October 2020


The Corona virus has afforded time for many of us to fish and to also catch up on reading and reflect. While on the water when I catch a fish using a technique or fly I read about years ago, I find myself reminiscing about the best books on fishing I have had the pleasure of reading. Some taught me a new technique like using a dry/dropper while others were fiction and just pure reading pleasure. If you search online, you will find numerous of lists of the Top 10, 25, and even 50 angling books. Of course these lists change from decade-to-decade as new works are published, older books fade out fashion, or interests change. For example, the 1970s and 80s saw a plethora of tomes like Swisher and Richards Selective Trout that embraced a more scientific approach to fishing. Once you were done reading some of these, you were nearly qualified as an entomologist. Far fewer of that genre have been published in the last decade. The list I offer here is entirely personal, and given my advanced age, I hope it introduces some of the best of past, especially pre-2000 publications, to the up and coming, energetic angling young bloods of today (AKA anyone under 60).

The format I have chosen is somewhat different than most other “best” lists.  I find it hard to compare a serious literary work of someone like Tom McGuane’s The Longest Silence with a funny-bone tickling raucous tale such as Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen or a technical tome on caddis flies by Gary LaFontaine.  So I have divided my list into a baker’s dozen categories with a few select books in each.  I end with a category of books I have yet to read but are “musts.”  I will be posting the list in a series of five installments.  I hope you enjoy perusing my choices, and would welcome hearing of any additions you may have. 

This installment covers three categories from the list below:  History of Fishing, Fish That Shaped World History, and The “To Read” List:

Installment 1 Link:

Installment 2 Link:

Installment 3 Link:

Installment 4 Link:

The Categories:

Best Literature

The Storytellers



Funny Bone Ticklers

Zen of Fishing

How To/Technical Expertise

Science and Entomology of Fishing



History of Fishing

Fish That Shaped World History

The “To Read” List

History of Fishing

Fishing is widely recognized as the sport with the longest and richest history.  Indeed, Dame Juliana Berners wrote her Treatise On Fishing With An Angle in the late 1400s followed 150 years later by the iconic The Compleat Angler.  Take that baseball, football, soccer, basketball, and even tennis!  I find that fishing, like most endeavors, becomes even more enjoyable and satisfying if I understand the history behind it.

The Compleat Angler–Izaak Walton/Charles Cotton

The Compleat Angler is not only the classic, best-known book in fishing literature, but also one of the landmark exposition on the virtues of nature.  Published in 1653, the book provides detailed instruction on catching and eating all sorts of fish from the lowly chub to salmon while urging the reader to enjoy the countryside and natural world.  As writer Tom McGuane wrote, “The Compleat Angler is not about how to fish but about how to be.”  The 1676 version added chapters by Walton’s fishing chum Charles Cotton offering fly fishing “Instructions how to angle for trout or grayling in a clear stream.”

American Fly Fishing:  A History—Paul Schullery

Paul Schullery, the former director of the American Museum of Fly-Fishing in Manchester, Vermont, has written a magnificent book about the evolution of fly fishing in America from Colonial times to the present.  It is fascinating read not only about the how techniques and tools to catch trout have advanced over the years but also the evolving values of the fly fishing tribe.  Being from Colorado, I found especially intriguing how the sport changed as fly anglers discovered and explored waters in the West.

The History of Fly-Fishing in Fifty Flies—Ian Whitelaw  

 This book takes an fascinating approach to the history of fly fishing by focusing on the evolution of fly patterns over hundreds of years.  In addition to being a looking glass into the development of the sport, fly tying is an art in and of itself.  As a bonus, this coffee table quality book is perfect for just browsing through its elegant paintings of historical flies.

Fish That Shaped World History

Fish have helped shape the history of mankind, first for food and now for sport as well. These are some of the best narratives.

Cod:  A Biography of the Fish That Changed The World—Mark Walker Kurlansky

Not strictly a book on sport fishing for cod, nevertheless this is an important story of man’s abuse of nature.  The cod is a fish that for centuries fed the world and helped the human race explore the planet. Kurlansky documents the influence it had from the Vikings to Basque whalers to British fishermen.  We learn how New Englanders’ huge appetite for cod chowder and the English hankering for fish and chips all contributed to the fishes decline.  As one reviewer noted, with the development of “modern” fish-catching technology cod never had a chance.  With the world’s oceans under siege from overfishing and climate change, this book is a timely reminder and call to action.

Shad:  The Founding Fish—John McPhee

John McPhee is one of my favorite writers, having penned notable books on several of my pet subjects including nature, tennis, and fishing.  In The Founding Fish, McPhee immerses the reader in the fascinating history of shad and its important role in American history.  But he also fishes for the elusive critter, recounting humorous tales of his piscatorial outings over the years.  They remind me of my days on the Rappahannock River when I lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia, trying to figure out how to catch the tricky creatures with flies, shad darts,  spinners or anything else that would pique their interest.  As is usual, McPhee covers the subject in great depth, even including recipes for cooking shad. 

An Entirely Synthetic Fish:  How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America And Overran The World—Anders Halverson

This book tells two parallel and equally fascinating tales.   The first follows the spread by man of rainbow trout out of California and throughout the world—45 countries and every continent except Antarctica—and its implications.  We also learn how rainbow trout genes have been manipulated by hatcheries to enhance certain “desirable” characteristics such as “angling susceptibility,” and “tolerance of crowds” and eliminate “undesirable” traits like “tendency to migrate.”  More worrisome is how this spread contributed to the demise of native fish such as cutthroats. 

