Every fly angler knows the passion and obsession for the sport doesn’t stop when they leave the water. The daydreaming of trophy fish, organizing of gear and hours of research on the dream fishing trip consumes my precious hours of free time. There are times, however, when those things aren’t quite enough.
It’s at this point when books and literature about fly fishing step in and fill the void. Many fly angling these are written by people who love the sport and happen to be excellent writers.
There are hundreds of books on fly fishing, but the following 15 have helped during those days I’m dying to be on the water, but can’t make it happen.
7 Books that Teach How-To Fly Fish
1. Little Red Book of Fly Fishing by Kirk Deeter and Charlie Meyers
The Little Red Book of Fly Fishing is perfect for any fly angler. It covers topics ranging from the importance of your pinky finger for accurate casts to high sticking. As you read, it feels as if you’re sitting down with a few friends and discussing all things fly fishing.
The beauty of this book is that the authors Kirk Deeter and Charlie Meyers help anglers of all abilities. Information for all skill levels isn’t always easy to find in fly fishing books. They’re usually targeted to a more specific audience.
It’s set up in a way that allows you to look at the table of contents and identify a specific skill that you’re interested in learning. You can flip directly to the page and not have to wade through hundreds of words of useless information. It offers the feel of a “textbook” while reading like a personal diary.
2. Orvis Guide to Beginning Fly Fishing by Tom Rosenbauer
This is the ideal read for someone looking to get into fly fishing and isn’t interested in reading a novel. There are 101 tips to read through that offer information on the perfect fly rod, best flies, how to cast and how to land fish.
Anything that Orvis attaches its name to is usually high quality. To make it even better, it’s written by Tom Rosenbauer, a legend in the fly fishing community. If there’s one name that you can trust in the industry, Rosenbauer is it. He’s been with Orvis for years and is one of the best fly fishing instructors in the business.
This book gives information that expert anglers forget about and fail to tell beginners. He doesn’t miss out on simple things like how to hold your rod and what to look for when you’re studying a river or stream.
3. 1001 Fly Fishing Tips edited by Jay Nichols
1001 tips is quite a few. This is a perfect book to purchase when you start fly fishing and run into situations where you aren’t quite sure what to do. Chances are, there is some information in this book that is going to point you in the right direction.
One of the great aspects of this book is that it gives readers an in-depth look into the terminology of fly fishing. Fly fishing lingo is complicated and Jay Nichols does a great job making sense of everything from names of flies to fishing techniques.
There are diagrams that teach different ways to cast as well as information on how to tie specific knots. They’re in-depth and require some prior fishing knowledge to truly understand.
4. Nymph Masters by Jason Randall
Nymphing is one of the most complicated types of fly fishing. It seems that every guide or “expert” has a different way to do it. This can be overwhelming and confusing for those trying to learn. Nymph Masters by Jason Randall is an expert breakdown of nymphing.
I highly recommend Nymph Masters. I’ve attended seminars with Jason Randall and “on-water” workshops. This book will improve your nymphing skills. Read the reviews with this link to Amazon – Nymph Masters: Fly-Fishing Secrets from Expert Anglers
You’ll learn all about the different techniques, but where Randall shines is in his ability to explain how to read rivers. So much of nymping is studying the current and identifying where you need to drift your fly to get a fish to strike.
Pay close attention to these river reading sections. They can be somewhat confusing if you’re trying to casually read. He dives into depth, but if you can comprehend it, you’ll find yourself landing more and more fish. It’s a great gift for the angler looking to expand their abilities.
5. Tactical Fly Fishing: Lessons Learned from Competition for All Anglers by Devin Olsen
Sometimes you need to take a deep dive and get down to the nitty gritty of fly fishing. Tactical Fly Fishing does exactly that. It’s brought on every single one of my fly fishing trips. Devin Olsen explains in-depth the minute details of reading water, nymphing and trout behavior.
If I’m stuck on what the trout want or where they’re hiding, I pull out this book and see what Mr. Olsen has to say. I always learn something new every time I pick up this book. This isn’t meant for some light Sunday afternoon reading. It’s there to help you when you’re stuck and can’t seem to break through to the next level of your abilities.
