Being There

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

I’ve been asked a hundred times how I took this photo. The answer is really simple.

I took several years. I had this idea in my head for a long time. I wanted to show the pure mayhem of a jumping tarpon. I wanted tell the whole story. The power, the speed, the violence of it, but also the story of a great guide and angler working together. There’s only one way to show all of that. You have to observe the scene from a nearly impossible angle.

edit-2901-2It was obvious that I would need two boats. That’s not the tricky part. I also needed two guides. Two guides who know each other very well. Who can predict each other’s actions. Guides who could consistently put me on big tarpon. Most importantly, I needed guides who could put their egos aside. Not get worked up about who was in the photo or who got the fish, and most of all, two guides who didn’t mind taking each other to their precious tarpon banks.

Those two guides are Bruce Chard, who you see in the photo, and Joel Dickey who is masterfully putting me where I need to be to get the shot. If there are heroes in this story, it’s them. I was simply in the right place at the right time. It was their hard work that put me there.

Of course I can’t forget Kent Klewein and the absolutely perfect performance he showed on the bow. Fighting a tarpon like this one, nearly 150 pounds, is no walk in the park. The authority Kent showed in managing that fish and soliciting jumps from her was super human. Getting the right people on your team always makes you look good.

So there we are. I’m laying on the bow with the camera. Bruce is yelling, “She’s going right, now left. She’s coming up. Get ready!” Joel is goosing the boat forward then back, turning hard to one side then the other. I’m glad I was laying down. When the big fish came up, 1/4000 sec shutter speed and an index finger were all I needed.

It sounds like we just ran out there and took the shot but it wasn’t that simple. It took a couple of years of driving to the keys, arranging two boat trips and putting down the rod to pick up the camera when the fishing got hot. There were some epic failures.

Like the time when I made a cast just as the angler on the other boat hooked up. I stuck the rod between my legs and picked up the camera, which was around my neck. I got one frame off before, you guessed it, a tarpon ate my fly, still floating in the water. I almost lost my eleven weight.

The story of what happened to the photo next still amazes me.

More times than not, when you take a great photo you don’t know it. You may think you have, but you never really know until you get it home and on the computer. Every once in a while though, you know instantly. You know when the shutter falls. With the camera still to your eye you know you’ve done something exceptional. I can not express to you how that feels. It’s what photographers live for.

I’ve taken a few photos like that and when I do, I’m pretty pumped up. I will sometimes send out an email to the magazine editors who I work with to get it in front of them. I have sold photos in 15 minutes that way. I felt pretty certain that would be the case with this on. I sent it out.

Crickets. One editor loved the shot but couldn’t sell it to the publisher. They had run a saltwater cover earlier that year and it didn’t do well so they were sticking to trout. Another editor told me it looked fake. It is, for the record, exactly as it came off the camera. I later found out that he was pissed that I had shared it with other editors than him. A third editor told me it was an amazing shot but he had some tarpon shots he’d taken himself and, “It doesn’t make sense for me to pay for yours just because it’s better.” This set my hair on fire and he no longer sees my work.

The photo sat on my computer for a year, unwanted. I remain humble about this. As I’ve said, there were a lot of talented guys who helped me make this happen. Still, this is an awesome fucking photo! I would say that no matter who took it. The fact that no one would publish it blows my mind.

In the end, it found a wonderful home in an ad for Smith Optics. The guys at Smith saw the photo and picked up the phone immediately. I couldn’t be happier. The photo supported a company I love and a product I use. It went to good people who recognized it for what it is and appreciated it.

“How has no one published this?” Peter Crow asked me in shock.

“I wish I could tell you,” was my reply.

I hope you enjoy it. I hope it makes you want to go spank tarpon. I promise you, there’s nothing like it. If you do, you will not find better guides than Bruce Chard and Joel Dickey. I have the proof. Photos don’t lie.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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23 thoughts on “Being There

  1. I had no real interest in actually going tarpon fishing until I saw that photo a few years ago. Still haven’t made it, but it’s on the bucket list.

