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Fishing For Buffalo

A Book Review By Joe Cornwall

 

"Never give a sucker an even break.”  W. C. Fields

Every now and then life sneaks in a surprise that leaves me flat footed, jaws just slightly agape.  I’ve been a fan of “underutilized” fish species since I first learned to hold a fishing rod.  Bullheads were an early favorite, as were eels and blueback herring.   My first carp on a fly was an eye-opening experience that left me wanting more and more.  But my first buffalo on a fly… well that just made me weak in the knees.  Like most American anglers, I didn’t even know that buffalo could be caught on a rod and reel!  Imagine my surprise to find out that buffalo fish are, and always have been, among our nation's most important wild food fishes.

Rob Buffler and Tom Dickson certainly know about the commercial and sporting value of the buffalo.  While researching an article on carp fishing, I came across their book Fishing For Buffalo (ISBN978-0-8166-6532-7).  It had been originally published in 1990 by Culpepper Press and republished by the University of Minnesota Press in 2009.  Since the only information about Culpepper Press indicated that it specializes in children’s books, there is little wonder that this volume flew below the radar for a decade.  I’m delighted that this important book is now readily available to the angling community.  Buffler and Dickson have broken important ground and done so in a very deliberate and thorough manner.  This is a book that every Midwestern fishing fanatic should read.

Just as many roughfish are odd, so is Fishing for Buffalo.  We don’t deny the absurdity of a book about catching carp on a fly made to imitate a mulberry, eating reamed dogfish on toast, and advocating the catch-and-release of redhorse” say the authors in the preface.  While the book’s concept may appear superficially absurd, the information contained inside is serious, detailed and enlightening.  The authors certainly have the credentials to educate; Buffer is the Executive Director of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative and Dickson is the editor of Montana Outdoors. These are guys who know their way around a fly rod. And they definitely know their way around a creek.

Depending on where you live, you’ll get different things from this book.  I was most taken by the detailed approach to suckers as a sport and table fish.  Several species of sucker inhabit the cleanest and prettiest waters we fish in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.  I’ve hooked and landed several of them, but I didn’t really understand their behavior and preferred habitat.  Having read Fishing for Buffalo I now feel that I’m ready to truly expand my horizons next season.  Suckers are challenging, strong and aesthetically pleasing fish that get a bad rap because so few have taken the time to delve into their natural history.

Although presented at face value as a book about buffalo, which are one of the largest freshwater fish readily available to North American anglers, this book is about a lot more. Buffalo are members of the sucker family, and in this work you’ll find in-depth treatment of all the suckers including the common white sucker, the redhorse family, and the buffalo family.  You’ll also learn more than you thought possible about gar, carp, catfish, burbot and even whitefish and cisco.  In the authors own words, this work covers any fish that: “1. Weigh[s] at least a pound, can be caught with hook and line, but are ignored or disparaged by most sport anglers (such as carp and suckers); 2. Provide good sport and food, but are known to few anglers (like drum and goldeye); or 3. Are for the most part valued, but in the past were regarded as roughrfish or are still seen as undesirable in some regions (like catfish and sturgeon)” is covered in this work.  From identifying your catch to determining the best recipe, it’s all right there.

Fly fishing plays a big role in Buffler and Dickson’s work.  While not exclusively a fly fishing book, these gentlemen know how the long rod is applied to piscatorial problems.  And like the folks who bring you Fly Fish Ohio, these guys aren’t fanatical purists. You’ll also learn about bait and artificial lures delivered via spinning rod or casting rod.  Sometimes the fly rod just isn’t the right choice and if you want to hook up you’ve got to get in front of the fish.

I’m enthusiastic about this read.  I missed it the first time around, but I made up for it with this republishing effort.  For $18.95 this book is a “no-brainer”  Just get it.

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