Are you looking for what competitive fly fishers are doing? This book teaches you how to adapt to different conditions and CATCH FISH. Up your fly fishing skills with this book (Amazon Link) Tactical Fly Fishing: Lessons Learned from Competition for All Anglers
Say what you will about fly fishing competitions, but his experience has given him a wide knowledge base in everything fly angling.
6. Reading Trout Water by Dave Hughes
Yes, fly angling is best learned by practicing over and over. However, there are times when you need to rely on something other than practice. For me, reading the water was one of the hardest parts of fly angling. I never quite knew what to look for until my dad purchased this book for me.
Reading Trout Water (Amazon Link) by Dave Hughes puts you on fish. You pick up tips and tricks from this book that seem obvious, but work extremely well on the water. His input on pocket water as well as cut banks are especially helpful. These areas always look “fishy”, but enticing the fish isn’t always easy.
Hughes offers great advice on where and how to cast in a variety of scenarios!
7. Fly Fishing Advice from an Old Timer: A Practical Guide to the Sports & Its Language by Ed Quigley
This is a great book that offers wonderful advice in a very entertaining way. Ed Quigley brings his tips to life and they’re easy to transition to the water. This is not always easy! Many fly angling books seem like they would be helpful, but when you get to the water, you forget everything you read.
Also, there is quite a bit on the history of fly fishing in this book! Finding fly angling history can be a challenge, but Quigley does a great job highlighting some of the most important pieces of history from the sport. Do yourself a favor and give this a read. Get this book from Amazon – Fly Fishing Advise from an Old Timer
Fly Fishing Books of Reflection, Fiction and Essays
8. Where the Trout are as Long as your Leg by John Gierach
The worst part of this book is that it’s far too short. John Gierach recants tails of previous fishing experiences and it’s one of those books you could read for hours. Each story is relatable and I often found myself laughing because I had been in similar situations myself.
It won’t take more than one afternoon to read, but it’s a great option if you’re looking to kill time on a plane or need something to do while waiting for dinner to cook. Gierach has written numerous fly angling books. He’s a great storyteller and always makes you smile with his stories.
There are few things better than an entertaining fishing story! Gierach provides just that and more. Don’t pass up this book!
9. Death, Taxes and Leaky Waders by John Gierach
This is a collection of John Gierach’s best “essays”. They’re well-written, entertaining and quite funny. It’s essentially a “best of” collection from six of his books he has written over the years.
Gierach’s fondness for fly angling is impossible not to see. He provides a perspective on those terrible days on the water that I wish I could adopt. He truly believes that a bad day of fishing is still better than a good day in the office.
If you want to learn, laugh and reminisce, this is a perfect option. Pick it up on one of those cold winter days when you wish you could be on the water casting a dry fly in the midst of a hatch. You’ll be sucked in for a few hours and live vicariously through Gierach.
10. A River Runs Through it and Other Stories by Norman Maclean
“A River Runs Through It” is one of the most famous fly fishing movies, but the written story is far better. It offers details and is a better fit for the avid fly angler. Norman Maclean, the author, grew up in the Rocky Mountains and spent many years as an English professor.
He wrote this book when he was 70-years-old. It was his first book and he put his lifetime love of fly angling all into this story. It’s a beautiful tail of a deep love for the outdoors and ultimate respect for fly angling. While the end is difficult to stomach, you can’t help but appreciate all that was put into this book. He dives deep into the mind of an angler and truly helps us feel understood.
11. Hemingway on Fishing by Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway crafted some of the most famous stories of all time, but Hemingway on Fishing was an opportunity to express his thoughts on one of the biggest passions of his life. He grew up in Michigan, one of the best places to fly fish in the entire world.
As you read, enjoy Hemingway’s artistry with his words and his ability to tell stories. This is some of the most vulnerable writing you’ll read from Hemingway, and you can tell. Even he finds it challenging to communicate his thoughts on fly fishing. You can’t help but fall even deeper in love with fly angling if one of the best writers of all time struggles to put it into words.
