For more than a decade, Bob Mallard has established himself as one of the state’s most determined cold-water fisheries advocates, working on conservation projects and legislation that have ruffled feathers in Augusta but paid dividends in the end.
The former Madison fly shop owner also has done a lot of writing for magazines and as a contributor in several fish-centric books.
To steal a phrase that the catch-and-release advocate might not appreciate, Mallard’s latest effort, which focuses on brook trout, is simply a “keeper.”
Titled “Squaretail,” the book claims to be “The Definitive Guide to Brook Trout and Where to Find Them.” That’s a lofty promise, but Mallard delivers.
Divided into several parts, Mallard highlights brook trout waters where the fish are native or non-native, looks at brook trout on public lands and provides a great primer for the curious trout angler. He also writes about the history and native range of the species and finishes the book — not surprisingly, considering his track history — with a 31-page essay on the status, threats and conservation initiatives involving brookies.
“Most of my advocacy these days, and for a decade or so now, is focused on fish, not fishing, and wild native fish exclusively,” Mallard said. “And by default, as a lifelong New Englander, this means brook trout to a large degree. While I have always wanted to write a brook trout book, it took years to finally pull the trigger.”
A few years back Mallard finally did pull the trigger, putting other writing projects on the back burner. The result is a gem, a combination of facts, photos and information that will appeal to both avid anglers and curious travelers alike.
Mallard said that in his quest to write about fish instead of fishing, he faced a challenge: Would a fish book actually sell?
“In order to reach a broad audience, and get the support of a large publisher, I felt I needed to blend fishing with fish, so that is what I did,” Mallard said. “Basically, the book is a brook trout conservation book sandwiched around a brook trout where-to book. As for the specific destinations, they are primers. What and why more than where and how.”
The approach works seamlessly.
Sections about various possible fishing destinations, including many in Maine, feature a little history about the water, a few facts about the brookies that live there — how big the fish might be, for instance — and what seasons are best for fishing.
It does not include maps or driving destinations to honey holes, a practice known in the fishing community as “spot-burning.”
Instead, Mallard’s descriptions intrigue as much as they inform and are much more likely to elicit a response of “I’ve got to go explore that river” than they are to leave a reader saying “Now I know exactly how to fish that spot.”
That was intentional, Mallard said.
“While some will bristle at any mention of specific waters, you can’t burn the Rapid, Magalloway, Rapidian, Swift, etc.,” Mallard said. “They have been written about a lot, and omitting them would be foolish. But you can burn small ponds and small streams, so I don’t name them unless as part of a generic list.”
The 230-page hardcover book features Maine prominently, as well it should.
“Maine is blessed with what is arguably the best inventory of wild native trout waters in the nation,” Mallard said. “And by this I mean waters that are not compromised by nonnatives and stocking.”
That doesn’t mean there aren’t conservation battles to fight and waters left to protect. Not even close.
“Maine is losing ground, and fast, and we are by no means safe. The last decade or so has not been good to our brook trout. And while we are in good shape from a fish standpoint, our fishing is not what it should, or could, be,” Mallard said. “By this I mean size-quality and densities. But again, we have a lot to work with, more than most in fact, and for that we are lucky.”
While readers may well choose “Squaretail” as a constant companion to stick into a tackle bag, it also wouldbe suitable to display on a coffee table in the living room: The photographs alone are worth savoring.
A famous quote holds that trout don’t live in ugly places and the photos, many taken by Mallard’s wife Diana, certainly prove that.
“Diana took up photography a decade ago as a hobby, and partly because most editors now expect free pictures when you submit an article,” Mallard said. “She has really come a long way and fortunately for me, she gets some really awesome shots. And while fish pictures are necessary, I actually think the scenery shots are more important as they tell the real story.”
Mallard now will turn his writing attention back to a book focusing entirely on fishing in Maine, and he’ll continue to work on conservation matters in his role as national vice chair of the Native Fish Coalition.
There is, after all, plenty of work left to be done.
“My writing has really helped up my game in regard to conservation. So has Native Fish Coalition,” Mallard said. “I plan on using my involvement in both to help get the wild native fish message out there, and hopefully inform and educate people as to why they are important, what the threats to them are, and what we can do to preserve them. Interestingly, I don’t think the wild native fish message has ever been stronger than it is right now.”
For signed, first-edition copies of the book, go to www.BobMallard.com/shop/
John Holyoke can be reached at email@example.com or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter, @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” will be released by Islandport Press in October.