Engbretson Underwater Photography

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

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.

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Biodiversity of Florida's Springs

Our Isaac Szabo, continues to amaze us with more stunningly beautiful pictures he's taken from the clear spring-fed rivers of Florida.  The biodiversity of Florida's springs is astounding.  Not only has Isaac captured many freshwater species like gar and brown bullhead, but he's also masterfully photographed many coastal species that are generally regarded as marine fish, such as Tarpon and Snook.  We're pleased to add all of Isaac's new images to our online collection.  He is a superbly talented underwater photographer and we're excited to continue representing his work at this agency. You can view all of Isaac's latest underwater work, including new images from Florida Springs in our Isaac Szabo gallery here.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

From The Mailbox "How Do I Find Fish Cribs?"

I thought it would be fun to share with you some of the questions I get about the underwater environments I visit, the fish I see, the structure fish are attracted to, and other observations I make when I’m photographing fish underwater.  (If you have any questions, fire away, and I’ll do my best to answer them.)

Today’s email comes from George Mycroff of Antioch, IL. who writes: 

”Hi Eric.  I've been looking for a source for 'marked' crib location maps for various lakes I fish in Northern Wisconsin.   Very hard to come by!  While the 'primary' purpose of fish cribs is to promote the growth and proliferation of fish species in a lake,  the secondary purpose is that it's an excellent spot to find fish....The reasoning goes, 'find the cribs, you'll find the fish'!  So my question is how do I find 'fish cribs', marked on a DNR 'topo' map or 'GPS' coordinates?  If the DNR installs them don't they use permits and note the location for later study? So wouldn't they be 'public record' anyone should be able to obtain?  WHERE? I've checked with the DNR, they say since 'fish cribs' don't last over years, they may not have records, or the locations move from year to year. I’ve checked the internet, but have not had much luck finding 'marked' fish crib maps for, the lakes I'm interested in.  Any comments or suggestions or recommendations from you would be greatly appreciated!” 

George, Just to be accurate. Fish cribs DO NOT promote growth and proliferation of fish. This has been studied extensively, and fish cribs do not lead to more fish in the lake. If anything, they decrease over-all abundance because fish tend to be concentrated and can be over exploited. I don't spend a great deal of time around fish cribs myself.  When I'm taking pictures, I prefer more natural backgrounds like plants or sunken trees.  It just looks prettier in photos than a big cube of wood. Also, many cribs are poorly constructed or deployed in bad locations. Therefore, finding cribs doesn't at all mean that you'll also find fish.  I'd go as far to say that most of the cribs I've seen hold few if any fish. It depends on where they were placed and how they were constructed. 

Here's what I've noticed with marked fish crib maps.  Usually, those cribs were placed decades ago and have fallen apart.  Meaning, the wood is still on the lake floor, but the structure no longer has any vertical height and consequently no longer attract fish.  The cribs I occasionally visit aren't on any maps I've seen.  So I wouldn't put too much stock into the credibility or integrity of maps.  The best info comes from fisherman who know where the cribs are. They can usually direct you to the most active ones.  They share this info readily with me, but perhaps are more tight-lipped with fellow fisherman. 

The DNR topo maps that you refer to are a notoriously unreliable resource for finding any structure that was placed. So many of these maps were drawn in the 50s and 60s.  I think if I were you, I'd just spend some time slowly motoring around the lakes in the 10-20 foot depths and looking at your electronics.  I know this can be a tedious way to locate cribs, but if you're looking for a short cut, the DNR maps aren't going to help you.  Another trick is take a drive around the areas lakes before the ice goes out. You'll be able to spot any new cribs sitting on the ice and note the location.  But I don't expect you'll see many these days.  They aren't as popular as they once were.

Wisconsin DNR has never marked GPS coordinates of the cribs and made them public. Other states do this religiously.  WDNR is now of the opinion that fish cribs are detrimental to fish populations, and no longer deploy them. They now favor fish sticks, which actually do help to grow fish.  All the reasons the DNR gave you for why they can't help you are valid in my estimation. Cribs do disintegrate and move, and they didn't have GPS back when they were building and placing them.  Thanks very much for your question George. 

I love talking about the lakes, fish and of course underwater photography. If you have a question, feel free to email me.