"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Bass, Camera, Action!
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Scifres

There are times in the great outdoors when one's success is measured by failures.

Such was the case many years ago when I wrote an outdoors column and doubled in brass as a police reporter for the state's largest and best newspapers.

My days off were Sundays and Mondays, and I often was assigned to "outdoorsing" on Tuesdays. The "outdoorsing" term was coined by my editor who wanted me to be out there doing something, even though he had not the foggiest notion of what it would be.

Sundays were pretty much occupied by family things and puttering around the house, but Mondays and Tuesdays brought a middling chance that I would be in the boonies or on a creek, river, pond, lake, or all of those neat environments.

But there still was a problem. Cy McBride, my editor and schedule maker, liked to have pictures with my stuff--even action shots of me doing something.

One day after I had written a column about bass fishing, Cy told me he would like some pictures of me catching a fish. He wanted me in the foreground and the fish doing something like jumping out of the water in the background.

"Vice versa is OK if that's easier," Cy said.

That brought an inherent problem. My outdoors friends had to work on week days and everyone knows that taking action shots is much akin to marital squabbles and dancing: It takes two to tangle or tango.

I had no problems with catching bass, bluegills and other denizens of the deep. And I could shoot pictures of dead fish without end. But how would I get action shots of myself in fish-catching situations.

During my police-reporting days I had been required to carry one of the old Speed Graphic cameras which shot 4 X 5-inch cut film that was stored in holders that slipped into the back of the camera. There was one piece of film on each side of the holder. All I had to do was slip the holder in the back slot of the camera, remove a protective slide and fire away.

It was slow and it was cumbersome, but the old Speed Graphic press-type cameras made great pictures with huge negatives. Thirty-five millimeter cameras and roll film were trying to slip into the periodical print at that time, but most editors would not touch them with a 10-foot pole. I had found the company camera I carried so useful that I had purchased a used Graphic for my own personal use.

Although first thoughts of my assignment assured me my job would not be easy, I had some ideas on the matter.

"How would it be if I could place the camera pre-focused on a tripod, step into the picture, make a cast, hook a bass and trip the shutter to record the whole schemer on a piece of film?"

"But how," I asked myself, "would I trip the shutter?"

The Speed Graphic shutter was activated by pressing a button on the flash gun (somewhat like a flashlight) that was mounted on the side of the camera. It was powered by three D batteries. Push the little red button and the flash bulb would fire simultaneously with the camera shutter. Without the flash bulb the shutter still was tripped. 

The flash gun was connected to the lens by what they called a solenoid (I can't be sure of the spelling of that).

"Why not," I thought, "splice 50 feet or so of light telephone wire into the cable that went from the flash gun to the solenoid?" 

With such a setup, I could remove the flash gun (plugged into the solenoid), place my pre-focused Graphic on a tripod, step into the picture with my right shoe and sock removed, make my cast, hook my bass, trip the shutter with my big toe, and shoot some great solo action pictures.

I couldn't wait to get to Brushy Pond (a strip-mined pit near Linton). Once there, I found a spot where a little pin oak tree had fallen into the water, and I knew this was the spot. There had to be bass around that inundated tree.

When I was set up for a picture, I cast a surface lure to a spot near the tree and readied my big toe for the action. My lure had scarcely moved before it was inhaled by a bass that tail-walked for his portrait. The picture foregrounded me with throbbing, arched spinning rod in hand.

I made six casts, caught six bass, and shot six beautiful action shots of fish either jumping or spluttering the surface of the water. The "shoot," as it would be known today, required more than an hour.

I was so proud of my photographic feat that I stopped by the office on my way home to have the photo department process my film. With a chest bursting with pride, I told Cy about my coup, and added that I would check with him later to see how my shots came out.

I called Cy from home later in the evening to ask if my film had been processed. "Great shots of the fish," Cy said, "but you decapitated yourself in every picture."

It was not difficult for me in the ensuing years to gain the dubious distinction of "World's Worst Photographer" from such magazine editors as Bill Rae at Outdoor Life magazine, and Hugh Gray at Field & Stream.

Click on thumbnail image to see enlarged photo.
My antiquated Speed Graphic box is a bit rusty now after being replaced by a long string of 35-millimeter cameras, but it still would take pictures if given a chance.

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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