The southern Manitoba fishing guide behind some of the biggest catfish caught on the Red River is trading in his life on the water for one behind a lens.

Stu McKay, Cats on the Red owner

Stu McKay said after almost 30 years as a fishing guide, he wants to spend the remainder of his years behind the lens of a camera. (Stu McKay)

Stu McKay, owner of Cats on the Red, is hanging up his fishing pole to pursue a career in nature photography.

"It's been on the backburners for a while now. We just decided to pull the trigger," McKay said.

Cats on the Red has been operating out of Lockport for about 30 years. In that time, McKay has guided scores of anglers on countless outings on the Red River and Lake Winnipeg, sharing tips and secret fishing holes along the way.

While most traditionally know McKay for his life on the water, his true calling has rested on land all along.

"It's been my passion for as far back as you want to go," McKay said.

He has gradually spent more and more time photographing terrestrial wildlife, forests and landscapes over the last 15 years, forging new relationships with other professional photographers along the way.

short-tail weasel

A short-tailed weasel flees the crime scene with a freshly-killed vole. (Stu McKay)

"I just picked up the pace on it in the last 10 years or so and am starting to get a pretty big following," he said. "The last few years it's just been hard core — really, really revving it up now and having a ball."

McKay originals are now being sold by American-based calendar companies.

Both the location and the Cats on the Red business went up for sale in November after three decades in the fishing business. McKay said he's had a great time helping fishermen hook trophy catches, but the camera is calling.

"That's longer than we anticipated staying, so now it's time to move on," he said.

"What time I have left on this earth, I want to spend looking through a lens."