A Passion for Tarpon

A Passion for Tarpon

  • By: Seth Norman
A Passion for Tarpon

By Andy Mill
2010; Wild River Press
526 pages; hardcover, $100

Tarpon. if that word brings up images that make you tremble, then Pat Ford’s photos in this tome may provoke a petit mal. A reader who’s never yet caught one may think again, “I just have to this lifetime”; and then, after poring over author Andy Mill’s instructions, believe they could hook and land a silver king, maybe. And yet…

A reviewer of tarpon media who hasn’t done so himself (yet) must admit a gross gap in angling experience, by way of adding “for what it’s worth” to praise, criticism or inchoate mewling sounds. Multiple confessions of this fact may initiate bitter spiritual journeys, as in “What kind of SOB was I, last incarnation, to be denied a tarpon this time around?” In my case, I will admit unhappily, the hours spent with A Passion for Tarpon answered that question: I was Vlad, the Impaler.

The point is that I cannot wisely assess Andy Mill’s dozen how-to chapters sandwiched into Passion between interviews with true tarpon legends; also history from Steve Kantner; biology by Jerald S. Sult, PhD; pages of Ted Fauceglia’s fly plates; tactical illustrations in ink and watercolor by Greg Pearson; and, everywhere, those phenomenal Ford photos. I must instead let those with experience pick up my slack: Lefty Kreh insists Mill’s tactical narrative makes this “the most technical and up to-date book about how to catch giant tarpon on a fly rod,” providing “a master class with no shortcuts.” (Readers who think I’m weaseling here should feel free to e-mail unpleasant remarks to VladsSharpstick.com, where a minion will get back to you post haste.)

First, because it’s so obvious: Passion’s a $100 tome, priced by the pound between swordfish (in season) and middle-aged bourbon. Also, and almost equally obvious, like many of the people mentioned in this book—Hall of Fame hitter Ted Williams, for example, and presidents including George W. Bush (who provides Passion’s foreword)—the author had a career prior to getting serious about fly-fishing: a skier, I understand, Olympian, etc., later host of the TV series Sportsman’s Journal. Contrary to the impression that might create, however, is Kreh’s assertion that, inexplicably, fame left Mill “humble,” a man who “unlike many accomplished people in sports and business—takes criticism constructively… is eager to learn, characteristics [that] have enabled him to become what many people agree is the best fly-rod tarpon angler in the world.”

Mill’s own words in his author’s afterword seem to support Kreh’s read while announcing Passion’s intent: “Initially, I resisted writing this because I didn’t feel I had the credibility. With time I found comfort in the larger picture. This wasn’t about me—it was about Megalops atlanticus and the people who love tarpon as much as I . . . I would be the messenger.”

Also secretary, biographer, and an active interviewer who adds insights to conversations with many tarpon pioneers, guides and protectors, vignettes compiled over years. This collection “started innocuously enough—to add spice and authority to the book,” before developing into what collaborator and publisher Tom Pero convinced Mill was “the richest oral history of contemporary tarpon fishing anyone had read.”

I’m eager to let others argue about that. But there’s a feast here, for those who hope to fish silver kings, or hope to fish them better, or who simply savor stories and images illustrating one of our sport’s most explosive games, told by those who built (and often broke) the earliest dedicated boats, rods and lines, who tied and tie the flies and knots we use today, and who now promote protection for a magnificent and still mysterious prey with a future too uncertain.

Books editor Seth Norman is the author of Meanderings of a Fly Fisherman and many other great reads. He lives in Bellingham, Washington, where he toils with local politics, smallmouth bass and chum salmon.