Engbretson Underwater Photography

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

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Best Time of Year For Muskie Pictures

Muskellunge Underwater (c)Engbretson Underwater Photography

Spring is the best and easiest time of year to photograph muskies. I shoot most of my musky images before Memorial Day. After spawning, they will continue to hang around in shallow water (generally 6 feet or less) along the shorelines. This is where it's warmest for them. I can approach them quite easily up until Memorial Day. Then, boat traffic and other increased human activity on the water drives them from these locations toward their typical summer haunts where you're less likely to easily find them.

How do you get so close to fish like Muskies? Don't they spook?
That's a question I get asked frequently by many people. To photograph fish well underwater, it's necessary to get very close to them. So how do I do that? One thing I've done is to develope a series of techniques that communicate to the fish my lack of hostility, and my general inability to compete with them as creatures perfectly designed for life underwater. One way I do that is to present myself as obviously as... possible. I don't try to ambush or deceive them. I don't wear a camouflage wet suit. I don't sneak around or hide behind boulders or timber. I don't try to advance toward a fish when he can't see me. I don't even try to be particularly quiet.
In fact I do the opposite of all those things. I make sure the fish see me coming from a long way away. I try to show myself out in the open and to demonstrate what my limitations are. Ideally, you want to convey to the fish how slow and incompetent you are in it's environment; how clumsy you are; how incredibly un-stealthy you are; this is so opposite of what a predator would do that many fish are able to detect that you're not a threat to them, based on your complete lack of cunning or covertness. You want them to see you and think that you're completely ridiculous (which you are of course). The faster you can get them to understand this, the faster their fear will disappear.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Florida Springs

Our Isaac Szabo, has been busy this spring photographing a variety of fish that make their homes in the springs of Florida.  The clear water here helps to contribute to some truly stellar underwater images, like this spotted sunfish pictured below.  You can view all of Isaac's latest underwater work, including new images from Florida Springs in our Isaac Szabo gallery here.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Wanted: Fish Photographers

Engbretson Underwater Photography is always on the look out for new photographers to join our team.  If you take underwater pictures of North American Native Fish, we’d like to talk to you about representing your work. 
As a stock photo agency that specializes in this niche, we’re uniquely able to reach photo buyers looking for these kinds of pictures.  We’ll work hard to market your underwater fish images, negotiate licensing agreements that benefit you and help you earn money for your fish pictures.

While all serious freshwater photographers are welcome, we’re especially interested in photographers who can regularly provide great underwater images of Channel Catfish and Flathead Catfish.

If you’re interested in joining our team, please contact us for more information.  We’re excited to see your work.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Wisconsin's Clearest Lakes: The 2017 List

Time for my annual list of the clearest lakes in Wisconsin.  Every year, I consult with Wisconsin's 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.  Thank you to Jacob Dickmann at the Wisconsin DNR for putting this years data together for me so that I can share it with you. Here are the lakes that recorded the highest average water clarity in 2017. In short-here are Wisconsin's clearest inland lakes and their average water clarity in 2017:

1)   Pine Lake, Waukesha Co. 29.75 feet
2)   Whitefish Lake, Douglas Co.  29 feet
3)   Sawyer Lake, Langlade Co.  24.86 feet
4)   Maiden Lake, Oconto Co.  24.77 feet
5)   Lake Metonga, Forest Co.  24.40 feet
6)   Lake Millicent, Bayfield Co.  23.90 feet
7)   Presque Isle Lake, Vilas Co.  23.75 feet
8)   Lake Owen, Bayfield Co.  23.38 feet
9)   Delavan Lake, Walworth Co.  23 feet
10) Lake Lucerne, Forest Co.  22.13 feet

To see the lake list from 2016, click here.To see the lake list from 2015, click here.  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.

Monday, February 5, 2018

How Do Spawning Benches Work?

