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Thomas McGuane: Meet Your Heroes

Gunpowder and lead heads.

A fisherman using a pole to push a flats skiff.

APR 11, 2024 | BY BJ POSS


If you were to wander around Key West in the early seventies, there is a strong chance you’d run across a lean, Farrah Faucet-haired, well-tanned fella holding court over a poling skiff, giving hell to a young, hungry Jimmy Buffet or talking down a very excited Hunter S. Thompson. That would be Thomas McGuane, or as you could call him then - Captain Tom.

There was fish porn long before slow-mo shots of jumping tarpon or slurping brown trout littered your Instagram feed. It was penned in the journals of McGuane, Borautigan, and the rest of their gang of artists who drew inspiration from teasing bonefish and permit with the early iterations of chicken-feathered hooks.

Tom McGuane made a career of sharing spurts of the beatnik pulse of Americana. Now in his eighties, he has made his rounds on various podcasts over the past couple of years to implore folks to invest in wildlife conservation, share his thoughts on the requirements of an engaging story, and recount some of the old times with HST and his actual brother-in-law, Jimmy Buffet.


McGuane has a knack for pulling on the desk job daydreams of packing life into a hatchback and hightailing it due south. His glutton-laced 1973 novel, 92 In The Shade, taps into the hound-dogging lifestyle of a new guide infiltrating a proud fishing scene of an adolescent Florida Keys. Drawing from his own life as a young flats guide, sprinkling a borderline recklessly high-stakes plot with eloquent prose - comparing the temporary capture of heady fish to the stripping, fleeting clouser that is life itself:

“Skelton poled harder and at one point overtook the fish as it desperately rubbed the hook on the coral bottom; seeing the boat, it flushed once more in terror, making a single long howl pour from the reel. A fish that was exactly noble, thought Skelton, who began to imagine the permit coming out of a deep-water wreck by the pull of the moon and tide, riding the invisible crest of the incoming water, feeding and moving by force of blood; only to run afoul of an asshole from Connecticut.”

A tarpon book on a bench with a fly tying station.

His other works lean more into the gentile solitude of a life out West, where he spent his early and late years. The Longest Silence, self-described as the crown jewel of his writing, has a Gierarch-esque voice in a collection of short stories that recount a lifetime of fly fishing that will inspire you to get out and stand in a river.

Ten novels, a handful of screenplays, a litany of short stories and articles - Tom McGuane has the perspective of someone who was poling since before there were platforms to do so. He had a hand in the cult classic Tarpon, he’s left us a detailed journal spanning mediums to remind us that it's still worth fishing in the wind.

"Granted, he releases that which he catches, but in some cases, he strips the quarry of its perilous soul by tossing it back into the water. what was once a trout – cold, hard, spotted, and beautiful becomes 'number seven."

– Tom McGuane

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