Joe Brooks was a pioneer in modern fly fishing. He fished faraway places from the 40s to his death in 1972. He wrote about them through a myriad of articles and 10 books. Through his writing he opened up the world and popularized places like: Montana, Argentina, Africa, Europe, New Zealand, the Florida Keys and the Caribbean Countries. He and others like him created/pioneered the saltwater fly fishing industry we now have today. He was a teacher, a gentleman, a conservationist and a mentor to many of the fly fishing icons of today like Lefty Kreh. Now, 42 years since Joe's death, two brothers, Mike and Joe, are in a quest to tell the story of their great uncle, a man who was once spiraling downward into the tragic depths of addiction, but then found his life’s passion and transformed himself as well as an entire sport. They wish to tell this story through a feature length documentary on the life of Joe Brooks, the man who pioneered, like few have, saltwater and freshwater fly fishing.

Fd: How did the documentary project begin?

The project began many years ago. It was more of an off-the-cuff comment to my older brother Mike, who in a family of eight children -six boys and two girls- was the only one who shared the fly-fishing passion. The comment went something like: “How cool it would be to follow in Uncle Joe’s steps around the world. To fish some of the far away places he fished like: Patagonia, Africa, Norway, Iceland, Panama or Belize…” To try and meet some of the relatives of those whom he fished with…

This off-the-cuff comment came to mind again when a friend, a documentary producer from Los Angeles, was starting his own documentary production company and was looking for content. So out of the blue and with this in mind I penned an email which outlined a possible documentary concept about my great uncle who was a famous fly fisherman. It outlined how Joe overcame his alcohol addiction, married Mary, his third wife, and rose to the pinnacle of his profession. The story is not just about the pioneering days of fly fishing. It is rather a truly inspiring story of overcoming and redemption. Overcoming a ruthless taskmaster of addiction. The inner will and strength to resist the ever present urge to just have one last drink. This urge would have been a daily battle and struggle, but through his personal strength of will and character, he overcame the pull. It was Mary who gave him the strength and will to finally stop. It is this love that she had for him and he had for her which was the catalyst for his transformation. Debbie Waterman, wife of late outdoor writer Charlie Waterman said, “Mary saved Joe’s life”. It is also interesting to note that this 24-year period of Joe and Mary’s marriage -alcohol free- also coincides with Joe's meteoric rise as a leading outdoor author, pioneer, TV personality and angler.

Fd: In what way does the documentary reveal aspects of Joe’s life apart from what the viewer may know from his shows and bibliography?

We wish to present the real Joe Brooks, warts and all. Most who knew him in person or from his articles and books or on television, as the fishing expert on ABC Wide World of Sports, American Sportsman show, would have no idea of the monster Joe was in his earlier years. He struggled with alcoholism. Joe was a mean drunk. He was a big man and an experienced pugilist. He could seriously hurt someone and he often did. My dad, often around the dinner table as kids would tell the story about how his father, Ray, on more than one occasion would have to go and get Joe out of jail in the middle of the night for being drunk and beating up some unsuspecting patron. He was not the man then who many would refer to later as gentleman Joe.

Joe wrote his first book, Bass Bug Fishing, in 1948. Joe was 47, the same age as myself. He was still drinking then. Struggling to survive. Joe was nearly at the bottom. How he kept it all together is amazing in itself. Joe knew he had a problem. So much so that he had his boss -at a Towson Maryland newspaper, where Joe wrote a column called Pools and Riffles- to hold back his weekly salary so he could save enough to get to an Outdoor Writers of America convention in Florida. He knew if he was paid his salary he would only drink it away. Consequently, his life changed completely from this point onwards because it was at this convention that he met Mary.

Joe and my grandfather were very close. Joe was an amazing athlete and played semi professional football, was signed with Baltimore Orioles as a pitcher, was a near scratch golfer, and so on. He was a very talented man. Came from a very well to do family, yet he threw it all away because of his addiction to alcohol.

Fd: What can we see related to his fly tying abilities?

Regarding his casting techniques, Joe brought the double haul to Argentina and today it is a staple of Argentine fly fishing. It is the flies he brought with him back in January of 1954 which are what really made a huge impact. Those flies, which Bebe and Jorge [Argentine fly fishing pioneers] teased him about, the “shaving brushes”, would end up landing the biggest trout ever landed on fly in Argentina at that time. One fly, in particular, was responsible for Bebe landing a 20+lbs brown trout. At the time a world record.

One fly Joe invented and was one of his go-to-flies in both salt and fresh water was the Blonde. Incidentally and little known fact is that the series of Blonde flies got its name while Joe was in Argentina. His then fishing buddy, Leu Klewer, of the Toledo Blade, asked him what he called the fly and Joe said something like, “White bucktail”. Lew retorted, “How about calling it the Blonde? The platinum Blonde…” Hence the name was born. Now we have the Argentine, honey, black, strawberry and the original platinum Blonde. All excellent fish takers. Even Jorge Trucco, of San Martin de los Andes [in Patagonia], told me he caught his biggest brown trout ever on a Brooks Blonde. Joe was not a tier much and often had others like the late Red Greb or Bill Gallasch tie for him.

Joe goes on to say this about the Blondes: “If I was limited to fishing with one fly, it would be the Brooks Blonde, most likely the all white version known as the Platinum Blonde. Why? Because it’s simple, quick to tie, effective in just about every fishing environ and because it just plain works. I have used this fly up and down the east coast, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic for stripers, blues, albies, jacks, snook, ‘cuda, smallies, largemouth and pickerel.”