Spawning Bench or half-log. (C) Eric Engbretson
In northern states, fish managers sometimes use spawning benches to promote the spawning of smallmouth bass.  While largemouth bass, rock bass, and sometimes bluegill also use spawning benches, it is the spawning of smallmouth bass that inspired the design. 
In a healthy lake, smallmouth bass build spawning nests against rocks, sunken trees, or large pieces of wood in about four to ten feet of water.  Next to these structures, the male excavates a shallow, circular crater in the lake bottom.  This system provides good natural protection to eggs and fry. 
But in lakes without coarse woody habitat, large rocks or similar objects, smallmouth bass may be forced to construct their nests out in the open.  When spawning and is over and the female has deposited her eggs in the nest, the male diligently guards the eggs and later the fry from predatory fish and crayfish.  When the nests are out in the open without natural protection, the male must guard up to 360 degrees of the crater he has dug.  This is exhausting and dangerous, since his back is always turned away from part of the nest.  Far fewer eggs incubate, and far fewer fry survive their first few weeks when fish have to use nests that lack the natural shield of a habitat's woody elements. 
Fish managers have studied the hard work put in by bass and have noted the decreased recruitment of young fish.  The managers came up with an idea for a simple structure they hoped would meet the needs of nesting fish and make it easier for eggs and fry to survive.  The idea for spawning benches was born. 
A spawning bench consists of a four to six foot piece of log sawed lengthwise in half and attached to concrete or cinder blocks on each end.  Spawning benches are therefore sometimes called half-logs.  Once placed on the suitable substrate, the spawning bench provides overhead cover from birds of prey.  The concrete blocks on each end protect the nest from raiders on two sides. 
Smallmouth bass guarding nest built adjacent to one of the concrete blocks of a spawning bench. (c) Eric Engbretson
It was a sound design and one that smallmouth bass readily used, but not exactly as intended.  It turned out that smallmouth bass weren't concerned about overhead cover. The benches usually sat in water deep enough to preclude threats from above by ospreys and other birds of prey.  While nests are occasionally built between the two concrete blocks as the designers intended, smallmouth bass usually construct nests next to one side or the other, thus allowing the male to guard the nest from only three sides.  The key element seems to be the concrete block itself and not so much the half log.  In fact, if the spawning bench falls on its side, it still provides excellent protection. 
Spawning benches are poor substitutes for the naturally occurring woody cover that fish prefer.  But in lakes devoid of suitable wood, rocks, or trees, spawning benches provide a superb means of helping smallmouth bass defend their nests and allowing more of their offspring to survive.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Do Fish Have Individual Personalities?

Largemouth Bass (c)Engbretson Underwater Photography
I'm often asked this question and I have some definite thoughts about it.  I’ve been photographing fish underwater in their natural habitat for over 25 years.  In that time, there are long stretches when I’ve worked with the same individual fish for years at a time.  Because of that, I think I’m uniquely qualified to comment on whether they have individual personalities or not.  The answer to this is unequivocally yes.
Just like the personality distinctions one could make between say poodles and collies, distinctions between different types of fish certainly exist. And not only do entire species like northern pike, largemouth bass or bluegills have their own group personalities, but individual fish in the group have theirs too.  The individual fish and their unique personalities have as much depth and richness as the personalities of our pets. Sometimes I want to assign all the fish of one species with a label.  At first, I’ll think something like, “You know, Black Crappies seem to be a little aloof”.  But then I’ll remember one or two that I’ve met that weren’t and it makes me reluctant to paint the whole species with a broad brush.    
If you're skeptical of the idea that fish have personalities, I would say that you have to get to know them to understand that.  Very few humans have forged anything resembling a relationship with a fish.  Certainly, few people have connections with wild fish.  When you spend the enormous amounts of time I have with fish, secrets like this reveal themselves to you.

So what are some of the different personality characteristics of fish? Here are a few common species and the traits I think they demonstrate, based on decades of underwater interaction with them:
Largemouth Bass: Clever; Focused; Innovative   
Smallmouth Bass: Curious; Enthusiastic; Assertive;   
Walleye: Stoic; Contemplative; Organized;   
Musky: Uninhibited; Clumsy; Suspicious;
Northern Pike: Timid; Patient; Obsessive;  
Bluegill: Friendly; Daring; Active;
Carp: Alert; Decisive; Anxious