Book Review - American Coarse Angling by Brook Landis



I ran into this book while skimming Amazon for regional fish guides, and was immediately struck by the title: American Coarse Angling - Modern baitfishing tactics for the overlooked species. Although both the front and back cover show the same old carp, a quick scan of the index quickly showed me that the words redhorse, quillback, and hogsucker appeared in the book, which was more than enough to convince me to plunk down the $8 for a used copy. While waiting for the book to ship, a quick google search revealed that Dr. Landis is an economics professor at a Pennsylvania university who has also authored a book on trout fishing, along with many professional publications. So I assumed I was going to at least get a well-written book with some depth and insight. Could this be the next Fishing for Buffalo? I was hopeful, at least, that I could get some of my theories about quillback carpsuckers confirmed.


The book arrived, and I read it in about four hours. It's around two hundred pages and liberally illustrated with good black-and-white photos and skillfully constructed line drawings. I have to admit that after flipping through it, I was quite skeptical about the content. There was a great deal of space devoted to esoteric European carp rigging that I've found little use for here in my home waters, and the practice of groundbaiting (illegal in my home state of Minnesota) figured prominently. But then I settled in and read the preface, in which Dr. Landis laments the sorry state of the modern sport of angling in the USA, the decline in participation among the young, and the specialization and mechanization that sucks all the enjoyment out of it for many people - especially young people. I got my eight bucks worth out of this book just reading the preface, to be honest. His intelligence and wit, as well as his passion for the sport, came through in the preface and carries through the entire work.


I'm not going to detail all the various chapters, but I'll touch on a few of them that struck me as particularly interesting. Chapter 1 is titled The Significance of Coarse Fishing - and it's a gem that sets the stage for the rest of the book. In this chapter, he pays homage to Dixon and Buffler, but then re-defines "Coarse Fishing" to mean angling for anything except bass and trout. It's a bit strange to hear that, living as I do in the Land Where The Walleye Is King, but from his perspective in Central Pennsylvania, it's a good enough definition for the purposes of his book.


The author, it turns out, was a purist trout fly-fisher for 25 years - before seeing the light and starting to catch white suckers on nightcrawlers in the crick down the street. This made me want to stand up and clap. It provides an interesting perspective - one similar to, yet strikingly different from, my own. Throughout the book, I wondered how he would approach angling in my neck of the woods, though - there's an obvious provincial bias for his local Pennsylvania region. This, at first, seemed infuriating - what about drift-baiting for buffalo or targeting river redhorse in fast water? What about mooneyes? But that's my own regional bias coming through, after all. Too late in the book, in the last chapter, he reconciles this apparent regional bias with some very thought-provoking tips about how to get enjoyment out of fishing, and the philosophy of angling as a part of your life. The book would've been better with that at the front. But it's there, after all, which is a good and praiseworthy thing.  


The author devotes a single chapter to each of the four seasons, including in each of these chapters several fishing trip reports. These "seasonal" chapters are scattered in among the more technical material and provide a somewhat welcome respite from the more technical chapters. His fishing trip reports are really good - some of them even have masterful diagrams of the water he was fishing - and they are delivered in a factual but atmospheric style that's reminiscent of outdoor writing from the last generation, including engaging descriptions of his encounters with wildlife and his various successes and failures. They're good stories and they highlight the importance of personal narratives in a book of this kind.


The first technical chapter is called Tackle and Tackle Making. This got my attention immediately and was not something I expected to see in a book about Euro-style coarse fishing. When I started to read about how european coarse-fishing equipment is simply not available in the US, I wondered for a second if the author had ever heard of the internet! At this point, I had to flip to the front copyright page to check the publication date - 2002. Now it made sense. Since 2002, carp fishing has exploded in the US, and all those euro-gizmos for carp fishing are readily available. In this chapter, he immediately extolls the virtues of the long euro-style coarse-fishing rod, as opposed to the horrible short rods popular in the US. This is a sentiment that I myself share - yet I find myself fishing with short American-style rods much of the time. It should be noted that his fishing stories mention him using an 8-foot light steelhead rod much of the time, with 4-6 pound test monofilament, which is the exact same outfit I fish most of the time. I do think that his emphasis on the importance of the long rod is overstated, but not not out of place. I'll talk more about that in the conclusion. What really impressed me about this chapter were his ingenious home-built tackle rigs. He builds everything from rod-tip-tracking bite-targets made out of rubber bands to sensitive fishing floats made from painted feather quills. Some of his home-built bite-indicator solutions are both ingenious and useful. 


