Saturday, June 20, 2009

Do you remember your first time? A fish story usually follows!

Lakeside Bridge, Pompton Lakes, NJ, 1982

First time with a large format camera, I mean!

Over on there's a thread asking members to post their first image made with a large format camera. Luckily, I have all my negatives in order and was able to find my first one, number 82-001.

I was a senior in college and was taking advanced photography. My father had told me that he had an old Speed Graphic he "acquired" from the Air Force many years earlier. I asked if I could play around with it. I bought some film and developer and trays, did a little reading on how to develop sheet film, and tried to get a feel for the camera. Up until this point I had only used 35mm.

Once I felt comfortable with the camera I made the big trip across the street to the shores of the Mighty Pompton River (aka Pompton Lake). This was one of our old hang out spots for doing the things that boys have been known to do... drink beer, blow up model boats with M80s, and fish. This place also afforded a great view of Lakeside Bridge, where my Dad and I fished.

Fishing was a big part of my youth. In high school we would fish on the bridge early in the morning before school. My dad would pick me up from school and we would head to the Wanaque Reservoir (after a quick stop at Luigi's Pizza for supper) and fish till dark. Largemouths and pickerel while it was still light – catfish and white perch as it got dark. Then we'd head home, clean our catch and freeze it. Then I'd do my homework and we'd go down to the bridge around 11:00 PM. There would be quite a few people fishing on the bridge at that time of day. Some locals... Lester, Freddie, Russell, and many people from other towns, like Paterson and Passaic, would make the trek. The catfish and carp were HUGE in Pompton Lake... must have been all the pollution from upstream in New York State, or the runoff from the DuPont munitions plant north of town. One night, my father hooked into a 70-lb carp on the bridge. He liked to live dangerously (when he fished anyway) using "ultra-light" gear (rated for small fish up to 4-lbs.). Well, that was quite a night. He had this fish, which was almost 5 feet long, hooked for hours. He was masterful that night. Carp have a very soft lip and are easy to lose because their lip rips and the hook comes off. The newspaper showed up and took photos. No one had a net with a long enough handle to reach down the 12 feet to the water. So the word went out and one of the neighbors brought back the biggest net they could find.

My father climbed over the railing and down to one of the pilings, which was only 5 feet from the water. He was able to get the net into the water while one of his friends held the pole up on the bridge. Only problem was, the fish wouldn't fit in the net. Maybe one-third of it would fit. You couldn't get it in the net head first so he figured he'd have to try tail first and grab the head by the gills. After a couple of attempts he guided the tail into the net. Then, with one mighty flap of the tail, the fish jerked sideways, ripping the hook through its soft lip and he was gone. By now it was almost 3:00 AM. My father climbed back over the railing and said to the fish, "You win... tonight!" Every one started packing it in and the exciting night came to a close. Now, because the papers had photos, does this count as a fish story?

Back to photography... I made this exposure on Tri-X and developed in FG-7 in my parent's basement. There are light leaks and scratches from the wooden clothespins I used to hang the film to dry on my Mom's laundry line, but I will always cherish this negative, even with all it's flaws... it was my first time.


Paul Cocklin said...

Now THAT's a fishing story. You're organizational skills seem quite good, too. I still have negs shot twenty years ago, but I'd be hard pressed to tell you when a particular neg was shot. Nicely told story that had me smelling fish frying in a pan.

rcoda said...

Thanks Paul... but it really is true! And this was an easy one... it is literally a couple of hundred feet from my parents' front door, right across the street.