You’ve been enjoying the pictures Tosh Brown has taken for a while now. You might not know they were from him, but you’ve been enjoying them anyway. Tosh, simply, is one hell of a photographer. He takes pictures of things in the great outdoors… not a bad gig. Bonefish to turkeys to horses to Mahi Mahi. That kind of depth and breadth of experience likely comes with some interesting stories. Tosh agreed to tell some of those stories here.
Tosh, you shoot some great pictures. I’m guessing that being a photographer is something like being a guide, in that when you are taking pictures, you aren’t fishing. You are around it, right next to it, but not actually doing it. When do you put the rod down and pick up the camera?
When I’m actually shooting for someone (contracts, deadlines, and art direction) it’s an easy decision because work comes first. Even if I’m offered a rod and a chance to fish, I always make sure that the day’s shooting list is complete before I make a cast.
Where I struggle with fish-versus-shoot are the “spec” trips where I’m blending the green light to fish and the need to get some shots to justify my time and expense for being there. On those days I typically let the ambient light make my decision for me. Early and late when I’ve got the quality light, I’ll typically burn as many frames as possible and then switch to the rod when the light gets flat/harsh. That works well for some species, but I’ve passed up a lot casts at early morning tailing and waking and rolling fish because the light was great and there were bills to pay.
Is there a saltwater shot you missed that haunts you?
I honestly can’t think of one in particular, but over many years of shooting fish pictures I’ve thrown out hundreds of frames because I was a bit too late on the trigger and captured a hole in the water instead of a jumping or tailing fish. Back in the film days it was usually an exposure mistake that killed a good shot, but nowadays you can fix most of those in Photoshop.
You have a day where you can fish exclusively for bonefish, permit or tarpon. Which would you pick and why?
I love bonefish for their tailing and running, and permit are okay when they’re not being prickly little bitches. But if I had to pick one it would have to be tarpon. I’ve had the same May/June tarpon dates in the Keys since 1990 and that trip is carved in stone (I hope) to perpetuity. I can’t get enough of that fish: the eats, the jumps, the runs, and the habitat. Tarpon are the total package and we should all be thankful that they taste like boiled ass.
If you were going to bring just one camera out on the water, which camera would you bring?
The fastest one in my box. I started years ago with a Nikon F5 film loader, then switched to a Nikon D2x when digital came along. Now I’m shooting their D4 and it’s an amazing machine. It’s a pricey chunk to lug around but the performance is incredible.
What is your current bonefish set up in terms of rod and reel?
That really depends on where I’m fishing. For schoolies on calm days I love a 6wt that can carry a decent amount of line and land it softly. For bigger fish, heavier flies, and windy days I’ll switch to an 8 wt. I like any reel with a reliable drag and a mid or large arbor for quick line pickup.
For bonefish, where would you pay more attention, the rod or the reel?
Probably the rod. These days most of the reel manufacturers are making great drags that’ll handle any fish, as long as you take care of them. Rods, though, are all over the place. I’m not a good enough caster to spot the fine nuances in speed and flex that some anglers obsess over, but I do know a crappy rod when I’m holding one, and my marginal casting tends to amplify their deficiencies
When you are on the water a lot you see some things other folks just never see. Can you think of something really unique you’ve witnessed out on the water?
Because of my sometimes questionable decision making on capturing photos, I got an up-close view last summer of a lemon shark eating a bonefish on North Andros.
We were fishing the Joulters and losing too many bonefish to sharks. Every school had 3-4 lemons patrolling their fringe. After one small bone got cut in half, I waded up to the bloody head and got down on my knees with my underwater camera. With a wide-angle lens I had to get really close, so I crouched down with the dome port just inches from the bonefish head.
When the shark came back to finish his meal, I captured the entire sequence of him rushing in and grabbing the prize. He could have changed his mind and gone for my chubby white hands clenched to the camera, but I guess the bloody bonefish head must have smelled better.
Is there one bonefish that stands out for you in your memory? If so, what was memorable about that fish?
Several years ago I shot a magazine story at Casa Blanca Lodge where we spent the entire week in kayaks exploring miles of water that they’d never been able to access with skiffs. In a shallow lagoon that was way off the beaten track, we found schools of bonefish in about 6 inches of water that acted as if they’d never seen humans. We were paddling right through them and they’d barely even change course.
After losing a fish to a broken hook, I was digging through my fly box when a single tailed up right next to my kayak. For grins, I flipped the hookless fly in front of him and he pounced. He was so close I could see every little detail of the eat: the gills flaring, the mud puff, the tail kick, everything. When I gently lifted the rod, the fly pulled out. When I dropped the tip, he pounced again. For the next few minutes we played this cat/mouse game, and each time I took the fly out of his mouth he became more frantic. After about the 5th or 6th eat he finally looked up and saw me and the kayak about five feet away. Even then he really never spooked, he just turned and swam off with a really dejected air about him.
There have been some shots at really big fish that I’ve blown over the years, but for some reason that little dude in Ascension Bay really sticks out
Thanks Tosh. Keep up the good work.