Ever notice how the fish in some fishing books don't look like the fish you catch? How you couldn't use the pictures to pick a fish out of a police lineup?
So imagine how nice it was to open a copy of Sport Fish of the Atlantic, by Vic Dunaway and Kevin Brant, and find that the croaker looks like a croaker, the brook trout looks like a brookie and the white grunt looks like my Aunt Ethel.
Seriously, everyone who's seen this 269-page soft-cover book remarks on the artwork and the helpful text that accompanies each entry.
"I don't write for the expert," Dunaway explains. "I write for the regular guy trying to catch fish."
Dunaway, 72, was outdoors editor of the Miami Herald for 10 years before leaving to help launch Florida Sportsman magazine in 1968. He watched it grow from a bi-monthly to a monthly publication before stepping into semi-retirement in 1993.
But like his good friend, Lefty Kreh, Dunaway can't walk away from the sport he loves. He still writes feature articles and a monthly column for the magazine and, like Kreh, he's a leader in the how-to book field.
His newest book is the third in a series that started with Sport Fish of Florida and moved along geographically to Sport Fish of the Gulf of Mexico.
The secret, Dunaway says, is to "concentrate on the major sport fish to keep from becoming a massive encyclopedia. My book has the fish a normal angler has a reasonably good chance to catch."
Even with that self-imposed restriction, he still manages to cover 238 species and include regional nicknames, range, habitat, description, best tackle and baits and best methods to fish. He also rates what kind of a fight the fish puts up and whether it's good to eat.
"Each [book] takes me six months to do," Dunaway says. "I don't know how fast Kevin works."
Brant, 47, is an avid boater, fisherman and former ad agency executive who invented the Bally-Hood, a soft plastic weedless trolling lure that can be rigged in under 30 seconds.
While selling the Bally-Hood at fishing and boating shows in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Brant began drawing fish. He perfected his illustrations by working with a charter boat captain and snapping photos of everything that was reeled in.
About four years ago, Brant's drawings caught the eye of editors at Florida Sportsman magazine, who teamed him up with Dunaway to do the Florida game-fish book.
While Brant got good by studying, he got fast during the making of that volume, when the publisher gave him four months to draw 231 fish.
"At that point, I still had the [advertising] agency, so I knew I had to either quit my job and draw full time or pass up the offer," he recalls. "I quit my job, but the book ended up being more than a full-time venture."
Dunaway says Brant's attention to the smallest detail is what makes his illustrations so good. (The artwork can be viewed at www.kevinrbrantcollection.com.)
The hardest to get right, says Brant, were the patterns and fin structure of the spotted scorpion fish. But there's no love lost with the snapper fishes, either.
"With all those scales, you have to draw one at a time," he says, laughing. "That'll give your hands cramps. By then, you want to do the sharks - anything without scales."
The illustrator also uses his artwork on a series of 25 T-shirts depicting game fish. His latest is a striped bass that he hopes to have on the market in Maryland tackle shops before too long.
Dunaway says there's one more book to this series - Sport Fish in Freshwater - but that makes Brant wince: "That would be nothing but scales," he says.
After that? "Then I'd like to do something on fishing techniques," Dunaway says. "I have other things I could get into if I hang around long enough."
Dunaway has a couple of other books that pull from his 50 years of outdoors writing: From Hook to Table, a really good fish cookbook, and The Complete Book of Baits, Rigs and Tackle.
Sport Fish of the Atlantic is a smidgen over 5-by-8 inches, the perfect size to slide into a tackle box. Or under a Christmas tree (hint, hint). It lists for $16.95. You can get it at The Fisherman's Edge in Catonsville, Oyster Bay Tackle Shop in Ocean City and all Boat U.S. and Boaters' World stores.
See these movies
Even though Hollywood and the outdoors don't seem to have a working relationship, the folks who run the Web site GORP - the Great Outdoors Recreation Page - have managed to scrape together a "best of" list sure to start discussions and arguments (www.gorp.com). The envelope, please:
Lawrence of Arabia (1962): Lawrence of Arabia gets top billing here for its photography and musical score, which bring the Middle East desert brilliantly alive with danger and romance.
Jaws (1975): More than a quarter-century after its release, this smash hit has never been so timely, given recent attacks in Virginia Beach, North Carolina and Florida. Jaws struck fear of the ocean into countless souls, and sharks are still paying the consequences at the hands of sport fishermen worldwide.