Posted by: Brad Nixon | September 19, 2018

Photographing the Elusive Trout

There’s a subset of professional photographers who pursue a highly specialized and demanding discipline. Their work requires constant travel, often to remote locations. They spend long hours, days or even weeks waiting to get the shot — often in harsh environments exposed to extreme conditions.

The pressure to know as much as possible about their subjects is constant: Where they eat and drink, migration patterns, mating rituals, how they behave when alone versus in social groups —all are critically important.

A moment’s inattention or having the wrong lens mounted can wreck weeks of planning, preparation, effort and expense.

Am I describing paparazzi or wildlife photographers? Both, as it happens, although I’m certain I’m not the first person to make this analogy. If one ever needed an illustration of the phrase, “the ridiculous and sublime,” that would serve.

I’m addressing wildlife photography in this post. At least having shot pictures of a few animals and birds, I have some basic understanding of the craft. It helps, of course, if the wild beasts happen to be grazing in a lovely meadow a hundred yards away from the road.

Bodie mule deer Brad Nixon 1170 680

If I had to make a living waiting in the bushes for Celebrity X to emerge from Mansion Y in some benighted neighborhood of Los Angeles, I’d make a beeline back to the corporate world or try academia.

I have great admiration for the photographers who stake out nests, burrows, dens, pathways, meadows and crags with infinite patience, equipped not only with sophisticated gear, but years of skill and, often, considerable knowledge of the animals they’re stalking.

I’m physically capable of reaching many of the places they go. As for knowing what to expect, how to react or precisely what to do with which lens, f-stop, aperture and filter when the moment of truth arrives, count me out. They’re professionals.

Certainly one of the most specialized segments of the wildlife paparazzi must be those who photograph fish. You have to swim, snorkel, dive, have highly specialized equipment and not be daunted by the fact that a shark or a moray eel may be closing on you from behind.

There are above-the-surface photographers who settle for shooting all those leaping bass, pike and marlin once they’ve been hooked. There’s still a lot of inconvenience involved, starting with getting wet and/or cold, continuing through all those hours in boats on rivers, lakes and oceans, plus having to listen to fishermen talk about fishing when nothing’s biting. Plus all the beer.

Some fish photographers settle for hanging around the dock to grab photos of successful anglers holding up strings of perch, or standing beside their shark, marlin or whateverfish hanging from a scale. The ne plus ultra of that business happens on the docks up in Alaska, where the contestants in the annual Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby haul in their huge catches, some of them weighing two or three hundred pounds. Yikes.

halibut Alaska Coast Magazine

What about trout? Often living in small, rocky streams that don’t lend themselves to scuba diving, they’re a tough “get.” I once photographed a trout. It was swimming placidly in Clearwater Lake near Mount St. Helens in Washington.

trout Brad Nixon 2088 640

Once, I say. That’s it for me and submerged trout. I’m not willing to invest hundreds of hours hiking to lakes and rivers only to sit quietly, staring into the water, waiting for hundreds more hours. I’d rather go another few miles to photograph a 10,000-foot stratovolcano that blew up real good:

St Helens pano Brad Nixon 640

Fish, including trout, are inconvenient photography subjects from start to finish. In addition to the dampness of their environment, they move out of range with an ease and rapidity that exceeds event the swiftest stratovolcano. I’ve solved the problem, though, and not by wandering into local bars and restaurants to shoot pictures of all the trophy fish mounted on walls.

Last week’s trip to one of California’s fishing meccas — the Eastern Sierra/Owens River Valley — gave me a rare opportunity to combine piscine photography with one of my abiding interests: classic roadside attraction signage.

Here are three examples of extremely impressive signcraft, all directly on the main (and only) road through the valley, U.S. Route 395.

Two are in Lone Pine, California.

sign composite 680

Lone Pine sporting Brad Nixon 1080 680

A third is farther north in Bishop.

Bishop sporting Brad Nixon 1507 680

NOTE that the obverse and reverse sides of Slater’s sign depict different species of trout! On the left is probably a rainbow (as are all the other examples), while the one on the right may be either a brown or a speckled trout. I may be from the big city, but they didn’t slip that one past me unnoticed. (The store no longer operates with the Slater’s name.)

The area has numerous shops with gear for hikers, campers, climbers, skiers and boaters, as well as fishing afishionados. Some open at 6:30 or 7 a.m. in case you’re ready to head for the stream but need that one special fly that’s hatching only today!

High resolution versions of most photographs in this post, and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on Click on the linked photos, or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2018. Halibut Derby photo © Alaska Coast Magazine.


  1. Wow, you hooked ‘em alright! Congrats.

    Once again UWS has furthered my education: I never knew trout had a code. Live ‘n learn.


  2. Yeah, I know how hard it is to photograph wildlife. Some birds like the Northern Cardinal I’ve only had the opportunity to photograph twice. Or the extremely quick Ruby Throated Hummingbird. With birds like Osprey and Bald Eagles it is next to impossible to get close to them. I have managed to get a few really good shots of White Tailed Deer, and Wild Turkey but they are fairly common in my area, but still a great challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Always. Of course, the pros invest huge sums in lenses that can close the distance, but it still takes skill, as you know.


  3. Your title made me laugh. For three months I’ve listened to local fishermen gripe and moan about just how elusive those trout have been, even for people with decades of experience luring them onto their hooks. That’s another advantage of signs like the ones you found; they stay in place, and are in their way, rather tasty –at least, for a photographer.

    I can’t remember ever seeing signs like that around here, but in east Texas? The variations on the bass-as-mailbox seem infinite. And surely you know about Billy Bass. (I’m sorry — I just had to.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d forgotten about Billy Bass. Thank you SO MUCH for re-introducing him to my cerebral cortex. My life is richer.


      • I’m sure. I could see that eye roll from here.

        Liked by 1 person

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