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A Passion for Tarpon
The Masters on the Fly series of books by Wild River Press (see here , here, and here) are getting harder and harder to review. They are so well produced, written by such clear experts, and jam packed with enough world class photography and artwork to open a studio, that it becomes a challenge to find new ways to say "Wow - this book is spectacular." Maybe simple and straightforward works best sometimes.
Wow. This book is spectacular.
In this case, the book is Andy Mill's "A Passion for Tarpon". It is tempting to write about Andy himself here, because he has travelled a path through life that most of us would dare dream of but few of us would have the guts to follow. Let's just say he's been there and done that - a lot of "that' - and we'll leave the rest of the story for the book. Instead, let's talk about that book, "cause there is a whole heck of a lot to talk about.
Let's just say he's been there and done that
"A Passion for Tarpon" can almost be considered two books inside one cover, as there is an alternating cadence where chapters of instruction are followed by chapters which transcribe a discussion between the author and some of the legends of fly fishing. Imagine being a fly on the wall while Andy Mill and Stu Apte drink coffee and talk fishing. It may sound clichÃ©, but the names listed in the table of contents are a who's who of tropical saltwater angling. I am glad Andy decided to let these men speak in their own voices rather than trying to summarize and adapt their words and thoughts to his narrative. Andy wisely took the opportunity to share his stage with his friends, peers, and mentors, acknowledging that while he may be an expert in the sport, he's also the beneficiary of a couple generations of tarpon anglers and guides who have truly broke new ground. Future anglers will benefit from his willingness to capture the voices and thoughts of these men.
The other chapters are written from Andy's point of view and offer the more traditional "what, where, how, and when" of tarpon fishing. There is, of course, an understanding that tarpon fishing is unique in many ways. It's not like trout fishing, where you can go down to the local sports shop, get some waders, a rod and reel, some flies, and expect to catch a few fish from the local trout stream after chatting with the clerk for a few minutes. Fly fishing is already a niche sport, but fly fishing for tarpon is considerably more so. Everything is different - the flies, the gear, the locations, and most especially the fish.
The challenges to tarpon fishing are many - finding the fish (it's a big ocean), hooking the fish (what do they eat?), keeping the fish hooked (they are huge, strong, and acrobatic), and battling the fish to boatside (are you up for a two hour battle?). It's all here for anyone who dares to take the do-it-yourself approach. Want to learn how to tie leaders that will withstand a two hour fight with a 150 pound fish? It's here. Want to learn what sort of rod and reel to use to tame one of these dinosaurs? Yep. How about setting the hook? What other gear do you need? Andy deals with it all. While tarpon fishing is not a do-it-yourself sport for most of us, for those with the means and opportunity, this book is a graduate level course.
As with all the Masters on the Fly books, A Passion for Tarpon is overflowing with full color photographs. What I liked in addition to the glamour photos of tarpon and fishing action (of which there are many) are the old black and white photos and magazine covers. Tarpon angling might not have the romance and history of trout angling (I don't think Dame Juliana ever heard of a Tarpon), but it's not exactly new either. There have been guys chasing tarpon with fly rods for decades, and they've been gracing the covers of sports magazines since before most of us were born. A leaping tarpon is the equivalent of a snarling grizzly bear when it comes to grabbing a fisherman's attention. I also enjoyed seeing some of the photos of fishing pioneers such as Joe Brooks, the true Babe Ruth of fishing. The text is presented in a relatively large font - easy on the eyes and consistent with the overall design of the book. The book is simply well done - a pleasure to read and especially a pleasure to flip through on a cold November Day.
But hold on a minute, I'm not quite done yet.
In the back of the book is a DVD entitled "Chasing Silver". This is where modern publishing separates itself from some the old days. Even when VHS tapes were available, it would have been rather clunky to try to include a video tape with a hardcover book. With DVD technology, the disc is simply in a plastic slipcase on the back inside cover. So not only are we treated with a 500 page masterpiece, we get the added bonus of some live action to add support to what words and still images struggle to capture. It is one thing describing the take of a tarpon, and another altogether to show it in vivid color. I also enjoyed the additional commentary from the author. I remember a demonstration at a fly fishing show several years ago where Stu Apte demonstrated the proper way to use the butt section of a rod to exert force on a fish, and sure enough the author has a similar demonstration on the DVD using a bucket in place of a fish. Of course there are plenty of sequences showing him exerting pressure on real live tarpon as well - it's not all bucket angling back at the lodge.
The $100US cover price is certainly daunting, I readily admit that. It's hard to put a price tag on knowledge and experience, however, and this book is overflowing with both. It's a coffee table book chock full of eye popping photographs. It's a documentary on the history of tarpon angling (and in many respects saltwater angling itself). It's a masterclass in tarpon fishing techniques. It's an action packed video. It's an invitation to pull up a chair when the best of the best swap stories and tall tales about their favorite prey. And, to borrow from the author's afterward, it's about the tarpon.
It's an amazing book.