Fishes, Fishing & Fishermen, Reviewed

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Book covers left to right: Fishes in the Fresh Waters of Florida, Fly Fishing for Redeye Bass, and Born to Fish

Thanks to Mathew L. Miller for an honest take on these three books:

Review: Fishing and Conservation

The mayflies are hatching, river levels are dropping and the evenings are getting longer. It’s the most wonderful time of year for those of us in North America who love to fish.

And if you can’t be out fishing? Well, you can always read a fish book. Here are three great new reads: a biography of an obsessed angler turned conservationist, a how-to book about overlooked species that need some attention, and an invaluable reference guide.

I have no interest in competitive fishing, and even less in books by and about celebrity anglers. I find most of them to be self-congratulatory and poorly written. So I’d normally have little inclination to read a book about a record-breaking striped bass angler, one who gained fame by appearing on the show Shark Tank.  Such a book would also appear to be a poor fit for a conservation blog.

But then I saw it was by Tim Gallagher, the former editor of Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Living Bird magazine. Gallagher’s previous books, all of which I’ve loved, have focused on feathered obsession. His book on a search in Mexico for probably-extinct woodpeckers, Imperial Dreams, is one of my favorite recent travel books, and Falcon Fever is an intelligent and personal look at the sport of falconry. He’s one of those authors that I’d read anything he wrote.

His biography of striped bass angler Greg Myerson didn’t disappoint; it’s a compelling story of obsession and where it can lead, both good and bad. Myerson turned to fishing and the outdoor life as an escape from a childhood that included learning disabilities and a father with connections to organized crime. His pursuit of striped bass, one of the most loved gamefish of the Atlantic Coast, gave his life purpose and focus.

But this is not just the cliched story of someone rescued by nature. In this workaholic society, we tend to glorify the pursuit of “excellence” and overachieving. Indeed, Myerson exhibits many of these celebrated “Type A” traits, including a meticulous attention to detail, a driving work ethic that he applied even to his recreation, a willingness to be out there in the worst elements when others were sleeping soundly in their beds. But his obsessive traits manifested themselves in other ways: substance abuse, dysfunctional relationships, a violent temper and what could charitably be called questionable decision making skills.

Gallagher is a skilled enough writer to capture the humanity of this complicated man, one who becomes the best at what he does. Myerson earned his degree of angling fame by catching the world-record striped bass, which in turn led him to a successful appearance on Shark Tank. And that experience in turn led to an epiphany that he could become a vocal and effective advocate for striped bass conservation. Gallagher captures this journey and all its trials, making it a compelling biography even if you’ve never picked up a fishing rod…

Read the whole review here.

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