The next section is titled Sinker Rig Fishing. Those three words echo like a gospel hymn in the heart of every red-blooded roughfisher, so I read the chapter with great interest. It became apparent early in this chapter that Dr. Landis has thought a lot about the effect that the sinker-rig has on the fish, especially with regard to its potential for deep-hooking. He doesn't like to deep-hook fish and has a deep and abiding dedication to preventing unnecessary damage to his quarry. The author details the various rigging options for sinkers. While I think he might be over-thinking the problem in some cases, his speculation and description of how the sinker reacts after the bait is picked up by the fish in current is spot-on. At least for me, this was thought-provoking. Some of the rigs are a little on the wacky and over-complicated side, but I don't fish his water so I can't judge. I did pick up several good sinker-rig designs that I plan to use. Coming from a flyfishing background, he's never heard of the Texas River Rig or the Lindy Rig, so he ends up building arcane European versions of these rigs while blissfully unaware that US anglers in other parts of the country have come up with the same idea thirty years ago and made them a lot simpler.


The float fishing chapter is another gem, with all kinds of useful tidbits - although in typical Euro-angling style it makes everything more complicated than it needs to be. He describes every esoteric type of float. There are big wagglers, little wagglers, peacock wagglers, float rubbers, chubbers, float-adapters, sliders, loafers, Avons, and something called a "self-locking slider" that really seems pointless except in those one-in-a-million fishing situations where it might be marginally more effective than a standard slip-bobber. It all boils down to using a well-balanced, sensitive float - which makes good sense. I'd almost think the guy owned stock in a bobber company, with all the different floats he describes - except that he also tells you how to make your own floats out of cocktail straws and rubber cement. Deep respect for that one, brother. If you're not familiar with Euro-style float fishing, this is a good overview, and every roughfisher should at least know the basics of this system, especially when targeting some of the more difficult species.


The chapter on baits is pretty much a carp chapter. He discusses groundbaiting in detail. For people who live in states where chumming is legal, it's good info and he gives a good groundbait recipe similar to the ones I've concocted for fishing in other states. All of this is now well-known in the US Carp Community, Incorporated. He seems to end up chopping up worms a lot, which is something I've never resorted to - but I imagine it would really get those suckers feeding. The author fails to describe his methods for chopping up worms and the effect this has on his domestic tranquility, but we can give him a pass on that and assume that any enterprising roughfisher should be able to grind up a bunch of worms in the kitchen without the wife finding out. I can only imagine the point in his transition from purist flyfisher to "coarse-fisher" where he stared down at a pile of bloody, wriggling, chopped-up worms and gazed longingly back at his immaculately clean and carefully-arranged flytying bench. Oh, we've been there, brother. At any rate, there are a few good ideas here, but nothing groundbreaking.


The second-to-the-last chapter, semi-technical, is Additional Coarse Angling Suggestions and Tips. I was expecting a series of articles on when you need to switch from a wide-butt-waggler to a self-locking-slider and how to bolt-rig under a float in heavy current. But what I got was much better. What I got was angling philosophy. This, in my opinion, is the reddest meat in the book, so I'll quote it directly. Here are a few summarized versions of Dr. Landis' tips:


Concentrate on fishing local waters rather than expensive, far-flung hotspots. If you can locate fish others have overlooked ... you will learn a great deal more and actually gain a greater angling accomplishment.


