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Caught on Tape

Custom-Installed Cameras Provide Hands-Free Video

By Charlie Levine
Marlin Magazine

    Does the following scenario sound vaguely familiar? After trolling for several hours without a knockdown, the crew starts to loosen up and conversations start to flow about a big fish, a girl, the Yankees or the stock market. The quiet of early-morning calm retreats as the crew starts to horse around a bit to pass the time during a slow bite.

    You take your eyes off the spread to wipe the dried salt from your glasses. Then the call comes: "Right short! Right short!" You quickly drop the glasses and look out past the transom but only spy a huge hole in the water and a couple of splashes where a big blue marlin just did a cannonball. "Oh, man, did you see that?" someone yells up from the cockpit. "See what?" you ask.

    I've never hit a hole in one or sunk a three-pointer at the buzzer, but for my buck, there's no bigger bang than dropping back to an enraged sail or marlin and seeing the fish switch off the teaser and bust on the bait like a torpedo. To miss that thrill is like going to a baseball game and not getting a hot dog. It just isn't complete.

    If you can catch the strike, the fight and ultimately the release on videotape, I'm willing to bet that it will get played and played over the years until the tape wears away and finally gives out. The difficult part is manning a camera and producing a tape that is fun to watch while not getting in the way of the fishing action.

Look Ma, No Hands
    Since portable cameras first hit the streets, anglers have made (or at least tried to make) home movies of their fishing exploits. Mike Lerner, founder of the IGFA, hired a cinematographer in the 1930s, strapped the man and all his monstrous camera gear into a special cage he had built above his bridge deck and told him to get all the action on film. Luckily, much has changed since then.

    Over the years anglers have filmed with reel-to-reel, 8-mm, VHS camcorders and anything else they could find. But with the advances in digital video, cameras have become much smaller, and the footage has improved considerably. With smaller, more-affordable cameras now available, many boat owners are switching to custom camera installations on towers, outriggers and bridge decks to produce television-quality home movies without much effort.

    In the early 1990s, Mike Latham, a traveling mate and avid techie, began developing small, waterproof cameras to install on outriggers and towers. The cameras provided excellent angles to capture all the fishing action, and no one was stuck behind the camcorder on film detail. The wiring for the cameras flowed through the center of the outrigger so it was unexposed, and it ended up in a recording deck, usually somewhere in the salon. With this system, the crew could turn it on and forget about it, and at the end of the day all the action would be safely stored on a small tape.

    "When we started catching all the big fish in Madeira, I could not stand losing all those lifetime experiences, so I came up with an idea to put small cameras in riggers and hardtops," Latham says. "This solved the problem of using hand held cameras."

    When Latham first began, the technology had yet to make the leap into the affordable market. The tiny cameras Latham used (about the size of a baseball) were extremely costly. But the idea to form a company specializing in custom camera packages for sportfishing boats was born.

Video Evolution
    Since his first installation, Latham has worked with some of the biggest names in big-game fishing. His cameras have captured the action from the world's most productive hot spots including footage of the 1,337-pound blue marlin taken aboard the God's Favor off Ascension Island.

    Latham continues to provide custom camera installations but the technology and the various packages offered have come a long way since he first developed LathamCams. Boaters can now choose from packages with just one camera up to five or more as well as all the necessary hardware.

    A one-camera package includes the camera (usually mounted on a bridge hardtop or flush-mounted underneath the bridge deck), a Sony mini recording deck, mounting brackets, cables, a remote-control on/off switch, tapes and a head cleaner. The package costs around $5,500, without installation.

    One camera is nice, but to capture all the action, four is nicer: a camera in each outrigger, one on the center rigger and one under the bridge. Four-camera packages can run into the $20,500 range, installation is separate, which takes about 50 to 55 hours.

    LathamCams recently installed five cameras on the 61-foot Viking Trust Fun that runs out of Destin, Florida. The cameras have proved ideal in tournament situations where serious money rides on each release, says Trust Fun's captain, Jason Woodham.

