BEHIND THE BOOK
A CONVERSATION WITH MARK SPITZER
Lifetime angler and author contemplates ethics and new perspectives on fish in
Monster Fishing: Caught in the Ethics of Angling
... and make sure to read to the bottom for the cutest fish photo ever!
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What was your path to a new perspective on the ethics of angling?
I gave up angling—the core of my identity—for a full year. Monster Fishing encapsulates the ethics and ethos of why I quit: In 2020, I tortured 773 fish that I had to account for personally. So I put myself to the test, which scared the living crap out of me.
Quitting what I love and live for, however, led to tremendous personal growth and a less selfish perspective in which I discovered that identity is only a temporary thing. Identity can also include blinders that keep us from seeing what’s really important, so it must be challenged if the person who has formed it wants to ascend
to the next level.
After my year of not fishing, while transitioning from my beloved
Arkansas to New York state to be with my wife and dog, the unexpected
whammied me. I was diagnosed with cancer and suddenly didn’t have
time to fish. My life became a montage of chemotherapy, doctor visits,
and renovating a 300-year-old farmhouse. I did get out once and caught
a houndshark, a type of dogfish shark I’d never met, and that was a
metaphysical gamechanger. Hoping to start a new fishing life with a
new fishing focus as soon as I kick this shit.
What do you hope readers will come away with after reading your book?
That is a fantastic question, and it deserves an answer that is as direct as those I ask in the book. I basically tell readers this is a no-bullshit moment: what’s it gonna be? Are you gonna continue denying what we all deny? Are you gonna do something about what’s nagging at you? Are you gonna continue not being down with what’s reflecting back?
In a perfect world, there’d be no need for this book, so luckily for me it’s an imperfect world with other like minds trying to strike a balance between the damage they’re responsible for and the actions they can take to counterbalance. I’m hoping people connect on a personal level so that the book operates in a grassroots way to provide directions and introspection. But I’m also hoping it hits a communal literary nerve and wows folks into spreading a new monster fishing gospel that’s more conscious of consequences than focused on boasting about trophies.
So that’s it: I’m offering this book as a real-world mirror for taking a look at one’s real-world self and who we really want to be. Are you going to accept this piddly challenge, and if not, why the hell not?
How did you come to know Torrey House Press?
I stumbled upon a description of THP on some publishing-based listing and thought, hey, these guys are kinda like the "Milkweed Editions of the West." Torrey House Press is socially-conscious and they have all these reputable networks and workshops and bookstore connections and interesting authors and innovative ideas. So I sent out a query, and we fell in love.
What's your fondest memory of a monster fish?
One of the fondest memories I have of a fish is told in the Tale of the Cabezon in Monster Fishing. That’s the ultra-grotesque, uber-Gothic, goliath-headed leviathan I hauled from the depths as a kid and my dad landed. If anything, the image I have of that fish is intrinsic to all definitions I have of what is underworldly and bizarre.