Catching the colors of summer

Out See Go
By Chris Engle, contributor

Spring officially ended this week but ask just about anyone who lives and fishes here and they’ll tell you summer kicked off sometime in May when temps went above 60 for a few consecutive days.

I’ve spent the last month telling my out-of-state friends what a great “summer” it’s been for fishing — from largemouth bass and bluegill on Big and Manuka lakes, to smallmouth and walleye on Otsego, fishing’s been hot across the board. Then came June 21, summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and the reminder that we always seem to get ahead of ourselves here when it comes to declaring the change of seasons.

It’s hard not to. Forget April showers — we know it’s the first March rains that signal spring’s arrival. Fall starts in September? Give me a break, because the leaves start changing in August. Winter rolls in here, like, October at the latest.

A small black crappie, caught on a spider fly, reflects beautiful blues, golds and greens in the sunlight. Photo by Chris Engle

However you define your seasons, spring is most definitely my favorite, and this was one for the books: two master-angler bluegill, a handful of eater-size walleye, and some big bass, all with about as much effort as any other year.

As a matter of fact, my outings were hindered for most of June when my outboard motor broke down and was in the shop for three weeks. I’m back in business now, but the added strain on my electric trolling motor forced me to tear that down too for a tuneup and greasing.

I fish alone most of the time, and it’s pushed me to get creative when it comes to photographing fish I release. This year, I’ve focused on capturing their colors by holding up the fish and putting the sun to my back, allowing the warm rays to bring out the intricate patterns of each species.

Perhaps the prettiest fish in the lake, the pumpkinseed sunfish exhibits brilliant golds, greens, teals and, of course, a fleck of red on its ear. Photo by Chris Engle

This is best done when they’re freshly pulled from the lake. A sheen of water brings out the detail in their skin the same way a few coats of polyurethane accents wood grain in a finely sanded piece of hardwood furniture.

Golden flecks adorn a walleye’s cheek — the best-eating part of the fish for those in the know. Photo by Chris Engle

In each photo I also try to capture a little bit of my surroundings and a snapshot of the area the fish calls home: a shaded shoreline for bluegills, a lily edge for crappies and largemouth, a wind-swept lake for walleye. I still need some practice.

This summer I’ll continue shooting my fish photos this way. The effort’s been somewhat inspired by my Gaylord friend, Josh Leisen, who makes it his goal of catching as many species as possible on hook and line and documenting them on his website. As of June 23, he’s at 473 species and counting.

A blackside darter, caught and photographed by Josh Leisen while “microfishing” Michigan’s AuGres River.

His excursions take him across Michigan and the USA, and around the world, to catch anything that will take a bait. Play online games on the friv games site with the whole family. He’s not out for the biggest or the most, but the most diverse collection. This sometimes means “microfishing,” where he foregoes a traditional rod and reel for a length of 1/2-lb test fishing line and a teeny hook baited with a bit of bread dough. What we consider baitfish — darters, chubs and shiners among them — are a challenging quarry for Leisen, and he’s caught dozens.

Each catch is documented with a photo, many of which are of the fish laying in his open hand. It’s clear he tries to capture the fine detail and colors of each fish, and it pays off. His efforts lend a deep respect for each of these species and, as a conservationist in his personal and professional life, I think that’s his ultimate goal.

If it’s your goal this summer to catch some big, beautiful fish, then it’s worth taking a picture when you do.

Good luck!

Chris Engle is a correspondent and former staff writer for the Gaylord Herald Times and lives in Hayes Township, Otsego County. He can be reached at