    "We run a four-man team in tournaments, and so much depends on video confirmation these days," Woodham says. "I used to try to drive the boat and film at the same time they don't use observers much in the Gulf. Now I just wear a clicker around my neck to turn the cameras on and off, and we've got five cameras and five recording decks. Odds are one of those angles is going to catch the action."

    Woodham monitors the cameras from a Northstar 1202 display screen on the bridge or via the flat-screen TV in the salon. Running the cameras is invaluable when fishing, but it comes in handy back at the dock as well. If Woodham hears something late at night, he will click on the cameras and watch what's going on outside from the boat's salon.

Play by Play
    The list of advantages to making fishing videos is a long one. The ability to capture great trips and relive them or share them with others whenever you feel the need is certainly No. 1, but playing back video can help crews identify what went wrong during the fight and become a better team

    "The instructional advantages are great," says Capt. Tim Hyde, who's been fooling around with film gear on boats for longer than he cares to recount. "You can review it like a Monday-morning quarterback looking at all the different scenarios how many wraps were taken on the wire, did the baits get pitched back correctly you look at the tape and you can always figure out what went wrong. The tape doesn't lie."

    The custom cameras are also extremely easy to use. "I'm not an instruction-book kind of guy," says Jason Woodham, captain of the 61-foot Viking Trust Fun. "I was scared to use the cameras at first, but it's really just as easy as operating your VCR at home."

    Hand-held video cameras will always have a place on a boat. They're handy and can provide great footage, but they can also roll off the bridge, splash into the deep blue and take all your memories with them. Today's fix-mount cameras are 100-percent watertight and impervious to salt water, and you never have to worry about them going overboard.

    "The best thing about the system is how good it is against the elements," says Joe Figiel, who runs the cameras aboard the 80-foot Merritt Reel Tight. "There is no maintenance. With camcorders, you're constantly cleaning and maintaining the camera and buying bags and boxes for it. With the fixed cams, you just wash the lens off once in a while."

Taking the Plunge
    In the spirit of Jacques Cousteau, hordes of amateur filmmakers have jumped into the water with a "waterproof" camera and snorkel, hoping to score some unbelievable underwater footage. Once again technology has made some huge advancements in this arena, and you can now get the footage without ever putting on a set of fins.

    Several companies offer systems to film fish in the water from the boat without getting wet. Stick cams are the easiest underwater film system to use. Stick cams place the lens at the end of a boom. From the cockpit, the cameraman sticks the boom underwater and maneuvers the camera with the pole. The stick cams that LathamCams offers utilize a portable system that can be carried anywhere in a small custom Pelican case.

    "We have a portable cam with its own recording deck that we stick on a boat pole to get some incredible footage," Figiel says. "It's amazing. The picture is real crisp, even underwater."

    Dredge cams provide yet another great way to capture the action at the boat. These cameras are mounted in the middle of a dredge and film away as they're pulled behind the boat. The captain can monitor the footage from the bridge and instruct the anglers on which side of the boat to pitch their baits based on how the fish comes into view on the TV.

The Final Cut
    After a season of fishing, crews operating the custom cams usually end up with hours and hours of footage. If you're handy at editing down all the footage to make the final cut an exciting one, have at it. Plenty of programs for editing video are available for home computers. If you don't have the time or knowledge, take your tapes to a professional editor and let them do the work for you. Tell them what kind of music you like and they'll put all the action to your favorite tunes. After all, no one wants to watch hours of the back of someone's head or endless trolling.

    The final product is a keepsake for the entire crew that they can relive anytime they want. "It's a Kodak moment," says Capt. Skip Smith. "It's like a wedding album you savor those memories. It's a big expense to go on a long trip. You want to capture it. Believe me, the minute you get that tape done, everybody wants a copy. It's a great happening."

    Please click through the navigation links to learn more about LathamCams for sportfishing cameras, recording systems and security cameras. Contact Mike for more information.

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LathamCams, Inc.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Tel: 954-647-1702
  Toll Free: 877-717-CAMS