One of the most frequent comments in the many angling groups across social media goes along the lines of “You want to check your scales”, or “It’s never Xlb”. You’ll all have seen this and, I bet you’ve all even been guilty of it on occasion.
Now there is no getting away from the fact that now and again, some seriously questionable weights are proposed, some of which don’t even claim to have been weighed but are ‘guestimates’. Those ones are like a red rag to a bull when it comes to the many anglers on social media that have refined their ability to weigh any fish in a split second, based only on observing a 2d image and no consideration of many variables.
Though, in such situations, if you have only guessed yourself, don’t be surprised when others guess with a considerable difference in opinion.
On many occasions, a fish has been weighed and evidenced at a given weight, and it will still be met by ridicule online, but just why is this?
Moving aside from the psychological assessment of why someone even feels it is worthy of their time to talk down another persons fish, who, if they are over-stating the weight, 9 times out of 10 are only cheating themselves, the common theme is poor photography.
In nearly every picture of a fish with multiple accusations of a dubious weight, the image is ill thought out, or even over-thought, in terms of best showing the proportions of the fish. Couple this with the fact that most of the time, little is available within an image to give true perspective, or worse still, people assume a perspective from a handler of the fish they don’t personally know the size of.
When it comes to perspective, there really is nothing that influences people more than the relationship of the size of the fish in proportion to the angler holding it. In the image above, Christ Pritchard is holding what appears to be a relatively small flounder, yet, whilst it wouldn’t be breaking any records, is actually a fairly good stamp of fish in a gigantic pair of hands. Suffice to say, stick that fish in my hands and the guesses on its weight would double.
There are a number of ways Chris could better present this fish for a photo that would mitigate the impact of himself making an arctic truck look like a kids toy, but he was in a competition at the time and thus it would not have been top of his priorities. However, Chris will always retain the disadvantage of his size in showing off specimen fish.
To this day, Chris remains the only person who I’ve seen have the ability to hold a respectable sized specimen ballan wrasse and have it appear to hold the proportions of a corkwing wrasse. Equally, his holding aloft a 30lb conger looks frankly no different to me with a strap eel… I’m calling a small victory for short people here (our fish look bigger), but I digress…
So with the anglers size as a key variable, what else is there? We can’t possibly discuss this topic without the obvious perspective distorting trick that people either seem to love or hate, but that few are actually that good at pulling off…the long arm!
I’m almost left embarrassed looking back at this old photo, and not just owing to the double chin (I take the recommendations of layering up for Norway very seriously). The reality was, there was absolutely no need and nothing to be gained by long arming these fish. I still have a slight bend in the arms for these ones, but you get the idea.
Each of the Plaice weighed just over 4lb, so it’s not as if I needed to overstate the appearance of their size. They were good sized, stocky, well fed fish and would have photographed much better, in my since more enlightened experience, with a more natural pose.
There’s just so much to get right with the long arm technique to make it viable for most on the fly. At best, you get the fleeting appearance of a fish much bigger than it would otherwise look, but any close inspection of such a photo quickly finds things that throw the fish into a better perspective and, I fear, they can often end up looking smaller as a result.
Clearly keeping ones hands hidden is the key to the technique, but beyond that, depth of field of the lens used for the photo, general body positioning, and the angle to which the camera faces the subject will all influence the final perception.
There are a number of reasons why a fish may be held out for a photo, and chief amongst those is that primarily the photo is of the fish, so why not try and fill the frame with it?
Potentially a deeper running issue is a case of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’. On many occasions, I have witnessed the weight of fish held tight to a person’s chest challenged endlessly. It all seems to boil down to the fact, that those challenging the weight, have become so used to every fish being thrust in the direction of the lens, that one that isn’t looks considerably smaller in comparison. Has it become so much the norm, that our brains struggle to process relative proportions for those that are not held in such a manner?
The pitfalls of a long arm approach are when the hands and fingers are still on display. That same depth perception enhancing the size of the fish is now working on your hands and fingers too – as can be seen in Grant Woodgate’s image above.
The second the fingers look substantially larger than would be proportionate to their owner, the doubts over weight will start to fly in, irrelative of how big the fish also looks.
In Grant’s case, he is merely holding out the fish towards a GoPro and no doubt trying to ensure the Samson Lure can be seen for product promotion. The additional effect of GoPro’s having a bit of a fisheye lens adds further distortion to the image that will influence peoples perception on weight.
The final point to note is that the photos we most often look at online are 2d. True 3d photos (I don’t mean the Facebook 3d photo effect) are few and far between. Unfortunately a 2d photo captures only one plane of view, which invariably fails to demonstrate the accurate girth, or depth in terms of rays and flatfish, of a fish.
The only answer to this is to photograph the fish from many angles, or to do a video of the fish moving around it, to demonstrate girth along with length and width, not that anyone should have to do so in order to defend a prized capture that they are particularly proud of. Quite the opposite, the doubter should be asking themselves what they can see, within the photo, to be absolutely certain of accurate proportions.
Next month, we’ll demonstrate how simple changes in the angles upon which a subject faces the camera can have a substantive difference on the perception of the size of the fish.
In the mean time, if you are stuck guestimating catch sizes, save yourself a lof of hassle and purchase a small compact set of digital scales. We’ve included an excellent video from The Fish Locker below that looks at a few different pairs across different price ranges.