Hemingway on Fishing (Amazon link) contains the best excerpts from all Hemingway’s books. You’ll read the why he won a Pulitzer prize.
It’s a beautiful read for any history buff. Even if Old Man and the Sea is all you know of Hemingway, this is worth your time.
12. The Longest Silence by Thomas McGuane
Thomas McGuane puts all that he loves about fly fishing into this story. The book starts with a story from Michigan and ends with a touching story about an interaction with this son. The rest of the short stories spread throughout are entertaining and they have something every angler can appreciate.
I highly recommend adding The Longest Silence to your book collection. (link to Amazon to find a copy)
Fly fishing brings out the best and worst in people. McGuane makes this clear throughout many of the stories and you can’t help but put yourself in his shoes and think about your life in fly fishing. It has enough depth that those interested in literature and storytelling can stay engaged, but it also is simple enough to pick up for a few minutes just to scratch the fly fishing itch.
Whatever role you need this book to play, it can do it!
13. Trout Magic by Robert Traver
Robert Traver can spin fishing tales. He has the charm of an angler you’d find hanging out at the baitshop or local bar. It’s not an in-depth pursuit to read the mind of an angler, but more of a fun read of the fly fishing experiences in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
He is a former judge who clearly spent the majority of his free time on the water. He has stories that only an experienced angler can tell. You’ll read through a variety of strange events he experienced on the water and things he wishes would have happened. Are fly fisherman the “worlds greatness snobs?” find out in Trout Magic (Amazon Link).
This is a book you would find in a cabin on a lake or near a body of water. It looks good as a decorative piece, but once you open it you find that it is extremely engaging. He adds in the charm that many years as a judge provides. If the water is too high or the weather is keeping you inside, pick up this book and give it a read. You’ll be surprised.
14. The River Why by David James Duncan
David James Duncan nailed this book. For me, it’s sometimes hard to read because I can’t stand the thought of not being on the water for one more second. Every time I read this book, I feel the strong desire to drop everything, move to a river and fish the days away.
Gus Orviston (perfect name), the main character, spends the book fulfilling his obsession for fly angling and even finds himself in the middle of a love story. It was turned into a movie in 2010, but it does the book no justice.
It provides readers with the memories of growing up and how impactful fishing truly can be. You’ll finish this book with a deep appreciation for the outdoors and likely think about all the experiences you have had with them that have shaped you into the person you’ve become.
It encompasses everything fly fishing. Gus has moments of reflection that many of us have on the river. In the next scene, he finds himself in a hilarious situation that only a fly angler can appreciate. Sit down on a day off and take a dive into this book.
The first 50 or so pages can be difficult to wade through, but stick with it. By the end, you’ll be extremely glad that you did.
15. The Laughing Trout by Jim Ure
Jim Ure encompasses the hilarity of group fishing trips in this book. These trips often start out great with everyone in a good mood, but by the end, people have turned against one another and the practical jokes start flying.
The Laughing Trout (Amazon link)is a great book that gets even more entertaining with every turn of the page. It can be a bit colorful at times, but the premise is too funny to stop reading! You might finish the book and have some potential ideas for your next fishing adventure.
Fly anglers are some of the most interesting people in the world and Ure captures this throughout the telling of this story. It’s relatable and makes you question why you ever fell in love with the sport in the first place. There’s nothing like some fellowship on the water.
On top of it all, the story takes place on the Snake River in Idaho. This river can be so frustrating at times that you’ll sympathize with the characters within the story. Get ready to laugh because this book is sure going to do it for you!
The Last Cast with a Book on the Night Stand
Fly angling literature offers an entirely new look into the sport. You have the opportunity to read amazing stories and reflect on everything that it means to you. If I ever find myself frustrated with fly fishing, I pick up one of these books and it always puts things back into perspective.
It’s a sport that will test you in more ways than you can imagine. At the end of the day, however, you’ll always keep going back to the river for more. Let these books remind you of your appreciation and build your skills in the process.