wisconsin’s inland lakes I’ve noticed some real changes in the last twenty years in fish abundance and sizes. In the interest of brevity, rather than detail and discuss each one at length here, I’ve decided to instead post a chart of what my personal observations have been over the past two decades. 

Table 1 Change in abundance and average size of Wisconsin fish species I've observed: 1993-2014
SPECIES
ABUNDANCE
AVERAGE SIZE
Muskie
Unchanged
Unchanged
Northern Pike
Decreased
Decreased
Walleye
Increased
Increased
Largemouth Bass
Increased
Decreased
Smallmouth Bass
Increased
Increased
Yellow Perch
Decreased
Decreased
Bluegill
Unchanged
Decreased
Black Crappie
Unchanged
Decreased
Rock Bass
Decreased
Decreased

It’s interesting to note that many of my personal and subjective observations regarding fish abundance and size structure mirrors what Wisconsin DNR fish biologists have also found over this same time period.  Walleyes and Smallmouth Bass are doing better these days but panfish in general are probably being overexploited in many areas, especially what fish managers consider to be quality fish.  (The Wisconsin DNR is in the early stages now of implementing new panfish regulations that hopefully will reverse a 70 year long trend of ever- increasingly smaller fish.)
 
The Future:
 
So what does these mean for us?  For someone like me who’s trying to photograph large gamefish underwater or fisherman who like to catch them, it means that in many cases, there are fewer trophy fish swimming in Wisconsin waters than there used to be.  Today, for me, it’s easier than ever to encounter and photograph nice-sized smallmouth and walleyes, but it’s getting harder and harder to find larger pike and quality sized panfish.  The future isn’t necessarily a bleak one however.  It’s my hope that we can turn this around.  Today, with camera phones being ubiquitous and replica mounts being both stunning and affordable, there’s little reason not to release not just the trophies but ALL the larger fish we catch.  If these same trends continue for the next twenty years, as fishermen, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Common Carp: Why They're The Most Difficult Fish to Photgraph

Common Carp Underwater (C)Eric Engbretson
Occasionally I'm asked what the hardest fish to photograph is.  Without a doubt, it's the common carp.  It's said that many years ago when a group of scientists set out to test the relative intelligence of various freshwater fresh, carp finished first in the fish IQ test.  When encountering carp underwater, one of the first things that's apparent is how keenly aware they are of their environment.  They seem to have terrific eyesight and hearing and getting close enough to a carp to take a good picture is a real challenge.  While other fish like bass, walleye and even muskie will often let you approach them within 2 feet or so, the carp remains extremely wary and cautious. In Fisherman Magazine agrees, calling carp "the wariest of all freshwater fish, by reason not just of superior brain power, but through their acute senses of hearing, feeling, taste, and vision."

Another trait not often discussed that I believe is a sign of extreme intelligence is curiosity.  I use this curiosity to my advantage when trying to photograph carp.  When a large carp sees a diver underwater, their first response is to leave the area.  But I've found that if I stop moving and stay in one place, the same fish will return to have a closer look at what must seem to him to be a strange visitor in his underwater world..  I can only call this curiosity-a desire to get another look at this foreign creature and perhaps understand "what it is".   It's this curiosity that brings the fish back to me where they will typically make a slow circle carefully studying me.  Occasionally, a carp will be so curious, he will actually stop and study me at surprisingly close range.  It's during this moment, while holding your breath that a picture or two can be obtained.  It's a brief opportunity that doesn't happen often and it's rather difficult to pull off.  Carp are extremely sensitive to the bubbles coming from a regulator, so holding your breath while remaining motionless long enough for the carp to move in close enough is critical. 

I find it puzzling that in this country carp have such a bad reputation.  In Europe, they are revered and held in high regard as the top sport fish.  Perhaps European anglers have a better understanding and consequently a deserved appreciation of the unique qualities and intelligence of carp.  After spending some time around them in their environment, watching how they swim, feed and react to my presence,  it's hard not to feel that carp possess an understanding that transcends what we normally think fish are capable of.

To view more of my underwater carp photos, click here.