We're paying a bit of a price this week for the downright balmy weather we've been enjoying across Northern Ontario this winter because temperatures are dipping back down into the "normal" range for this time of the year.
But, the return of colder temperatures isn't an issue for most winter anglers who, given the break-through in winter clothing technology and the advent of thermal insulted pop-up shelters and portable propane heaters are as warm as toast.
Honest truth, it was so warm inside the shelter, with the temperature hovering in the mid-60 Fahrenheit range that we never put on our jackets or gloves all day long. And the walleyes and perch were biting so ravenously that I never put a line in the water, preferring to act as "chief cook and bottle washer".
Better make that fish coach and netter.
Being inside the warm shelter made releasing the bigger walleyes we caught a simple task, as the fish scooted away, none the worse for wear when we dropped them back into the holes. Had we been outside, in the cold winter wind, however, it would have created an issue.
"With arctic cold snaps, proper fish handling becomes important," noted good friend and renown outdoor photographer, Darrin Bohonis. "You don’t have to look too deeply into social media to see some mighty impressive fish catches being made across Northern Ontario this winter. But the cold weather means we have to guard against frozen eyes, fins and gills."
It is a hugely important point, of course, and Darrin being one of the best outdoor photographers in the business, I was interested in getting his perspective on how to take great fish photos without harming the fish we intend on releasing.
"As temperatures dip into the minus teens (Celsius),"Darrin said, "especially when you add in the wind-chill, a fish's eyes can freeze quickly.
"I’ve encountered situations when capturing photos for a magazine, where I decided we simply couldn’t get the shot outdoors. With temperatures touching minus 25° Celsius and a brisk wind buffeting the tent, shooting outdoors was simply not an option. Not for my sake or the equipment, but for the risk of causing harm to the fish. Instead, I was able to capture some quality images from inside the heated shelter."
But what about carrying a cold camera into a warm fish shack, I wondered? Does that create any issues?
"We’ve all had our moments when the camera lens has fogged up or the batteries have died just as we were about to take a picture of the fish of a lifetime," Darrin chuckled. "But it doesn’t have to happen. In fact, taking pictures in the cold -- even extreme cold -- can be a relatively straightforward process, so long as you keep a few things in mind.
"The most important, is to have your equipment ready before the controlled chaos of hoisting up the prized catch. This means that if someone is going to be taking a picture of you, you need to instruct them in advance on how to use your camera. Think back to those moments when you attempted to coach a friend on which button to press or how to turn on the flash. We’ve all been there.
"In cold conditions, a problem also arises, when you move your camera from the cold temperatures outside to the warm temperatures inside a shelter. A cold camera lens will fog up instantly. And it will keep fogging up, no matter how many times you wipe it, until it becomes conditioned to the inside environment. It is even worse if you then take your camera outside, where the condensation will freeze. Think of a frozen windshield. That is not good when you’re about to take a photo."
Okay, if you're like me, as I listened to Darrin dispense his words of wisdom, you probably thought -- been there and done that. So what is the solution?
"If I plan on taking pictures in the cold, I’ll leave my camera equipment outside in a protective case," Darrin says. "On the other hand, if I plan on shooting images inside a heated ice shelter, I’ll bring my equipment inside long before I ever start shooting."
To compensate for the darker surroundings inside a shelter, Darrin suggests using your camera's flash to fill in the shadows. Doing so, he says, will add "pop" to your pictures.
And if you run into an issue where harsh light streaming in from the windows causes overexposure, simply close the flaps and let the flash provide the lighting. With a little bit of planning and preparation, he says, you'll be surprised at the high quality images you can shoot inside a fish hut.
Another option, and one that I use often, is to shoot the image while I am standing out on the ice and the person holding the fish is standing at the open door inside the warm shelter.
If you're using a simple point-and-shoot camera, which are typically compact in size, Darrin suggests storing it in an inside jacket pocket where your body heat will keep the battery warm and up to snuff. If you're shooting with a DSLR, on the other hand, simply pop out the batteries and store those in your pocket, while keeping a backup set in the camera bag.
And the smart planning doesn't stop there.
"When you get home from your day on the ice, there’s always the anticipation of loading your pictures on to your computer and sharing them with family and friends," Darrin says. "But the last thing you want to do is immediately expose your cold camera to the warm environment inside your house. Condensation will occur immediately and it is bad news for the electrical components and sensor inside your camera."
To avoid these problems, Darrin recommends taking out the memory card before you enter the house and then leaving your camera inside the case so that it can warm up gradually to room temperature.
"Cold winter weather doesn’t have to prevent us from enjoying the things we love," says Darrin. "In fact, we have unique opportunities to experience the Northern Ontario lifestyle like few other places on earth. When we handle the fish properly in cold weather and share our adventures, we’re encouraging others to enjoy the magnificent winter fishing opportunities that Northern Ontario has to offer."