This locks neatly into some of my own core principles, and it's worth mentioning that I break this rule more often than most. We all dream of catching impressive fish, but it is an undeniable fact that any idiot can drop a grand on some fancy fishing trip and "skim" an impressive catch at some utopic destination beyond the horizon. It's worth little that anybody with half a brain and a full wallet could do the exact same thing, when you're posting a photograph of a fish that you honestly caught. But what did you learn? Did you become a better angler? A better person? The author doesn't explore this topic in much detail, but at least he raises the question.


Consider learning to identify all species of fish, including minnows, that are indiginous to the places you fish. Few anglers, coarse or otherwise, can do this. Such knowledge will give you insights into water conditions of which you would otherwise be unaware.


Preach it, brother. This is, of course, something that we don't often talk about on, because so many people are already so obsessed with "species fishing" by the time they get here that they don't even consider what the value is in knowing what each fish is except to check it off a list. This is the best excuse for microfishing I've heard yet, and it's more important than it seems. When I think about a river, I think about every little critter that lives there, from the mayflies to the madtoms to the smallmouth bass. Even the ospreys have something to tell you


When playing fish, rather than relying on the sensitivity and reliability of your reel's drag, consider learning how to "backreel".


Where did that come from? I've been unconciously unlocking my anti-reverse on the hookset from age six, and I've never heard anyone except for my dad mention this. People look at me like I'm some kind of crazy person when I tell them to backreel while fighting a fish. Good advice.


Seek undisturbed fish, for success in catching as well as for enjoyable solitude.


I don't think I really need to comment on this, but it might help explain a few things. Hell, it's half the reason I'm a roughfisher in the first place. There's always another bend in the river.


I think this book covers the bases with regard to applying the best of the Euro-style baitfishing techniques to Central Pennsylvania roughfish. Granted, that's pretty much two species: white sucker, and common carp. Throw in his wonderful descriptions of fishing for golden shiners and fallfish, and you've got a good book. No, there's nothing in here about how to sight-fish for the elusive sand-grazing quillback. The author chums like a madman with ground-up worms - sometimes for days! I don't think there's any better way to ensure you catch yourself a quillie than that. It's worth noting that many of the European tactics he describes were invented to solve problems that are either very unlikely or completely mythical. For example, he recommends using non-removable round split-shot as opposed to "eared" removable split-shot because the "ears" on removable split-shot are more likely to catch your line and tangle. I'm sorry, but unless this happens to you more than fifty times per year, it's not worth worrying about. Similarly, the esoteric techniques designed for detecting the slightest nibble might be very valuable if you're fishing for suspended spotted suckers in a clear pool or for triploid grass carp in a heavily-fished suburban pond - but not for the other 99% of your fishing. I think you'd be better served by learning about the fish you're after, and what it eats naturally, than learning how to concoct a wacky sunken-line slack-bolt rig with a swing-tip and an attached swim-feeder. It's also worth noting that the author stresses the importance of humanely lip-hooking fish on every page - but he never mentions the use of circle hooks. This is probably because circle hooks weren't really a thing until 2005, and the book was published in 2002.


I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it for North American roughfishers, if only for the entertaining stories and the fun do-it-yourself projects presented. You're sure to learn a thing or two that will improve your angling skills, and come away with a nice dose of reality about what the sport of angling is all about.  





Eli's picture

Read it back in 2008. I found it very informative and beautifully written to boot. 


Corey, self-locking sliders are the single most sensitive way to bottom fish in a still water situation. It's nice to not have to fumble with a float stopper when trying to set a depth to the nearest 1/4".   




Corey's picture

Eli - I was really intrigued by his descriptions of them! But I'm a river dude, and I almost always fish in the current. An article explaining how to use this rig would be awesome, if you get a chance!

Eli's picture

I'll make a video on how they work...when our still water actually opens up. 




philaroman's picture

"[a specialty float] really seems pointless except in those one-in-a-million fishing situations where it might be marginally more effective than a standard slip-bobber".  That would be true strictly for particularly aggressive grazers or predatory species.  Otherwise, I couldn't agree less!

