Eager to have a new favorite book that fulfills your fishing fantasies? Legendary angler, journalist, and author Peter Kaminsky has just what you need with his new book, The Catch of a Lifetime. It’s no surprise that Kaminsky has put together this captivating collection of first person stories from over 70 anglers, writers, artists and outdoors people alike; A decorated writer, Kaminsky’s outdoors column ran in the New York Times for over 30 years. He was also the managing editor at National Lampoon, contributing editor at Field and Stream, and has contributed to publications such as Fly Fisherman, Condé Nast Traveler, GQ and more.
If that didn’t satiate his appetite for achievement, he is the author of 18 cookbooks and several other books including the Fly Fisherman’s Guide to Life and Fishing for Dummies. If you’re reading this, you probably already have one of his works on your shelf. If not, The Catch of a Lifetime is sure to get you hooked.
Flylords founder Jared Zissu got to catch up with Peter Kaminsky and ask about the early years of his career, fishing, how he found Flylords, and the process of writing his new book – which is available on October 3, 2023. Buy it here now, and dive into the interview below:
Flylords: Peter, why don’t you start off by telling us how you got into the sport of fly-fishing and what the sport means to you as an angler, author, and person.
Peter: The year was 1976 and I was an editor at National Lampoon. We used to show up to sort of work at noon. It was early cocaine days, when people thought it made them work smarter (it didn’t) and then we’d start drinking about 3:00 pm. It was an insane scene and there was a lot of burnout. For vacation that year, I went to the Florida Keys with my girlfriend.
It was 39 degrees in Havana that week. There wasn’t much beaching. I saw a sign on a shop in Marathon that said, “Red Snapper Party Boat, $9 All Day.” I caught a 35 pound grouper – I was high hook. I fell in love with fishing. I fished a lot that summer in Woodstock, New York. I slept in my friend’s garage, got up every morning, bought some sawbellies at the bait shop and proceeded to drown most of them. I caught a bunch of blue gill and I think one smallmouth.
That winter we went to Akumal in the Yucatan. It was a little too family resort-y for me. We drove to Tulum, which was just a taco stand and a pyramid back then. We continued south, down an unpaved road to Boca Paila, where they invited us for lunch—rock lobster and cocktails of tequila and fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. I saw a bunch of guys flyfishing. It was just about the coolest thing I’d ever seen; I was hypnotized by the loop of the fly line and the way it unfurled.
I came back to New York and really got into fly fishing. I took Doug Swisher’s casting clinic, which has stood me in good stead till this day. I wouldn’t have learned to reach cast without him. Fly fishing kind of took over my life.
When I left Lampoon, I started writing for Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, and Sports Afield. Then, The New York Times came along (thank you for recommending me, Nick Lyons). My outdoors column appeared there for thirty years. I guess I’m retired from that because they just eighty-sixed the whole Sports Section. From the get-go, I always included food in those columns: it could have been a steak or a Snickers bar. Food has a way of leaping off the page like your own name. I got great responses, so I started to write about restaurants and cooking for the Times and other publications (four years as Underground Gourmet for New York Magazine, and a ton of articles for Food & Wine) and that’s pretty much how my career happened.
Flylords: Amazing. So, your new book, The Catch of a Lifetime, what made you think of that name and what was your vision for this project?
Peter: I was writing my third book with Francis Mallmann, the Argentine grill master. I was talking to the publisher, Artisan, and I said, “Now that the Francis book is put to bed, I want to do a ‘me’ book.” She said, “Well, what would you like to do?” And I said, “I’d like to write through Patagonia with a fly rod and a fork.” She said, “Oh, you fly fish? Well, we have this anthology series–A Man and His Car, a Man and His Guitar, a Man and His Watch–that has been very successful. Would you like to put together a fly-fishing book?” I said, “Yes. But ‘A Man and His Rod’ doesn’t sound right. Also, it leaves out women.”
“Okay,” she said. “The title is up to you.”
I thought for a while. I didn’t want gushy love letters to fly fishing – all about why it makes the writer feel one with the universe. I’ve read that plenty of times and have been guilty of it myself. So, the thought came to me, “Why don’t I ask people to narrow it down to one encounter? It doesn’t have to be the biggest fish or the best fish, but where does your mind go when I say fly fishing?”
I got responses from wonderful writers like Carl Hiaasen, Mark Kurlansky, Joan Wullf (who is still as enthusiastic as a teenager) Kirk Deeter, Hilary Hutcheson, John McPhee, Nick Lyons. I was given free rein to seek out photographs and art. Writers don’t often get that leeway. This book started during the terrible heart of the pandemic, so, like everyone, I was miserable and isolated, and that’s when I first saw Flylords. It was a life raft in a lousy time. I started to discover people online.
For example, Katie Cahn. I saw that she had a recovery-from-cancer story. There was a neat picture of her fishing on the Flylords Instagram with her daughter in a pack on her back. I’d had my own bout with cancer and flyfishing definitely was a path through darkness. I called Katie and got her story. I started to meet people that way.
I reached out to people on social media, and word about my project spread. I discovered a ton of interesting people, like Roger Emile Stouff, whose grandfather was a full-blooded Chitimacha Chief. He has a newspaper in Louisiana, The St. Mary and Franklin Banner-Tribune. He wrote a story about Kentucky spotted bass, a species I’ve always wanted to target. I came across Emerald LaFortune on the Patagonia website and I thought, “This is a soulful writer.” I wouldn’t have found her had I not been researching this book. I sent out some cold call letters. I saw that Rachel Maddow fly fished, so I wrote to her literary agent. Two months later, I got a pitch perfect story about a pike by a person who clearly knows how to fly fish and loves it.
Flylords: Is there a challenging component of writing a book, or was the whole thing pretty enjoyable for you?
Peter: Well, books are work, but truly, it was great. I love thinking and writing about fly fishing, so I was able to connect with this thing that pretty much sets the bar for everything else that I like in life.
Flylords: Do you have a favorite story that comes to mind in the book?
Peter: It’s like picking one of your kids. Val Kropiwnicki wrote a surreal piece about fishing a stream where he used to go with his dad. It was pouring rain when a giant heron made a dramatic entrance about two feet in front of his face. It was a terrifying and gorgeous image. If you have ever looked at his flies (@vksteelworks), you wouldn’t be surprised that his story was filled with magical realism.
Peter Heller wrote about his late friend, Jim Wagner, a renowned artist. Jim found a great trout run that was a little too accessible to the rest of the world. He got himself a couple of grizzly bear paws and kept leaving footprints there. It scared the bejeezus out of folks and confused the shit out of the conservation officers.
I got in touch with Brittany Howard, who sang on a couple of tv shows that my brother Bob and I produced at the White House and the Kennedy Center. I didn’t know she was an angler until I heard a podcast with Tom Rosenbauer. Speaking of fishing musicians, Roger Waters set a world record for F-Bombs in his essay. Shoshana Gutmajer, my editor, didn’t balk at leaving a few in.
Flylords: Who do you think this book is made for? Is it a coffee table book, or do you think this is something that you read at night before bed?
Peter: It’s primarily a book of writing plus 70-80 beautiful pictures in it, too: Andy Anderson, Val Atkinson, Nick Price… a lot of my favorites (I guess everybody’s favorites). There’s a fair amount of my writing in there to weave the book together.
Flylords: Where can people get their hands on this thing?
Peter: You can order on Amazon or order it from your local bookstore or fly shop. I’d be really happy if this book could make a few bucks for fly shops.