The Observer Underwater Photography

John McMillan is a scientist, angler and advocate for native and wild fish, particularly anadromous salmon and steelhead. He’s also an avid “fish watcher.” A diving mask is a window to a world that unlocks some of Nature’s greatest mysteries… where he feels a sense of harmony and being in the moment, isolated from the stresses of everyday life.

“When I see the fish in their own world, I enter an ecological theater,” says McMillan. “Below the liquid line, I find a comfort… it’s like a blanket. I’m just using my eyes. I can hear the rush of moving water, but that’s background noise that fades in my mind.

“Almost every time we look at a fish from above the water it’s in our hands. But below the water, you lose yourself in wonderment. Watching the subtle movements of the fish in currents is like watching eagles soar on thermal winds.”

One of the keys to understanding why wild salmon and steelhead are so iconic, and so valuable, is to see them in their world with your own eyes. An angler can learn so many things they did not expect. But perhaps most importantly, one cannot help but develop a deep appreciation of the intricate beauty and raw majesty of instinct. A wild fish is so much more than a mere “object.”

“Nothing replaces the rush of adrenaline you get from angling,” explains McMillan. “But coming out of the water after having watched fish—sometimes for hours—I get an overwhelming sense of comfort and relaxation. I also feel curious and inspired, and I want to go back. Because the purest form of thinking happens under the water.”