You're only one cast away from greatness

Talking tarpon and more with author Monte Burke
jumping tarpon
Photo: Chris Eckley.

New York Times bestselling author Monte Burke is obsessed with obsession, and his latest work, Lords of the Fly: Madness, Obsession and the Hunt for the World-Record Tarpon is—as Carl Hiaasen describes it—a “funny, wistful, wonderful book” that tells “a story of the obsessed, unhinged, and often brilliant dreamers who chase giant tarpon.”

Monte–whose other books include Saban, 4th & Goal, Sowbelly, and Leaper–excels at documenting extreme fixations with excellence and conquest. In Lords of the Fly, he recounts the glory days of the late 1970s and early 1980s when angling legends like Lefty Kreh, Stu Apte, Ted Williams, Tom Evans, and Billy Pate converged to Homosassa, a sleepy town on Florida’s west coast where hordes of colossal fish made easy targets for anglers in the know.

Explaining the chaos of casting to a fish the size of a Great Dane, Monte says, “Kant described the sublime as beauty mixed with terror, and to me, that is big tarpon fishing. I’ve seen some of the best anglers I know in a bow when a one-hundred-twenty pound tarpon come at them, and seen this person who is the best caster I’ve ever seen completely lose his shit.”

But even anglers who keep it together aren’t immune from trauma, especially when chasing records. “Just judging from Tom Evans and Billy Pate, I think it’s more painful to lose than to win,” Monte says when asked if the joy high-octane anglers’ get from setting records offsets the pain when those records fall. “For a lot of high-achieving people, Nick Saban being one of them, winning was okay, but losing was awful.”

Regarding his path to writing, Monte recalls a day early in his career when he told the editor Sid Evans he wanted to be an outdoor writer. “Stop right there,” Evans told him. “Don’t say you want to be an outdoor writer. Say you want to be a writer.” Every book and article Monte has written since demonstrates he’s taken this advice to heart.

In the sixth episode of the Reading the Water podcast, “You’re Only One Cast Away From Greatness,” Monte joins host Tim Schulz to share insights about why there is so much good—and bad—writing about fishing, the outlook for tarpon in the post-glory-days era, Nick Saban, Monte’s Mt. Rushmore for fishing writers, a colorful anecdote from an interview with then Vice President George H. W. Bush, and the role of faith in fishing.

“There’s a whole lot of faith that goes on in fishing,” Monte says. “A writer I know named Paul Broome will bring it up on a tough day: Monty, you’re only one cast away from greatness.”

You can listen to the entire discussion with Monte Burke in Episode 6 of the Reading the Water podcast, available through Substack, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Pocket Casts.