I'm guessing that by "standard slip-bobber", you mean some sort of center-slider which is grossly inferior to a long-stemmed fixed float as a bite detection tool.  Even when fishing too deep for a fixed float (deeper than 2/3 rod length), I would attach a long waggler partial slip-style, or switch to a longer rod (sometimes I'll bring along a 3-pc 16-footer that I rarely unpack, just to avoid the possibility of resorting to a slip-bobber).  IMHO, a center-slider is a necessary downgrade for situations when casting distance/accuracy supersedes optimal bite detection.

With that in mind, I am most likely to use a spread-out shotting pattern, in which case eared shot does indeed tangle the line quite frequently & adds twist in current.  Furthermore, the grooved cut in all standard shot puts a bend in the line which is a bad idea for light mono -- there is a number of better options: tiny slip sinkers, straight-cut fly-fishing soft lead microshot, tungsten putty...  BPS Clam Shot is a good product:

P.E.T.A. sucks!!!  Plants are living things, too -- they're just easier to catch!

Outdoors4life's picture

Thanks for the review!


Corey I love this part.

This is the best excuse for microfishing I've heard yet, and it's more important than it seems.


I am far from obsessed over Micro Fishing but I do enjoy it.


It is all perspective!

Acer Home Inspections

puckettgame6's picture

Great review Corey!  Just ordered mine..



Thanks for the comprehensive report on your book find. I realize quite often, that the experience of just getting out in nature and encountering a curious situation, and being able to unravel the interaction or interplay that's there, is extremely rewarding to me. It is always great to discover writing that contains good information especially when it reads like poetry and has an effect on both your head and your heart. I'll have to track down this read and give it a spin. Thanks


TonyS's picture

I agree this is good read, I think the philisophical bits were my favorite as well.  It will never replace the Roughfisher's Bible, Fishing For Buffalo, but it lives on the very short list of good books that involve American roughfishing.


It does have a good general overview of Euro tactics.  While these are overkill most of the time, I remain hopefully that those tactics may provide some insight to the species that are not too friendly the standard issue bottom rigging.  Interestingly, I've read articles online about Barbel fishing - probably the most "sucker-like" of the Euro fishes - and the tactics discussed there are much more similar to the basic bottom rigs we use here.  The most common differences often just being fancy ways to minimize tangling.  


The long rod thing, while I agree is non-essential, I am a big fan of.  I actually started playing with that after reading Fishing For Buffalo.  Which talks very favoribly of long rods for drifting baits to suckers, one of my favorite methods.  I'm actually might experiment with stealing some Japanese tactics of bait fishing to provide a bit more control for sight fishing Carpsuckers this summer, best case senerio I'm sure it will just be a slight edge but I'll take anything I can get with those fish...


One big thing I see in this book and forum disussions is that much of angling is preference, I do like reading about tactics significantly different than my normal ones - which I hope will help for those fringe situations where the true White Whale type catches exist...

TonyS's picture

And as a side rant... I was a bit annoyed to see a Carp on the cover of a book on "American" Coarse Angling but I am way more sad to see that the newest print of Fishing For Buffalo has a Carp on the cover!

TonyS's picture

As a side, in all the (including recent) stuff I've read on fishing for coarse fish in most parts of Europe, circle hooks remain very unpopular.  I've read some very detailed, IMO over-thought-out, discussions and articles on the topic.  It seems they don't often have gut hooking problems with the popular species and rigs used over there.  


Admittedly, circle hooks aren't perfect.  In hand-held (read, I hook the fish) situations I've been experimenting with going back to J-hooks at times.  Especially for drifting baits.  I'm not having issues with injured fish.  For dead sticks, where the fish hooks itself I'm still using circles.  I know that Euro self-hooking rigs use J-hooks but I've seen issues with doing that around certain species.  Hogsuckers come to mind as a perfect circle hook speices, due to the fact that bites are terribly hard to detect at times.  Though really circles seem to work well for all commonly caught suckers.  I use them almost exclusively for Channels and Sturgeon too as I haven't found a reason not to. 

Peeling Line's picture

Sounds like a great book.  Amazon has it for $50, ouch!  Fortunately you can read the preface and the first few chapters on google books.