Two Tomes about Florida Tarpon

This review appears in the December 16-22, 2010 issue of Naples Florida Weekly, and the Fort Myers edition published a day earlier. The Palm Beach Gardens edition used it the following week. Click here: Florida Weekly – Tarpon Tomes pdf

“A Passion for Tarpon,” by Andy Mill. Wild River Press. 510 pages. $100.00

“Randy Wayne White’s Ultimate Tarpon Book,” edited by Randy Wayne White and Carlene Fredericka Brennen. University Press of Florida. 480 pages. $34.95

Fishing for a holiday gift? These two lavishly produced volumes will satisfy the knowledge hunger of any fly-fishing aficionado. However, the audience for these gloriously illustrated books on the silvery tarpon should be wider than that of sports fishermen. Tarpon fishing has long been part of the Florida way of life. To learn about its methods, its challenges, its heroes, and its domain is to learn, through a special lens, about a special state. While the two books overlap in many ways, each has its own distinction. 

Andy Mill

Andy Mill’s “A Passion for Tarpon” is first of all an elaborate “how-to” book on catching the giant tarpon with a fly rod. Through new interviews with legendary guides and stellar fishermen, as well as through contributions commissioned for the book by experts on technical matters, Mr. Mill presents an encyclopedic volume of information in an easy, assessable, and entertaining manner. His competitive passion, first brought to world renown as an Olympic downhill skier, continues as a multi-time tarpon tournament champion in the Florida Keys and as an advocate for this challenging sport and the way of life that surrounds it.

The oversized book is generously illustrated, sometimes with old advertisements and magazine covers, sometimes with photographs from the collections of various contributors, but primarily and most notably with glorious original photographs by Pat Ford. The dazzling double-page spreads of Ford’s work that will make readers gasp with astonishment and understand why the book needs to carry such a high price.

Publisher Thomas Pero’s interview with author and tarpon fanatic Thomas McGuane is a literary high point in the book, which also contains a substantial bibliography and an index.

Randy Wayne White

“Randy Wayne White’s Ultimate Tarpon Book” takes a somewhat different approach. Mr. White and Ms. Brennan have organized and introduced a selection of previously published writings by a wide range of authors. Mr. White, once a fishing guide himself before becoming a best-selling suspense novelist, has over the years amassed an exception library of writings about tarpon and tarpon fishing history, and this collection is drawn upon for the book. Each selection is effectively contextualized by a brief introduction. 

The most fascinating materials are those first published in local newspapers and periodicals during the last two decades of the nineteenth century and in the early decades of the twentieth. These are primary materials for an understanding of the sport and especially of its place in the history of Southwest Florida – more specifically greater Fort Myers and that special body of living water called Tarpon Bay. Rather than looking back on history, these selections put us inside of it and justify the book’s subtitle: “The Birth of Big Game Fishing.”

Carlene Brennen

Several of the selections develop the history of tarpon game fishing as an important industry that contributes significantly to the tourist economy.

Most of the great names of the sport, whether as participants or historian-narrators, are represented here. So also are the celebrities connected with tarpon fishing, such as Ernest Hemingway, Zane Grey, Thomas Edison, Nick Lyons – master angler and story-teller – and A. W. Dimock, the Wall Street tycoon who became a pioneer in the sport and a trailblazer in documenting its early history.  

This volume, a pleasing prose mosaic and tribute to a life-shaping sport, is also copiously illustrated, with well over 200 black and white photos. Many of these are from the same sources as the articles, while others are from private and public collections.

Follow your budget and take your pick. You can’t go wrong with either one.

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Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

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