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Guest Perspective: David Lisi "Fishing by a Different Set of Rules"

What #keepemwet means to me.

by David Lisi



It’s what you do when nobody’s looking. This used to be the standard to live by, but what you do when everyone is looking that matters in today’s world. Our posts on social media say a lot about the kind of anglers we are or better yet, want to be. With the boom of fly fishing on social media platforms, proper fish handling is trending, but is it all just for the photos?

The #keepemwet movement to me is more than just keeping fish wet for sexy pics. It is about adopting a fish handling practice that is fish and resource-centric which starts long before we trek to our favorite waterways.



#Keepemwet begins with conscious choices about how you to pursue, catch, land and release fish. For me, this change in thinking has evolved over many years on the water and is an ever-evolving process. It has led me to fishing by my own set of “laws” or “self-regulation.” I believe #keepemwet is about adopting a personal set of standards that goes above the baseline regulations that guide our fishing journeys and angling practices.

I can remember crude beginnings on salmon and steelhead streams in the Great Lakes, carelessly dragging salmon ashore to later harvest or toss them back in the water. This was how everyone was fishing, I can honestly say that I didn’t know any better. The put-and-take stocking programs of the world tend to make anglers less aware of the fragility of wild and native fish. 



It was not until I learned about the wild salmon, steelhead and trout of the pacific northwest that I became enamored by fish and their remarkable life cycles. The life cycles of salmon and steelhead are nothing short of a miracle. Whether potamodromous or anadromous, salmon and steelhead endure a life of seemingly impossible hardships.

Once I learned more about special fish like the wild salmon, steelhead and trout of the PNW, I wanted to pursue them with passion but protect them in the process. This led to a love for all fish species which has developed into my personal set of “standards” and fishing practices.

My passion for fishing led me to Alaska to pursue a career as a fishing guide. Since moving here and guiding these waterways, I have come to know anglers from all walks of life and all corners of the globe. The one thing we all have in common is a willingness to be open to understanding the resource and protect it.

Each angler goes about this in their own way. Movements like #keepemwet, #trybarblessforaday and so on, help raise awareness in our community that there is a higher standard to achieve. Not a better way to look cool while taking fishing photos, but a better way to pursue fish. To me, standard fishing regulations are merely the baseline for this pursuit.

For example, in the waters I guide in Alaska, an angler can conceivably use barbed hooks, treble hooks, harvest trout, fish for trout with bait and take most fish out of the water and so on. Though my individual choices go beyond the standards set forth by the laws, I understand that change happens slowly and open-minded anglers will gravitate to better fish handling practices.

The one thing I would caution is our approach to other anglers. The challenge is to educate without bashing fellow anglers or thinking you’re better than someone else because of the way you do things.

Though most of my fish are kept in the water and handled with the highest level of care I can manage, I still have photographic evidence of a “former angling life." I can be seen holding fish by the gills, laying them on the beach and so on. There isn’t an angler in the world that has a perfect fish handling track record.

I constantly see people bashing anglers online for poor handling techniques and picking apart their methods for pursuing fish with various different rod choices and tackle…. My plea is that we engage our fellow anglers with patience and lead by example, while at the same time realize that we have not matured into the anglers that we someday will become. 



Yes, every fish out of water and every dry fish precariously posed for a glamour shot has me shaking my head in utter disbelief, but what puts me at ease is understanding that the growth and evolution of anglers is a personal journey. #keepemwet simply helps anglers find their path to becoming the best stewards for the resource and ambassadors for all species of fish.

David Lisi is the owner of Cooper Landing Fishing Guide, LLC based in Cooper Landing, AK where he makes his year-round home. He is a professional fly fishing guide and outfitter on both the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers on the Kenai Peninsula. David has a passion for teaching various fly fishing techniques and particularly enjoys spey casting. He spends upwards of 250-300 days a year guiding and swinging for salmon and trout on many of Alaska’s famed rivers. David is passionate about the #keepemwet movement and is excited for the future of fishing and stewardship of our resources.



What Keepemwet Means to Josh Udesen

Josh Udesen at home, on the water.

Josh Udesen at home, on the water.

