Fisherman Mark Spitzer takes readers on an action-packed investigation of the most fierce and fearsome freshwater grotesques of the American West ever to inspire both hatred and fascination. Through the lenses of history, folklore, biology, ecology, and politics, Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West depicts the environmental destruction plaguing the most maligned creatures in our midst while subtly interweaving Spitzer’s experiences of personal tragedy and self-discovery.
Join Spitzer as he noodles for flathead catfish in Oklahoma, snags paddlefish in Missouri, trotline- and electro-fishes American eels in Arkansas, studies razorback suckers in Arizona, bounty hunts for pikeminnows in Washington State, attends a burbot festival in Utah, stirs up Asian carp in Kansas, and breaks the state record for the largest yellow bullhead ever caught in Nebraska.
By examining freakish links in a vital chain and working with specialists in the field, Spitzer portrays a planet in environmental crisis and dispels the illusion that our actions don’t result in long-term, toxic consequences. Spitzer offers models for fisheries and provides other sources of hope in this informative epic of redemption that ultimately celebrates the wild and resilient beauty and remaining possibilities of the American West.
About the Author
Mark Spitzer is an associate professor of writing at the University of Central Arkansas. He is the author of several novels, poems, essays, and literary translations, including Season of the Gar: Adventures in Pursuit of America’s Most Misunderstood Fish and Return of the Gar. Spitzer has consulted for Nat Geo’s Monster Fish and appeared on Animal Planet’s River Monsters.
"For anyone seeking a deeper understanding of what lies beneath the surface of Western waterways, Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American Westoffers a lively primer to the region’s aquatic biodiversity."—Ben Goldfarb, High Country News
— Ben Goldfarb
"This is a book that beautifully navigates the space between entertainment and information. Moments will stick with readers, and will make them look at the fish and fisheries with new eyes."—Erin H. Turner, Big Sky Journal
— Erin H. Turner
"Spitzer, like many of us, is looking for utility and finding it in the wildness of underappreciated fish. The beautifully grotesque fish represent possibilities for us in our ever-changing world."—Donald J. Orth, Pacific Northwest Quarterly
— Donald J. Orth
"Mark Spitzer's Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West is a compelling read about many of the lesser known, underappreciated, or "trash" fish of the western United States. One of the major western issues Spitzer anchors his study to (perhaps obviously) is water. Water scarcity, irrigation, power generation, dams, and so forth are all issues that affect both the people and fish of the West."—Cory Willard, Western American Literature
— Cory Willard
"Reading this book is a little like sipping on an old, rich whiskey—it's smooth, interesting and exactly what you need after a long day on the water."—Joshua Peterson, Casper Star Tribune
— Joshua Peterson
"A powerful, beautiful, and ultimately kind book. We're lucky to have it."—Max Wilson, Lesser Places
— Max Wilson
"[Spitzer's] a hard-core fisherman."—Daryl Bauer, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Fisheries Outreach Program Manager
— Daryl Bauer
"Here is a book that captures that rhythm. Every page. The fish-obsessed will smile knowingly and follow Spitzer as he encounters everything from endangered razorback suckers to burbot on ice. And along the way, you’ll realize you’re enjoying a lot of science and conservation as well."—Matt Miller, Cool Green Science
— Matt Miller
"We highly recommend Beautifully Grotesque Fish of the American West to scientists, conservation biologists, and all who consider themselves fish enthusiasts. . . . Those who believe there is beauty in the interesting and unique ecology of all fish species will find a strong connection with the theme of this book. Importantly, this general theme provides a solid framework and conversation ethic toward a group of animals that do not get as much attention as other species that have been marketed as more popular fisheries."—Keith B. Gido and Garrett W. Hopper, Great Plains Research
— Keith B. Gido and Garrett W. Hopper
"This is a book I have to recommend highly for all fishermen and nature lovers. It is written in a humorous and colorful style with information that makes you smile, chuckle and think about the importance of fishes in the future of mankind."—Chuck Mattson, Denver Westerns Roundup
— Chuck Mattson
"Beautifully Grotesque Fish is an intelligent, energetic, slightly gonzo adventure across the West's great waters, from the Ozarks through Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and Nebraska, up to Minnesota, and across to Idaho and Oregon where Spitzer wrestles with white sturgeon, the largest freshwater fish in North America. . . . Spitzer's unaffected voice succeeds in telling us a richly informed, compelling, and honest story."—Henry Hughes, Elder Mountain: A Journal of Ozarks Studies
— Henry Hughes
“A wild foray into fishing the ‘industrial edge,’ and a marvelous read about the fish few of us will ever know.”—Kevin Mattson, avid fisherman and Connor Study Professor of Contemporary History at Ohio University
— Kevin Mattson
“Mark Spitzer fishes his way across the West, stalking unique, maligned, and ugly species while enlightening readers on their ecological roles and conservation statuses. . . . A fun and, at times, hilarious adventure. Creative and unassuming, this is a wonderful addition to fishing literature.”—Jennifer Corrinne Brown, author of Trout Culture: How Fly Fishing Forever Changed the Rocky Mountain West
— Jennifer Corrinne Brown
“Mark Spitzer manages to capture all our favorite grotesque fish in his latest frenetic adventures while making you feel like you’re right there with him in the boat! He also delivers a genuine message of conservation to benefit fish and people.”—Solomon R. David, postdoctoral research associate at the John G. Shedd Aquarium
— Solomon R. David