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Keepemwet Stories

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The Keepemwet Story

It all started with Instagram. That's the place I first noticed hashtags taking off and their great potential to link topics. What drove me nuts was how many photos I was seeing of fish up on the dry bank and tagged #catchandrelease. I wondered how many people realized those fish were not likely to survive, and continued the practice to keep feeding their social media audience. I wondered how many people were drawn to fishing because of the stunning imagery they'd seen online, and viewed this kind of practice as the norm for how C&R works and what it looks like. With camera phones in every angler's pocket and the insatiable expansion of social media, it seemed like catch & release needed a voice. A way of nudging anglers to consider that how they handled & released fish made all the difference in whether it lived or died- despite what the hashtag said.

One of my early trout "portraits" and example of the Keepemwet style I hoped social media would embrace.

One of my early trout "portraits" and example of the Keepemwet style I hoped social media would embrace.

I recalled a trout photography presentation I'd given years back and one of my sub-titles "Keep 'em Wet". The phrase suggested a primary element of ideal C&R and packed together as a hashtag had a catchy spark to it. I wanted to communicate many things at once, and a fish that was kept wet in the first place would likely avoid many additional handling impacts. So I created a hashtag for my trout and steelhead photos- #keepemwet.

From that time in early 2013 the tag caught on with friends and colleges in fly fishing culture. A bit later a buddy pointed out quarrels breaking out on social media- conflict, name calling and spats over the use of the tag. People were leveling accusations at each other as hypocrites for using the hashtag while also posting photos of fish out of water. The tag was being used as a divisive insult and polarizing the fishing community. I was completely blow away at how out of context and confrontational it was becoming. With the help and encouragement from Paul Moinester, I decided to take ownership of the phrase and it's meaning- as I'd intended it.

From left Josh Prestin, Bryan Huskey and Paul Moinester photograph a resting brown trout. Alison Kelsey photo.

From left Josh Prestin, Bryan Huskey and Paul Moinester photograph a resting brown trout. Alison Kelsey photo.

We set out to define keepemwet as synonymous with the multitude of science-based principles of catch & release, and assembled a coalition to promote these examples in this new era of social media. We reached out to Dr. Andy Danylchuk, a leading fisheries scientist and professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst. Andy expressed support and enthusiasm for the keepemwet concept and joined the team. I reached out to the many friends at different companies within the fly fishing industry and explained the support we were seeking to promote better C&R practices. Companies, media outlets and conservation organizations joined us left & right. Keepemwet Fishing™ was born.

Looking ahead to what Keepemwet Fishing can become. Paul Moinester photo.

Looking ahead to what Keepemwet Fishing can become. Paul Moinester photo.

Looking ahead my hope is for Keepemwet Fishing to unite anglers of all kinds while promoting C&R practices that benefit everyone. In the future I think it can expand beyond fish handling to larger habitat and conservation topics, tying in relationships and becoming a bridge between science and angling communities. Despite the political leanings or stereotype profiles of the vast range of angler groups around the world, they all want to catch more fish, period. Science is revealing new variables that impact overall catch rates, and Keepemwet Fishing wants to share that understanding.

Thanks for coming along.

Bryan Huskey

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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.

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