The other day I was walking through the Miami airport, and I stopped in a magazine/book shop to look at the shelves. Cover after fishing magazine cover flaunted big (obviously oxygen-starved) fish in the hands of some cheerful angler.

It’s what I expected. I’m in the magazine business, we sell product on cover appeal, and all that. But, still, I couldn’t help but feel “enough is enough.” I mean, how many arms-straight-out photo tricks do we really need to make a fish look bigger and mightier than it really is? Are you people really still buying all that?

Not to sound like too much of a dork here, but I think Field & Stream has done a pretty respectable job of keeping “what is, is.” I liked our March cover design, and I think the April cover with the “wall-hanger” was done in very good taste. I think we’re showing more concern for the real angling experience, rather than a spiced-up camera lens trick. But I’m on the team, and you can take that for what it’s worth.

I will say this: I wish more magazines would recognize that small can be just as good. A native greenback cutthroat trout, though it may only be 10 inches long, is just as appealing or more so, in my mind, than some triploid, stocker rainbow.

What I really worry about is the process a fish endures (especially in a catch-and-release context) to make itself a cover model. I’ve been talking with fish biologists recently, and they say that any caught-to-be-released fish should be photographed in the water. In the worst case, that above-the-waterline photo-op should last no more than 15 seconds.

I’m not naive enough to believe that magazines can get sold with cover shots featuring only submerged fish. But I will say that a dry fish, framed perfectly in the photo, is often a dead fish waiting to happen.

If we’re going to shoot them–for magazine covers, or for our own personal photo libraries–the sign of a good shot, and a fish that’s going to live, is to see water dripping from its body as the photo is taken. I want to see more drippers, and less grip-n-grinners.

After all, imagine you ran a 5K race, and as soon as you crossed the finish line, someone stuck your head in a bucket of water, for as long as it took to get the perfect photograph. That’s basically what the fish feels when we lift it in the air for a photo.

If it isn’t dripping, it isn’t a good shot. For you, for me, for the magazine cover, whatever. No matter the place, and no matter the species. You can feel free to disagree with me if you are so inclined.