Long before Keep ‘em Wet entered the lexicon of hashtags and facebook posts I had a gut feeling there was a need to keep the fish where they should be. I won’t say I was militant or even on the forefront of some sort of conservation movement, I simply understood the impact of keeping a fish out of the water. As any rookie guide can probably attest to, learning to properly handle fish is acquired through a few hard lessons. It is not with great pride, I can admit I likely killed a fish or two to get a hero shot for a client.

Old school Alaska, hip waders and all.

Old school Alaska, hip waders and all.


At least one memorable incident had a lasting impact on my fishing psyche. It was probably two decades ago, in my first year of guiding southwest Alaska. Regulations allowed sport fisherman to harvest rainbows, but as per lodge policy, we always released them, regardless of the fish and game regulations. In this case, after a long struggle, a botched netting, a hand to hand passing of the fish with little rest, several drops in the mud and sand, and a multitude of photos with an array of cameras, this monster rainbow was back in the water to be “revived”. As I tried to get it going, I knew it was not going to turn out well. There are few things that feel worse as a fisherman than seeing a beautiful fish, worthy enough for a grip and grin shot, struggle to be revived and ultimately end up where it should not – belly up. It gave me a head shake, wiggled free and immediately twisted to it's side. As I chased the struggling beast of a rainbow down river, trying to grab it to resuscitate, I knew it was a lost cause. As it sunk into a pool, I was pissed. What a waste. I could not be too angry with the client, everyone wants the bragging rights to a huge a rainbow. Instead, I was mad I let it happen. I won’t go so far as to say I made a policy or changed radically, I just knew I had to work fast when a fish was landed. Get the fish in, keep it in the net until the photo is ready, snap a shot and get it back in.  
With that said, over the next decade or two I had no benchmark or clear delineation of what was best for the fish while still getting a good photo for a client, a friend or myself. I have to admit, as a fisherman, the obvious implications of the keeping ‘em wet ethos seemed like common sense, but it was never really verbalized. I’ve always veered from the tail splitting green mesh nets, dragging fish on the beach or the finger in the gill hero shot as a guide, but I did not have a clear method or approach to handling fish. I never realized I have a ton of fish photos, but rarely is there a shot of me holding the fish. Other than a hatchery steelhead destined for the grill, rarely did the fish get my greasy mitts all over them. Ultimately, the fish was the focus on my photography not me with the fish.

It was not until I was introduced to Bryan Huskey’s photos, and subsequently, Bryan himself that I understood what Keep ‘em Wet really meant. His photos were remarkable with an element unlike anything I’d seen. The artist in me saw something very unique in a world of "fly fishing photographers". In one of our first meetings I asked him about how / why / what gives him the ability to portray something with such a unique perspective. His answer was simple, "I don’t like to take the fish out of the water.” He followed up by explaining how he was hardwired to keep the fish in the water, touch it minimally, and often did not have someone to hold the fish or land the fish and as a result, the camera angles were always foreshortened, cropped or combined water and an aspect of the fish. It was a brilliant accident. He told me how he sometimes had to lay down with his back on the bank, butt on the edge and his legs in the water in order to get the fish in the frame and keep it in the water. He explained the need for an exceptionally long handled net because you can wedge it between your legs, keep the bag in the water, deal with disengaging the hook and get a shot or two - all while the fish never left the water.  His focus on keeping the fish in the water made his photos remarkable. I not only respected the craft and the outcome, but I understood how simple it was to respect the fish and get the shot.

Just a few examples of the incredible ways fish can suspend in Josh's artwork, and our imaginations.

Just a few examples of the incredible ways fish can suspend in Josh's artwork, and our imaginations.

As an artist, water and fish are intertwined. Although I paint lots of fish, most of my paintings are more than fish. Every person who as ever netted a fish in a clear, freestone creek knows how magical those trout look, but each fish is framed by the water. The best images of fish include water. Fish are amazing to paint and draw, but the water is what makes the image complete. I’ve always been drawn to reflective and refracted surfaces. Water has a way of multiplying and enhancing anything. Put a simple pencil in a clear glass of water and see what happens. It bends, cuts in half, expands, and ultimate it changes. Likewise, the colors of the fish are bent, twisted, more abstract and enhanced when combined with water. With water, you can use brushstrokes boldly and get away with it. You can add outrageous colors and make it work. It is fun to play with the water that surrounds fish. In other words, my art is a natural way of encouraging and promoting all of what Keepemwet Fishing embodies.

View more work from Josh Udesen here.