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Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Most Difficult Fish to Photograph Underwater

The Common Carp: One of the smartest fish and one of the hardest to photograph.
Common Carp-Lake Michigan at Egg Harbor, Door County Wisconsin

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.