Fly fishing, a small subset of the fishing world as a whole, claims an unnaturally large percentage of fishing books. Just Google “fishing books,” and you’ll see that nearly every result on the first page is related to fly fishing.
Maybe it’s because of the finesse of the technique, which lends itself to a creative outlet. Maybe it’s that trout and trout habitat are beautiful enough to inspire authors. Whatever the reason, there’s no shortage of good fly fishing literature out there, and that bodes well for anglers.
Every fly fisherman should spend some time diving into books on the subject, both for practical and intangible reasons. Some books impart serious knowledge, from tactics and techniques to places to go. Others entertain, and some simply bring to light minute aspects of the sport that ring true for fishermen.
The selection of books ranges from classics that still stand the test of time, to new releases that often explain modern tactics used by extremely successful anglers. Whatever your style of fly fishing literature, there’s definitely a book out there that fits the bill.
1. A River Runs Through It – Norman Maclean
This book isn’t number one on the list by accident. The fact that it’s almost cliche at this point isn’t an accident either. The reason it’s on nearly every list out there is that it’s an absolute must-read for any fly fisherman. In early 20th-century Montana, Maclean and his brother balance family, life, religion, and fly fishing, and maintain their relationship despite very different life paths. If you read this book once, there’s a high chance you’ll pick it up again.
2. The River Why – David James Duncan
One of the few true fly fishing novels out there, The River Why is sure to hit home for anyone who has ever wanted to drop everything, buy a cabin, and fish every single day. This book follows Gus Orviston, who pursues his passion for fly fishing and learns a lot about fishing, himself, and love along the way.
3. The Feather Thief – Kirk Wallace Johnson
Though not directly related to fly fishing (the actual act of fishing is only referenced a handful of times), The Feather Thief is perhaps one of the hardest books to put down on the list. In 2009, a young fly tier named Edwin Rist broke into the British Natural History Museum and made off with hundreds of rare bird skins. These skins, some valued at thousands of dollars apiece, were like gold in the small, passionate group of traditional salmon fly tiers Edwin associated with. Some skins were returned to the museum unharmed, but many made their way into the secretive world of salmon flies and were never recovered. This book covers the history of the skins, the heist itself, and the aftermath.
4. The Longest Silence – Tom McGuane
Tom McGuane is widely known as one of the best fly fishing writers out there, and many consider him a favorite writer of any genre. The Longest Silence is a collection of essays that range from trout to permit and everything in between. In addition to being a great angler, McGuane is a great storyteller and finds just the right way to convey what he means. Although McGuane has written multiple books related to fishing, this one is probably the purest fly fishing book he has.
5. Fifty Places to Fly Fish Before You Die – Chris Santella
While most of the books on this list are at least somewhat reflective, this one is a practical read. Like the title implies, the book covers 50 places to fly fish around the world, with a couple pages dedicated to the techniques, access, and other pertinent information for each location. The real plus to this book is that despite being informational, it’s not a bore to get through. A lot of practical fishing books can be a little mind-numbing, but with vivid descriptions and amazing pictures, this one will keep you hooked.
6. Where the Trout Are All as Long as Your Leg – John Gierach
No fly fishing book list would be complete without at least one book by John Gierach. The hard part isn’t finding a book of his to include, but rather narrowing it down to just one or two. Having written over 20 fly fishing books, Gierach makes it hard to choose. Where the Trout Are All as Long as Your Leg is a good one, as it will resonate with something every angler is familiar with: favorite fishing spots. From appreciating a hidden gem that holds monsters, to finding solitude on a small creek, this book hits it all.
7. Fly Fishing the 41st – James Prosek
The concept behind this book is exciting in itself. Prosek decided to fly fish his way around the world along the latitude of his home, which is at the 41st parallel. The trip takes him through Spain, France, Mongolia, and more, and each place is unique. One of the refreshing things about Fly Fishing the 41st is that it highlights all the non-angling aspects of fishing that matter to fishermen. Interesting places, unique species, and relationships formed along the way are some of the best parts of fly fishing, and Prosek does a great job of bringing these to the forefront.
This article was developed by Flylords’ content team member, Katie Burgert.