  2. THIS is a perfect photo. Everything in this shot is “right”. From the guide, to the angler, to the furious tarpon- SPECTACULAR. As good as it gets for me, thanks for sharing this one!

  3. Awesome photo here…Quick question on the depth of field and how you go about composing these shots for a very elementary photographer. On my camera i have the auto depth of field previewer but it doesn’t seem to affect my view until I am past 5.6. Is there some kind of simple formula(or even difficult) that would help me estimate how much of my photo will be in focus depending on the length of lens, distance from primary subject, and respective aperture. Is this a scenario in which you are shooting in full manual with a preset shutter and aperture speed to ensure you are getting the relative focus in that background? Thanks as always for the great info.

  4. Great photo, the weird thing about it, is that I cannot see Kent’s rod. His line is a whiteish color but it looks like there is no rod. Weird, but great.

  5. Sorry for the comment not related but just following up on the Echo SR switch review:

    I’m getting interested in setting up a switch rod down here in the southeast and I went back and read your three part series on types of spey lines which you wrote a few years ago.

    If I end up with a 11ft 4wt rod what two lines would you recommend for 1. overhead/spey casting with nymph rigs and occasional dries and 2. swinging flies/streamers?

    I know in the post several years ago you mentioned using both the RIO switch line for nymphing/dries and the skagit for the steelhead type fishing (although this was on your 6wt rod).

    Long story short, do you still recommend those two types of lines here in the southeast or should I also consider the Scandi Short Versitip?


    Keith Hove

  6. That’s an awesome photo Louis, thnx for the back-story. I can’t imagine how frustrating that so many simply just passed it over….
    However, glad you had a happy ending 🙂

  7. Pingback: Tippets: Story Behind the Shot, Oil in the Yellowstone, Knowing Knots | MidCurrent

  8. Well here I am up in Penang with no idea when I will get to go fish again. But this remarkable photo draws me to want to catch one of these brutes before I go. I would normally fish NZ every year for trout and Christmas Island every other year for bones, but we will be lockdown here in Malaysia for a while I think.
    Love reading your posts, and my sympathy with the severe eye problems. I’ve had a bunch of eye ops up here in Penang and I was fortunate, I’ve lost some but kept most. I’m now a young 73 yo.
    Keep up the great writing

  9. Loved your pic!
    Just what the doctor ordered for my blanked Tarpon trip
    Thanks for sharing…it was great to see your picture… it reminded me why I go back every year…although it’s tougher on the body when you’re 73. years old… the hunger and yearning is still there… the physical part is tougher …. but — hey- I discovered Tarpon when I was just past 50… the addiction hit hard … so I’ve been going back to Key West almost every year since … some years have been amazing..

    This last trip to Key West was tough!
    Just spent a week waiting for winds (20-30mph) to die down… never really happened. —-toughest trip yet.. two hook ups a maybe 6 shot sat Tarpon and 3 shots at Permit..
    Rescued one sorry drunk who spent the night out in his dinghy with no anchor or rod… he was just drifting… delivered him to the Coast guard …

    Our guides were ready… we went out 4 days and tried to fish in the winds… poor visibility some rain , cloud cover
    … no fish and search everywhere.. gulf… Marquesas —Atlantic—- got bounced everywhere .. weather uncooperative… got back to California last night …

    A little bummed about not bending my 11 or 12 weight…
    We’ll get em next year —- we’re going to fish for 8 days instead of 6(that’s our plan to outlast any storm) …
    loved your picture… it was a soothing balm to my Tarpon-less week.

  10. I’m here but missed my photo. Your photo is what I’ll use to describe my tarpon fight. We battled for 30 minutes, the fish winning to a straightened hook. He hooked me though and I’ll be back to try again. Thank you for the dream photo to remember our trip to Key West.

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