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Incredible beauty, aerial acrobatics and a delicate nature—that’s the tragic twist of the Arctic grayling.

Pat Babcock of Cree River Lodge told my group he was confident that we could catch a bunch of these Northern Saskatchewan beauties, but we would have limited photo time. Gotta get ’em back in the water quickly, or risk leaving the fish too weakened to return to their current-fighting lifestyle.

No problem there; as my trip mates and I were well-accustomed to holding and shooting sport fish of diverse shape and size. But grayling are exceptionally difficult for a couple of reasons.

First, you want that exaggerated dorsal with its blue streaked brilliance standing tall, and this usually takes some belly tickling or a two-hand pose where you hold the fish in one and lift that beautiful fin with the other.

Sounds easy enough, but there’s a reason my Canadian colleague Brad Fenson calls grayling “snot rockets.” These strong-bodied current fighters with a heavy slime coat will shoot out of your hand in a millisecond.

Suffice to say, the “thump” of a grayling on the deck yielded grimacing, if not glaring looks from the captain.

Thankfully, all of the grayling we caught on spinners, spoons, and flies swam away just fine, but through abundant caution, we figured out a safe, effective method for achieving authentic photos, while ensuring our grayling’s safety.

Basically, you hold the landing net in one hand and with the other; you lift the fish by reaching under the mesh and pushing upward. (You can also have a buddy hold the net from outside the photo frame.)

With patience and poise, we were able to raise several grayling high enough above the net for clear images that captured those soft purple tones and dark frontal flecks.

If a fish flopped, we simply let go and let the fish drop a short distance back into the net.

Simple and effective, this method should work for just about any fresh or saltwater species that might be tough to hold. This is particularly helpful with kids or anyone prone to overreacting when a fish flops.

Anytime you’re planning to shoot a fish destined for release, having your camera ready for business will facilitate a timely process that gets your catch back to the water asap.

If you need to work on that grayling fin, or hold any fish without the net assist, hold your catch close to the gunwale and if flops occur, simply let the fish slide overboard. Better you lose the photo opportunity than risk release mortality.

Just catch another one.

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