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It was about 15 years ago that I began to write outdoor articles. One of my first was an account of steelhead fishing that I submitted to a regional magazine, and when word came back from the editor that he would buy the piece only if I could supply some black-and-white photographs to accompany the text, I was elated.
So, the following weekend, my wife, Hilde, and I set out for a nearby river with my fishing tackle, a fairly good German camera I had won in a poker game in the Army and a couple of rolls of film. The plan was for me to hook a fish and Hilde to snap the photos as I played and landed it.
The plan didn't work. I fished through most of the day without a strike. There was no more than an hour of good light left when I decided to do something that has left me feeling vaguely guilty through all the ensuing years. I faked the pictures. It wasn't awfully difficult, either.
For playing-the-fish shots. I tied a two-pound stone to the end of my fly-line leader. At a scenic bend in the river—rocky on my side, fir trees on the opposite bank—I stationed myself at the water's edge with Hilde on a boulder above me and just upstream, the sun directly behind her.
Then, with 20 feet of fly line stripped from the reel, I would toss the stone out into the middle of the stream and quickly strike a pose with my rod before it hit the water. Hilde tried to click the shutter just as the line tightened and the stone disappeared beneath the surface. She was too quick a few times, too slow a few others, but we got some shots in which it appeared that the splash had been made by a fish. We also took a couple with a much larger stone tied to the leader, and with that stone on the river bottom and the rod bowed nearly double, it looked as if I were battling quite a steelhead.
We finished the job the next day at a creek near our home, where we took some close-ups of the landing of the steelheed. For these we used the resin mold of a 10-pound fish that I had made a year earlier following the instructions in McCIane's Standard Fishing Encyclopedia. I was a little worried that the un-bendable mold would look the same in every shot. But by varying the angle and the light, we came up with three or four reasonably convincing exposures. The photos passed editorial inspection, and the story sold.
I kept the shameful secret to myself for a couple of years. Then a friend of mine wrote a grouse-hunting article. The editor he sent it to responded that he couldn't use the text without accompanying photographs.
Frankly, I was glad—as I suppose most sinners are—to have the opportunity to corrupt a friend. We went out and got the usual shots of a dog at point (pointing a pheasant wing we had hidden in a bush), the expectant hunter walking up behind the dog for the flush of the bird. Next I took a few of my friend bringing the gun to his shoulder. For the obligatory photo of a gunner bringing down a bird in flight, we used a dusty old mounted grouse that we had bought for a few dollars at a hardware store. With the wooden pedestal removed, I tossed the thing in the air time after time, and my friend blasted away at it. After using half a box of shells there wasn't much left of the bird, but we got what we were after—the hunter at the moment of the shot, the dog looking skyward and the bird (though barely recognizable) outlined in a puff of feathers 20 yards out against the trees.
So I had a companion in guilt for the next 10 years. During that time I continued writing outdoor stories, but never again did I submit phony photographs with them.
Then, in 1978, something happened that made me feel a good deal better. I had an article published in Gray's Sporting Journal, and while leafing through a copy of the issue, I came across an expose of outdoor photography by Charles F. Waterman. In it, Waterman—himself a photojournalist—explained how some of his colleagues would hire divers to throw dead fish up through the surface of the water for those leaping-fish pictures (apparently you have to use a lot of film in such a setup, because the timing is difficult and in many of the shots the diver's hands will show); how upland birds with fishing line tied to their legs are released time and again, continually dragged back down to earth for another flight, another hunting photo; how stuffed animals and mounted birds are used for some of the spectacular layouts featured in wildlife magazines.