Fd: Joe started fly fishing in places where nobody had dared to wet a fly. Is there any footage from the past included in the documentary?

There is much footage from the many episodes where Joe featured as the fishing expert on the ABC Wide World of Sports, American Sportsman show. Actually it was with Joe that the pilot program was produced in Argentina on Lago General Paz. Curt Gowdy came up with the concept of an outdoor show, but it was Roon Arledge, the legendary producer, who came up with the concept of a fishing competition. It must be noted that this is the very first televised fishing show and fishing competition to be aired in prime time ever.

No doubt it was through Joe, his knowledge of the area and connections with Argentine fly fishing legends, Jorge Donovan, Bebe Anchorena, Andre de Ganay and Charles Radziwill that the show was able to be organized, filmed and ultimately produced into an hour and a half pilot TV show. The audience were mesmerized by the beautiful location, the incredible fishing to be had and became long standing watchers of the longest running outdoor prime time TV program ever. This is but one example of the beginning of televised fly fishing, but Joe through the show would travel the world with Curt Gowdy, like to the remote islands which make up Bahamas, to fish for bonefish or South Florida for tarpon and permit. Joe also features in a Bermuda Tourism program created by the late Pete Perenchief, to bring the wonders of fishing in Bermuda to the angling fraternity. So there is some great footage we will revisit in the documentary so the others, who have a passion for fly fishing both in salt and fresh water, can see who was one of its real legends and pioneers of the sport.

Fd: We have numerous users from Argentina. What can you tell them about Joe’s time over there? What will they find by watching the doc?

Joe was instrumental in proclaiming to the world through his writing for Field & Stream, Outdoor Life [which were the two key outdoor magazines of the day] and through his books the amazing fishing to be had in Patagonia. Because of his writings the massive fly fishing industry in Argentina today was born.

This happened in many parts of the world where Joe would fish. For example, he would go to the Bahamas and fish for permit or bones. Then write about it for his passionate readers and slowly over time an industry was begun. The Bahamas are world renowned today and are a huge fly fishing destination, unheard of until Joe. This happened over and over again. American living fly fishing legend Lefty Kreh, says this, “Fly fishermen today jump on airplanes to test the waters of the upper Amazon Basin, the trout streams and lakes of New Zealand, and the distant atolls of the South Pacific. But no one dared or thought of this until Joe Brooks opened up the doors.”

They will also find that Joe, Bebe and Jorge where truly great friends… kindred spirits. There was a deep deep friendship and bond they shared. This cannot be underestimated. Consider the chance meeting of Jorge and Joe in New York in 1954. All because of this… this chance meeting, an industry was born, new ways of fishing and casting were shared and lifelong friendships were forged. Joe loved Argentina and he loved his mates Bebe and Jorge.

Fd: What about this longtime bond with Lefty Kreh?

Lefty and Joe go way back to Lefty’s very beginning in terms of fly fishing. It was Joe who first showed Lefty a fly rod. He knew about them, but had never seen one nor seen someone use one. Joe was writing for a Towson, Maryland paper at the time [this is just after WW2] and he had heard of Lefty, a hot shot fisherman and guide from Frederick, Maryland. Joe wanted to interview him for his column. So Lefty took Joe smallmouth bass fishing on the Potomac just near Harpers Ferry. Well, with a bamboo fly rod and in a pretty stiff wind, Joe out fished Lefty on his home waters. Now if you know anything about Lefty, you know this would have really got his attention because this had never happened to him before. Lefty when guiding others was always the better angler, but not this day.

Lefty was hooked, right then and there. The next day he met Joe at Tochterman’s fishing store, in Baltimore, where Joe picked out a rod and reel for Lefty. They then proceeded to Druid Hill Park where Lefty had his first ever fly casting lesson. Joe would pop into Lefty’s life from time-to-time as the years went by and usually at a pivotal moment in Lefty’s life. One such moment is when Joe was instrumental in helping Lefty get the job as head of the South Miami Fishing Tournament affectionately know as the MET. This was the springboard to the rest of Lefty’s still amazing career.

Fd: Which other characters of Joe’s life and fly-fishing history can be seen in the film?

Joe had numerous friends around the world like… too many to list. The ones which come to mind are: Lefty Kreh, Ted Williams, Bing Crosby, Bebe Anchorena, Jorge Donovan, A.J. McClane, Jimmy Albright, Bill Smith, Jack Nicklaus, Bill Curtis, Andre de Ganay, Vic Barothy and many many more.

Fd: Finally, how can we all see the documentary?

We are in the early stages of raising the money to pay for creating the documentary and need so much support. This is a little known story about one of the most influential men of all time in the fly fishing world. He did so much for so many and it would require
more paper and time to chronicle all that he did for our sport.

The producers are crafting a distribution plan that will take the film to theatres and television networks around the world. In addition, the film will be made available for special screenings to assist and promote the work of fly fishing clubs, non-profits preserving the sport of fly fishing, non-profits working on conservation of water resources and other similar organizations. After first-run opportunities in theatres, TV and special screenings of the film will be made available on DVD and digital platforms such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime.

Profit proceeds, if any, will be used to fund the Joe Brooks Foundation for Conservation and Outdoor Education, a non for profit entity.

Find more information about the documentary and how to collaborate, here: