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Does Your Picture Perfect Memory of a Fish Match What is in the Photo

old photo

After seventy years most humans develop a slippery grip on short term memory, but somehow longer held memories seem to become more vivid.

At least I believed this until recently. Bear with me through the twists and turns of this tangled story.

Way, way back in the 1950's I had caught a few trout on my Abu Record free-spool reel. Small, dark and ugly trout from the deep, green pools of the Cam river, in Kaiapoi, near Christchurch, New Zealand. Fish caught between picking out birds' nests from that nigh on impossible casting reel.

Good apprenticeship for later I suppose. Certainly I found ample opportunity to test my new found skills in the field of tossing out obscenities.

But the thing that caught my imagination on the river was the fluid grace of fly fishermen. I watched, utterly fascinated. By comparison the flinging of a lure, between picking out tangles held little magic.

The pestering began. Finally persistence and pestering paid off. My eleventh birthday saw a new fly rod and reel gleaming at the end of my bed.

The next day I spent a fruitless morning thrashing the Avon River to a seething mess of foam, as it wandered through Hagley Park in the middle of Christchurch (South Island, New Zealand).

Near lunch-time, mathematics and the laws of averages finally came to play.

A trout jumped onto the hook, and despite my over excited efforts stayed there right up to, and onto the bank. There it gleamed. Without doubt the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, barring perhaps Imogene's red hair.

I stuffed the trout into the handlebar bag on my bike and flew home. My parents reckon that when I arrived home, I was still quivering, and so was the fish. Out came the Kodak Box Brownie and the photo snapped in stark black and white. The memory of that morning is still sharply vivid.

About thirty-five years on, that memory came flooding back with greatly enhanced clarity.

My mother had found the small black and white photo of 'the fish'. The photograph showed the proud angler holding up his prize. There I was all shorts and sandals, trying to look 'cool', or whatever was the buzz word of the day. I was rapt.

original photo

There was my first fly-rod caught fish. A milestone. A great memory. Held firm in black and white. The photo earned a place smack in the centre of the photo board in my tackle-shop, and on this page.

Those who cared to listen, and too many who did not, suffered through the interminable re-telling of the capture of that first fish. That one photograph bent a thousand ears or more to my endless drone.

Something was wrong though. Very wrong.

The fish could not have been that small could it? My memory not that fickle? Surely the fish that tugged and pulled on my line was bigger, much bigger.

The fish that leapt out of the river, spraying a mist of rainbow flecked water into the air around was much bigger. I remember that part well enough. The splash as it dropped back into the water sent ripples rolling right across the river.

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The line hummed and twanged as the fish raced down the river and bought with it real fear that the leader would break. That little fish could not have put that heart stopping bend in my beautiful gleaming split cane rod.

The fish that lay on the bank, gleaming silver, was much bigger, I remember that part well, as well I might.

A large crowd of three or five people gathered round to congratulate the skilled angler. A small fish like the one in the photo could not have drawn such a multitude. Course it was bigger!

Why else would so many heads turn to watch the great hunter as he strode along the bank, back towards his bike, the fish dangling at his side? The bank side strollers literally stopped in their tracks, smiling. In awe at the sheer vastness of the trout. No, that trout was much bigger.

Maybe the ravages of time conjured some strange shrinkage on part of the image on that very old photo. Perhaps the bright white silver of that huge fish, merged into the background, losing the true size of the original fish. Maybe the rudimentary technology of the Kodak Box Brownie had worked some strange focal tricks on the fish held proudly before the angler.

After all how many photographs of fish do we see of fish thrust toward the camera, at arm's length from the angler to enhance the appearance of great fishy bulk. The only clue to this dubious practice being the extraordinary large size of the hands holding the fish relative to the size of the body connected to the hands.

That could, and should explain it. If this subterfuge works to enhance the size of a photographed fish, maybe the reverse could be true?

Fortunately modern technology has come up with a way to rectify the problems associated with fish shrinkage on old photographs.

I sat at the computer, loaded up Photoshop and set to work. First, I masked out everything but the fish in the original photo, and then I lifted the fish out of the original image. To overcome the size problem, I blew up a photo (in a photographic sense of course) of another trout much more in keeping with my memory, and dropped it back into the place previously held by the smaller trout.

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A bit of retouching around the edges of the fish, some work on lining up the shadows, some 'feathering' around the edges to merge the new fish into the background, finished the job.

enhanced photo

As you can see the new photograph does much better service to my memory. Much more like the size of the original fish. My memory and photographs can not lie.

That should have been the end of it.

 Memory satisfied at last. But, no, I had to tinker further. Maybe the photo could do with a bit of brightness and contrast enhancement. I hit the appropriate buttons, and the computer whirled and rattled and the picture grew lighter and the contrast grew more pronounced.

There it was. At the base of the rod, a white, probably silver in real life, blob. Silver? It could not be. My first fly reel, which I still have, is a deep brown, almost black, Bakelite sided reel. With quivering heart I selected the area around the white blob and zoomed in.

There it was, and there it is for you, and sadly me to see, memory shattered. An overhead reel, an Abu Record.

evidence photo

That damned reel. Not a fly reel at all. Not my first fly rod caught fish. Fifty years of mistaken identification.

Still there is some good to come out of all this. I remain absolutely positive, that the original photograph, if found, would prove beyond doubt that my first fly rod caught trout was much closer in size to the trout in my computer enhanced image.

I can now return to the clear memory of that day without the black and white limitation of an ageing, now discredited photograph.

Part of me hopes the real photograph remains undiscovered. How else can I bore you witless with the story of my first fly rod trout, that huge trout? My memory is much better than any computer, and certainly much better at enhancing the truth.

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Article written by Tony Bishop (Bish)

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