by John Cimbaro
As I stood there smiling and posing for the camera, I had no idea that the snook I was holding before me in my own two hands was busy changing my life. Hours after I released it, that fish would resurface to turn me from a life of honesty down a path of deception and glory-seeking from which I would never return.
It all began innocently enough as just another day in the life of a fisheries biologist. A coworker and I were conducting a fish population survey in a south Florida canal. It was business as usual — we were electrofishing largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish and some of the exotic species like peacock bass and Mayan cichlid that make Florida fishing totally unique.
Then we dipnetted “The Snook.” Saltwater visitors such as snook and tarpon can really spice up a bass fishing trip and are just one more factor that makes Florida fishing so special. Plop went The Snook into the livewell, until 20 minutes later when it was time to “work up” this batch of fish. Pausing in our weighing and releasing, my colleague and I passed the camera around and grabbed a few photos of the day’s big catch. I was absolutely clueless as to what was actually happening to me in those brief moments.
The next day and back in the air conditioning, we reviewed our trip photos on the computer. I was startled to see that we had actually sampled two snook that day — the little tyke I was holding, and one twice that size being proudly displayed by my coworker. It took only a moment to dawn on me that, of course, the photos were both of the same fish.
As a fisheries biologist I had always held my fish, be it work or play, close to my body while being photographed for an accurate size representation. But that day as I gazed at my buddy’s photo, a transformation took place. In an instant, a man who once valued accuracy and objectivity decided he no longer cared about such trifles. No, what he really wanted were great fishing photos to post on Facebook, to email to his friends and to use as his computer wallpaper. And just like that, a liar was born.
Well, not really — fortunately. Now I do hold that fish out toward the camera, but along with a newfound photographer’s ethic, I’ve also come to appreciate fishing photography as an art form that surpasses the simple recording of the basic facts of a fishing trip. And I continue to believe that photos don’t lie, although they can certainly exaggerate.