After finally chasing down that perfect slab of a rainbow trout on the Gallatin, a triumphant photo feels like due reward. The folks behind the KeepEmWet campaign agree, but they’re aiming to change our fishing photography and overall fish handling in the process.
The campaign began when Bryan Huskey, an outdoor photographer and filmmaker, started using the #KeepEmWet hashtag to advocate for the three principles of proper catch-and-release handling: eliminating exposure to air, handling fish as little and carefully as possible, and eliminating contact with dry surfaces including hands. Huskey notes that it’s a misconception that a fish has to be submerged to be considered a “wet fish.” He explains it this way: “A wet fish can be lifted up for a quick photo. A wet fish is glossy and shiny and has water dripping off of it. As soon as those drips stop, that’s when it’s time for the fish to go back in the water.”
With the fly-fishing industry embracing social media, the campaign and hashtag have caught on, including with Bozeman-area guides and anglers. Montana State University Fish & Wildlife Management student Miles Sweek thinks the campaign is “necessary to maintain our fisheries, especially in places growing as fast as Bozeman.” An avid angler, Sweek points out that Bozeman has outstanding fisheries because anglers and managers have been willing to translate science-based findings into management policies. “In the ‘60s, Montana stopped stocking their rivers because the science was clear, even though the public was initially outraged,” he explains. “The same thing is happening here where the science is clear on ‘Keep ‘Em Wet’ but public awareness of the actual issues are not as clear.”
As an Orvis-endorsed guide and native Montanan, Maggie Mae Kulhman is often with anglers on their first fly-fishing expeditions. She takes her role as an educator seriously, particularly when it comes to fish handling. “The car ride over is a great opportunity to get to know the guest and discuss how passionate and protective Montana anglers are about their waters and fish,” she says. “I keep a cardboard cutout of a brown trout in my truck and we actually practice proper fish handling techniques.”
Kuhlman spends much of her time on and off the water advocating for protecting Montana’s river resources, saying, “For me it’s not just running a business and making money, but educating the new guests on just how lucky they are to be experiencing that moment with that one fish.” When asked about the KeepEmWet campaign, Kuhlman says she is completely supportive: “Give me a sticker—I’ll put it on my boat!”
For more information, visit keepemwet.org.