Fish Fights: A Hall of Fame Quest
This is a first! I have read many books, which I had a hard time putting down once I started, but never a fishing book. Not until this one at least. I may have oooh'ed and aaah'ed my way all through one of the many coffee table type books with lots of glossy color pictures and limited amounts of text. But Bob "Bubba" Rich has managed to spellbind me with lots of text and some scattered (but excellent) B/W photos.
This book took me from the Introduction (dubbed: I, Aquarius) through its seemingly endless (in the good way, that is) fishing stories. I will return to the reasons why this narrative is so good, but first, let me give you an intro to the story - or stories, rather.
This book is about a quest. The quest is Bob Rich's attempt to enter the Metropolitan South Florida Fishing Tournament Hall of Fame or the Met Hall of Fame in the short version. This hall of fame is for people who have caught ten specific species meeting certain criteria, not in a year, not in five years but in a lifetime. It may sound like an easy task, but at the outset of the book, in 1997, no one had entered the Hall of Fame yet, even though the South Florida Fishing Tournament had existed since the mid-thirties.
Upon hearing about this Hall of Fame, Rich sets himself the ambitious goal of becoming a member. The book is the story about this achievement, because Rich actually manages to catch all ten species within the requirements and is finally admitted into said Hall.
Now, Fish Fights is a catchy title for a book, but honestly: fighting the fish is almost the least exciting part of the book even though there is a lot of fish fighting in every chapter. Rich describes his quest for each of the fish: a 10 lbs. bass, a sailfish any size, a 100 lbs tarpon, a 7 lbs. bonefish and so on. He does this in an almost chronological order, taking the reader on a fantastic journey through the many waters of the south Florida. Rich lives in Islamorada and the Keys play an important role in the book. They set the scene in more than one way. First of all because the catches have to be done in the south Florida area and secondly because Keys locations and Keys people are key elements (couldn't resist it!) in all parts of the story. And not least the people are important factors in the spellbinding power of this book.
I have read books before where portraits of people are a carrying power. I have even read fishing books where descriptions of people compromise an important part of the story. But the way Bob Rich consistently lets his stories drift into funny, entertaining, educating and even emotional portraitures of the men and women involved in the story is a first. He manages to weave the most fantastic descriptions of his characters in and out of the fishing tales, and gives the reader an insight into a world we all know, but rarely see so well described: the fabulous and fascinating persons who always get entangled in our fishing trips one way or the other. Usually we just brush off these meetings as common and everyday incidents, but Rich succeeds in giving them room and attention and making them the most important reason to keep on reading.
Of course the fishing angle has its attraction too and of course it is enticing to find out whether Rich manages to fish himself to stardom. And of course you know he will succeed already from the outset of the book. It wouldn't have been the same if his quest had not been fulfilled. The fishing is as well described as the persons and most of the ten targets are only reached through an entertainingly described and often complex route, which brings guides, friends, neighbors, spouses, innkeepers, kids and a large gallery of other persona into play. And a lot of boats, planes and automobiles, not to mention fishing equipment. Bob Rich has a habit of naming brands of gear, be it outboards or rods, which at first seems a bit odd, but does make sense along the way. He fishes both with plugs on spinning gear, with bait and with a fly, mostly, it appears, because the rules demand it. But again he gets the gear talk turned in such a way that it entertains as well as teaches.
At the beginning of his quest the Met Tournament requires all fish to be weighed in at an official Met weighing station. Remember that this is an old tournament, and when these rules were written, catch and release was not the order of the day. But Bob Rich manages to change the rules for at least one of the species involved and being an ardent C&R man he does try to release as many of the fish he catches as possible.
My last note on this book is one on the person Bob "Bubba" Rich. I have to believe that he exists, not least due to the numerous pictures of him in the book. But I must also admit that a thought struck me a couple of times while reading the book: How can he do this? In order to fulfill the quest he has to fish a lot, and even though he touches on his business life a few times - like when he catches the qualifying bonefish during a conference call - it seems that he is able to keep a high pace with regards to boats, guides and fishing days.
And he does get through to the Met Hall of Fame as he sets out to do, not failing to mention a few other fishing adventures on the way, like when he took a grand slam on one of his early Florida fishing days. Not only did he get his first permit and his first tarpon on the same day, but he also managed to squeeze in a few happy hour margaritas during a lunchtime thunderstorm before going out and taking the bonefish that completed the task in the afternoon.
He must either be extremely lucky, extremely skilful or an extremely good liar!
I reckon that a combination of the first two excludes the need for the third...
As you might have guessed already, I like this book a lot. It is definitely one of the best short story/novel style fishing books I have ever read, and it deserves every acclaim I can give it, which in the Global FlyFisher terms is a Global Class verdict.
You can buy the book directly from the publisher here.