Flylords caught up with Monte Burke, author of the new book Lords of The Fly. The book follows an untold story of the quest for the world record tarpon on a fly rod—a tale that reveals as much about man as it does about the fish. Given the similar name we were intrigued to hear about the new book and what went into it, check out the full interview below with Monte.
Flylords: Tell us about the name Lords of The Fly, and what it means to you?
Monte Burke: It’s a fun and great name, as you well know (ha!). I think it works for the book because, in a sense, the characters within were/are the best fly anglers of their time—Lefty Kreh, Stu Apte, Tom Evans, Billy Pate, Flip Pallot, Ted Williams, and on up the present day, with Andy Mill, David Mangum, and Nathaniel Linville. I also love the allusion to William Golding’s book, Lord of the Flies, about the children trapped on an island. In a sense, these men after the world record tarpon on a fly were very much like those children—competitive, collaborative, and forming their own sort of “society.” I guess the famous conch shell in the novel could be seen as the world record tarpon in my book. Whoever owned it was the boss for a time.
Flylords: How long have you been working on this book? Was there a particular moment when you decided you were going to commit to bringing this book to life?
Monte Burke: The book took about two years to report and write. It originated out of conversations I had with Steve Huff and Andy Mill. Both men kept mentioning this magical time in the late 1970s and early 1980s when all of these great fly anglers were in Homosassa, all after the record at the same time, and all of the crazy things—both on and off the water—that took place during that time. Andy pushed me to do a book about that time, and then put me in touch with Tom Evans, who is sort of the narrative thread holding together the book. When I interviewed Evans and heard just a few of the stories, I knew it was going to be a book.
Flylords: What was the most challenging part of writing this story? What about the most rewarding?
Monte Burke: The challenge with all books—and all types of writing—remain the same: it’s always daunting to start, to stare at that blinking cursor on your screen and think of how you’re going to pull this off. As for the rewarding part, this may sound untrue, but the whole thing was rewarding. The reporting, as you might imagine, was super fun. I got to interview Stu Apte, Steve Huff, Flip Pallot, Chico Fernandez, Tom McGuane and many, many more people who were my angling and literary heroes. And the actual writing—after getting past the start—was an absolute joy.
Flylords: What makes the tarpon such a great species to focus on?
Monte Burke: I think they are the coolest fish to pursue with a fly rod. They are massive. The bite and the tug are unforgettable. They come into shallow water. They are beautiful and prehistoric. And the big ones are equal parts beauty and terror.
Flylords: Tell us about your fondest memory chasing tarpon.
Monte Burke: You always remember your first. I actually recount my first tarpon in the book. It was caught with Steve Huff. I had blown countless shots at laid-up fish all morning and then, finally, got one to take in the afternoon. The fish, which was around 140 pounds, nearly did me in. During the fight, I sweated through my clothes, got so dehydrated I thought I was going to puke, couldn’t feel my fighting hand, rubbed my knees raw on the casting platform, and nearly passed out when she was finally landed. And I couldn’t wait to do it all over again.
Flylords: Who did you write the book for?
Monte Burke: Well, in a certain way—not to be selfish—it was for me. The story was one that, as I learned about it, I was dying to tell, that I thought needed to be told. I got really, really into it. But in another very significant way, it was written as a tribute to these incredible pioneers—both past and present—in our sport, and for the general angling public to get this glimpse of them. And perhaps the sheer madness of it all will attract even those outside of the angling world.
Flylords: When does this book launch, where can people pick up their own copy?
Monte Burke: September 1st! You can pick it up on Amazon here.
Monte Burke is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Saban: The Making of a Coach, a biography of Alabama head coach, Nick Saban. After a 14-year stint as a reporter, staff writer and editor at Forbes, he is now a contributing editor at the magazine. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughters.