Thursday, April 7, 2011

Thursday Review: Joe Cermele's The Complete Guide to Surfcasting (2011)

Thursday Review: Joe Cermele's The Complete Guide to Surfcasting (2011)

Joe Cermele's new book The Complete Guide to Surfcasting (Buford Books, 2011) could not have come at a better time for me personally or for the fishing community as a whole. Cermele, who was recently named Fishing Editor of Field & Stream magazine (replacing the legendary John Merwin), has painstakingly put together what is sure to be one of the enduring works on a subject strangely neglected in fishing literature: surf fishing.

It arrived at a most opportune time, as I was digging through the history of surfcasting and surfcasting reels. As I was going through my library and researching the back issues of the major magazines, I was stunned at how little lasting literature has been written on the subject. As a specific style of fishing, surfcasting has been around since the 1890s, but really took off in the 1910s with numerous clubs and organizations dedicated to the sport.

The classics of the sport include works by saltwater angling titans such as Harlan Major, Ollie Rodman, Erwin Bauer, and Joe Brooks. For the specialist there were writers like George Wynne, who's Tournament and Surf Casting (1950) was a technical guide to the intricacies of surfcasting itself. But after the 1970s, there were few enduring contributions to the literature short of edited and reprinted versions of Bauer's Saltwater Fisherman's Bible and Brooks' Salt Water Game Fishing. Certainly, there were books on the subject, but they tended to be about a specific species (stripers come to mine immediately) or technical guides to certain regions.

About a decade ago this began to change, with the introduction of at least a half dozen general books on the subject. While these books more or less have their merits and drawbacks in equal measure, there remained a major gap that needed to be filled: a well-written, illustrated introductory guide to all aspects of surf fishing that took into account the new trends and tackle in the sport.

This is what Cermele has given us, and it's the first book of this kind in 25 years that can take its place on the shelf with the classic saltwater writers listed above.

As an introductory guide to all aspects of surf fishing, it certainly answers almost all of the questions a novice surfcaster might have, from tackle selection to a general guide to surfcasting destinations. I particularly enjoyed the detailed breakdown of the kinds of lures used for the sport, as there are a bewildering array of baits--both stock and custom made--that have flooded the market of late. You would not expect to run into custom striper lure maker Tom Bottomley, for example, in a book of this kind, but there he is on Page 93 with one of his TB Swimmers, which are taking on a kind of legendary status.

The strength of the book, like all classic works on the subject, comes in the ability of the writer to convey the information in engaging and accessible prose. Cermele reminds me very much of Harlan Major, the legendary saltwater writer of the 1930s and 1940s, in that when you read a passage on sandworms and bloodworms, for example, you get an honest and informative appraisal. "Sandworms and bloodworms easily get the vote for most hideous surf baits," Cermele writes, and I defy anyone to introduce them more aptly than that. But he then goes on to explain why they are effective bait and how to properly fish them. I am man enough to admit they give me the absolute willies.

As an introduction to the sport it is excellent, and as a guide to the surf casting world it joins a small handful of recent books that truly capture this unique culture. There are only a few things I would have liked to have seen added. First, not surprisingly, I would have liked a little more historical overview of this fascinating style of fishing. Second, I would have liked a section (short though it may be) on building your own surf tackle. I know many saltwater anglers who take special pride in pouring their own pyramid sinkers, or carving their own saltwater poppers. A bibliography would have been nice, as well. But these are minor quibbles.

The book itself is 305 pages with around 200 black-and-white illustrations. Published by Buford Books, the list price is $19.95 but is offering it for $13.97 and at either affordable cost, there really is no reason why anyone even remotely interested in the sport shouldn't own a copy. You can read more about this book by Clicking Here.

As an aside, what is it about 2011? I've already read more excellent books in the past three months than I did all last year. 2011 is shaping up to be an epic fishing literature year!

-- Dr. Todd

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