LORDS OF THE FLY | MONTE BURKE
The Florida tarpon scene of the ’70s and ’80s lives in my mind as one of those magical periods in time and place where a true raconteur could fill their coffers with a lifetime of crazy-ass shit. Hallucinogens, orgies, and drug smugglers walked amongst the first explorers of tarpon and those bacchanalian beginnings would eventually lead to obsession over records that only the participants in the chase had the slightest interest in. Tales of guide/client treachery, titans of industry, and legends of fly fishing all happened to intersect in the sleepiest of West Florida bergs. Monte Burke has talked to all the players, or at least player-adjacent witnesses, and assembled a great verbal history of the birth and pursuit of the idea of catching world-record tarpon in Homosassa, Florida. The game of chasing world records must be played obsessively and at a ridiculously high financial and personal cost. Booking guides for months at a time is a game that a small sliver of the readers could possibly imagine. The book skillfully brings the reader into that world with all the overwhelming failure and fleeting glory this kind of obsession entails. I have never had any desire to chase or break world records, but I do have an unwavering dream of devoting myself to tarpon in a way that can only be described as single-minded. While the Jerry Springer fishing scene of those days and the characters behind it make for a great story, I feel Monte expertly used that as a carrot to draw the reader in, so as to consequently hit them with a proverbial “tragedy of the commons” stick. If nothing else, Homosassa is an all-too-familiar tale of paradise lost. A combination of irresponsible land development, hotspotting-induced fishing pressure, and a couple of decades worth of bait line gauntlets have left the fishery a shadow of those halcyon days when Steve Huff first poled the Oklahoma flat. I knew the end of the story before I even read it. But in reading it, I couldn’t help putting myself on that boat, freaking out the first time those silver kings were daisy-chaining beneath the boat. I can’t ask much more than that from a good story, and Lords of the Fly is definitely a good story, well told.
GAME CHANGER | BLANE CHOCKLETT
Blane Chocklett has a once-in-a-generation fly-fishing mind. Fly tying as a practice tends to lend itself to the derivative. New patterns, more often than not, are merely clever variations on an established theme. This is not how Blane ties. Blane plucks ideas from the primordial bog of an apex predator’s mind and then invents the materials and techniques to execute his vision. It’s a little more impressive than sticking an orange bead on a Pheasant Tail and claiming intellectual property rights to the Hot Spot nymph. Game Changer is a culmination of Blane’s most inventive and effective patterns to date. Any one of these patterns by themselves would’ve been enough to make any fly tyer’s vise stand at attention. Collectively, it’s almost incomprehensible that this much innovation could be contained in the mind of our buddy, Blane. The thousands of hours developing each of these patterns reveals a mind obsessed with the techniques and craft of catching the biggest fish in any given fishery. Blane takes you through the execution and theory behind flies such as the T-Bone, Flypala, and Gummi Minnow, but the star of the show here is the Game Changer platform and all the variations possible for lifelike swimbait type action in a streamer. Before the Game Changer, we tied articulated flies with one joint between two hooks, and some of them swam pretty damn good. Once you start adding joints, the movement of the fly becomes hypnotically life-like. I remember the first time Blane showed me the prototype, oh so many years ago. I was supposed to be looking for a striper on a cicada, instead I spent the next hour with my jaw on the deck as Blane manipulated the wiggly streamer like a marionette. I honestly believe that the Game Changer platform will be looked back upon as a seismic shift in fly design, much like sealed drags were for reels. These days, Blane doesn’t need any endorsements from the likes of little ol’ us, but there is no higher praise for Blane’s fly-tying genius than the fact that I, since the day we met, always steal a fly from his box every single time I see him. Sorry Uncle, but also you’re welcome.