Photographer Bill Eppridge is a fortunate man: His vocation and avocation complement each other almost perfectly. "It has occurred to me in recent years." says Eppridge, "that fly-fishing and photography are almost the same. In each skill there's one—and only one—perfect moment, and when it comes you have to be ready to set the hook or snap the shutter." As always, very little was off with Eppridge's timing when he photographed the Gus Macker Basketball Tournament in Lowell, Mich. (page 62).
Eppridge was raised in upstate New York, where he came to love the outdoors during long afternoons spent exploring forests and hunting with his cousin Don. "There wasn't a heck of a lot of game around Rochester," says Eppridge, who lives in Wilmington, Del. "We ate an awful amount of wood-chuck in those days because it was all we could find to hunt. We went after them with pistols so as to be very sporting about it. We'd skin 'em and cook 'em up—pretty good eating, actually. They taste just like porcupine."
Woodchucks were spared when Eppridge climbed a step up the culinary ladder by developing a taste for trout. The challenge of fly-fishing and tying intricate flies soon thereafter became an obsession.
"At this stage of my life," says Eppridge, tongue in cheek, "only one criterion exists, and that's fishing. This camera business—this photography stuff is just a ruse to fool the fish. My heartfelt goal is to create a flawless, perfectly crafted trout lure. It has become my life's work. The main thing the fly-fisherman and the photographer have in common is that they both want to be invisible. Pro athletes are camera-conscious; there's almost no such thing as a candid shot," he says.
"So you have to sneak up on them, stalk them quietly, as you might a fish. Lurk in the background, at the edge of the stream, so to speak. And then, when they least expect it, reel them in real slowly—then you've got 'em."
Eppridge, 47, has been reeling in big photo assignments for a good while. For LIFE he shot the war in Vietnam and lived in flophouses near New York City's Needle Park and dodged bullets in Santo Domingo in 1965, when LBJ sent Army troops in to protect American interests. His SPORTS ILLUSTRATED tenure, which began in 1977, has been somewhat more tranquil, although he almost fell off a 12-foot ladder at the Macker tournament. And, yes, he spent his spare moments lurking at the edge of a stream, a real one, the Rogue River.