Fish Creeper – Stalking Trout With Cameras Above and Below

A year ago, driving by a small side-channel in the river, Tim pointed out wakes and rings on the slow moving slough. Could there be trout in there? And if so, what the heck were they doing in such a slow, shallow back channel?

We pull into a turn-out on the road, quietly get out of the car, and we slip behind bushes near the water’s edge. Peering down into the shallow waters, we see a wake approaching. The water is so shallow, the large brown trout cannot help making a wake on the surface as he swims upstream.

Could they be spawning here? Were they trapped after run-off ended? And what could they possibly be eating?

These questions would have to wait a year; sometimes life gets in the way of the cool stuff I want to do.

Side channel in River in Montana where Brown Trout Spawn

Shallow Side Channel in October

A brown trout rests after spawning in Montana

Resting Brown Trout

How I Became A Fish Creeper

In the autumn of 2019, driving home, I see splashing in the slow-water channel near the road. I slam on the brakes, I’m out of the car, and I’m now watching six trout swimming in every direction in the shallow trickle.

At this point, I’m hooked. I have to know more about these trout. I vow to spend afternoons spying and learning more.

What is a Fish Creeper?

So what is a fish creeper? It’s like a stalker but without malintent. I am not out to catch or harm these mysterious trout, I just want to watch and learn.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Patrick Clayton’s work as the Fish Eye Guy. If you’ve never seen his work, check out the link (but then come right back here, lol). I’ve never thought of myself as someone with enough patience to photograph or film fish underwater. And while I will never possess Patrick’s skill with the creating photographic masterpieces, peering into the trout’s world has become a bit of an obsession.

Deep Pool Where Trout Rest After Spawning

Deep Pool Where Trout Rest

Grayling in Lake Agnes in Montana

Brown Trout and his Shadow

Watching From Above

For days, every afternoon I’d head out and slowly crawl down the bank hoping to photograph and video the fish. I start downstream in a deeper pool where funky green algea lines the bottom of the slough.

Trout swim into the deeper pool and just stop. Some stay in the water column about a foot off the bottom, while others actually lie on the bottom. Here, there is no current. Don’t fish need current and movement to breathe, I wondered?

Upstream, trout splash in the shallow trickle. What could they be doing?

For days, I watch the big pool. I shoot video of trout swimming and drifting in the water column. I watch in amazement as fish rocket out of hiding spots in the algea and from under rocks should I make any sudden moves. Who knew trout like to bury themselves in the soft green algea? Certainly more questions than answers.

Upstream Rises

As I sit quietly on the bank, my attention often turns upstream where I witness splashing, wakes, and, in some cases, just ruckus. I decide to give up my spot by the deep pool and try to capture whatever is going on in the thin water the next day.

Creeping in on fish in shallow water just isn’t possible. I’m too loud, there is too much brush and twigs breaking, rocks underfoot crunch, and the trout scurry away. I’m going to need a new plan.

Fish Creeper stalking fish with underwater cameras in Montana

The Fish Creeper

A paid of spawning brown trout

Brown Trout Male Chasing Away Other Males

Underwater Filming with my GoPro

So why didn’t I think to use my GoPro and film underwater sooner? Dang, I’ll never know.

On this November day, I come with a plan. I’m dressed in camo from head to toe; polarized sunglasses on. I slip down the bank several yards upstream from the epic-center of the splashing. As I decend, there is a trout swimming upstream in less than an inch of water in front of me. His body nearly entirely out of the water (see video). Crazy! I film this, but the water is too shallow, the trout drops back into the stream. This is going to be a great day.

I get down on my hands and knees. There is lots of splashing below where the water breaks. I see tails, dorsal fins, and bodies thrust against shore. I will later learn this is a very large brown trout who is chasing away smaller browns and juvenile bull trout.

I do a full body crawl across the rocks to get close to the action. I reach in, set the camera, and leave. My GoPro is an older model, a Hero 4 Black, therefore, I’ve only got an hour film time. I return in an hour, pop in another battery, please let this work.

Several Brown Trout in Shallow Water During the Spawn in Montana

Spawning Brown Trout

A bull trout rests in a shallow backwater

A Juvenile Bull Trout Rests

Spawning Brown Trout

At home in the office, I pop the SD card into the computer, and the show begins. I’m hopeful for cool footage as the launch of Fly Fishing Waters is less than two months away.

What I see is amazing. In less than three minutes from the start of recording, two mature brown trout return to the redd and the spawn continues. Another male brown trout asserts a position upstream of the couple in hopes of a chance with the female.

The male brown trout is often interupted by smaller, juvenile bull trout and brook-bull hybrids who want in on the action. He chases after them, biting them when he has the chance, and swiftly returns to his mate as she sweeps pebbles onto the redd.

In total, I film this for more than an hour. Luckily, I had two charged batteries this day.

I return everyday for the next week, I buy larger capacity battery packs, and throw my Hero3 Black in the water in a second location. Nothing compares to that first day.

It’s late November, I must wait another year for more opportunites.

I used my iPhone 10 with an Osmo Gimbal from DJI for smooth filming above water. The photos were poor quality due to zooming in for many photos – my error – zooming and the iPhone X is the wrong thing to do.

We are blessed to live on a Blue Ribbon Trout Stream where I can goof off on sunny autumn afternoons and become a fish creeper.

Thanks for reading!

The Fish Creeper Video

Underwater View of Brown Trout Spawning