At the same time it tells the absorbing and often detestable history of fish hatcheries.  Hatcheries rose to prominence in the 1800s as heavy industry and pollution swept through the eastern United States.  They were seen by many at the time as the salvation of sport fishing as toxic wastes and overfishing decimated salmon, brook trout, and other species .  Over time many anglers, especially fly fishers, realized the threat to wild trout and native species.  These concerns led to the formation of Trout Unlimited in the 1950s to oppose stocking rainbows over healthy wild trout populations.  Michigan and Montana went so far as to stop completely the stocking of hatchery trout in streams.  Unfortunately others like Colorado resisted and followed up with huge mistakes such as in the 1990s stocking hatchery rainbows infected with whirling disease over wild trout which decimated trout fisheries throughout the state.  With notes, bibliography, and index running almost 70 pages, the book is well-documented to say the least, reflecting the author’s academic background. 

The “To Read” List

Always more good books and tales to read. These have been recommended by friends or are on other “best books” lists. Let me know what you think of them.

River Music—James Babb

One of the best nature writers around, in this book Babb weaves nature with his fishing expeditions.  The book has been included in several “best” fishing book lists.

Fishing For Buffalo—Robb Buffler and Tom Dickson

One of my early memories of fishing with my Dad for catfish and bullhead on the Little Arkansas River in Kansas was the day I hooked into a big carp.  He ran upstream and down and finally broke my line.  I had never experienced such a powerful fish.  Fast forward a few years and I was sight fishing for monster carp in the shallows at a local reservoir with my fly rod and garden hackle.  I managed to hook and land a couple.   My Dad wanted nothing to do with them so they were released.  Today of course, carp are legitimate targets for fly anglers, with the South Platte through Denver producing some big specimens.   So it was good to see that there is actually a book on the subject of fishing for rough fish.  It’s on my Christmas book list!

Fifty Women Who Fish—Steve Kantner

It’s wonderful to see so many more women getting hooked on fly fishing compared to earlier generations.  This book introduces us to fifty who are deeply involved in the sport, many through guiding.  I’m hoping my little munchkin four-year old granddaughter will join their ranks someday.  She’s already caught her first trout on garden hackle!

Hungry Ocean: A Swordboat Captain’s Journey—Linda Greenlaw

Not strictly an angling book, the author of Hungry Ocean chronicles her experiences as swordfish captain on a boat that was a sister ship to the ill-fated Andrea Gale of The Perfect Storm fame.   A New York Times national bestseller.

 Cutthroat and Campfire Tales:  The Fly-fishing Heritage  Of The West—John Monnett

I recently stumbled on this book, published in 1988, that recounts stories of nineteenth and early twentieth century fishing expeditions.  Monnett demonstrates how the native cutthroat population was soon depleted and gave rise to early stocking efforts and eventually to conservation. 


October 2020


The Corona virus has afforded time for many of us to fish and to also catch up on reading and reflect. While on the water when I catch a fish using a technique or fly I read about years ago, I find myself reminiscing about the best books on fishing I have had the pleasure of reading.  Some taught me a new technique like using a dry/dropper while others were fiction and just pure reading pleasure.  If you search online, you will find numerous of lists of the Top 10, 25, and even 50 angling books.   Of course these lists change from decade-to-decade as new works are published, older books fade out fashion, or interests change.  For example, the 1970s and 80s saw a plethora of tomes like Swisher and Richards Selective Trout that embraced a more scientific approach to fishing.  Once you were done reading some of these, you were nearly qualified as an entomologist.  Far fewer of that ilk have been published in the last decade.  The list I offer here is entirely personal, and given my advanced age, I hope it introduces some of the best of past, especially pre-2000 publications, to the up and coming, energetic angling young bloods of today (AKA anyone under 60). 

The format I have chosen is somewhat different than most other “best” lists.  I find it hard to compare a serious literary work of someone like Tom McGuane’s The Longest Silence with a funny-bone tickling raucous tale such as Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen or a technical tome on caddis flies by Gary LaFontaine.  So I have divided my list into a baker’s dozen categories with a few select books in each.  I end with a category of books I have yet to read but are “musts.”  I will be posting the list in a series of five installments.  I hope you enjoy perusing my choices, and would welcome hearing of any additions you may have. 

This installment covers three categories from the list below:  Science and Entomology, Travel/Guidebooks, and Saltwater.

Installment 1 Link:

Installment 2 Link:

Installment 3 Link:

Installment 5 Link:

The Categories:

Best Literature

The Storytellers



Funny Bone Ticklers

Zen of Fishing

How To/Technical Expertise

Science and Entomology of Fishing



History of Fishing

Fish That Shaped World History

The “To Read” List

Science and Entomology Of Fishing

Before 1970, just as I was beginning to really delve into fly fishing, aside from Ernest Schweibert’s classic Matching The Hatch, there was very little written of consequence about the wide variety of insects trout prefer, their life cycles, and how to tie flies that mimicked the various stages of their development.  Many flies bore little resemblance at all to anything a trout might actually eat.  All that changed in 1971 with Selective Trout, a 184-page tome that stressed the importance of collecting insect samples on the stream, surface and subsurface, with small nets then taking them home in little bottles to be examined under a magnifying glass or microscope followed by tying flies that were true to the natural.  Over the next 30 years more weighty works were written that went into even greater detail about caddis, may, and stone flies, the three principle insects trout dine on.  This more methodical, scientific approach to trout fishing spawned a revolution among fly anglers and an entire new catalog of artificial flies.   As one observer quipped at the time, if you finished one of these detailed books you were on the verge of a degree in entomology.   Now there are literally dozens of books on what might be categorized as fly fishing entomology.  In this section I focus on several of the early iconic books that changed the course of fly tying and fly fishing and others of more recent vintage I found to be of most practical use.  For a more detailed list of fly fishing entomological books, see the website at www.flyfishingentomology.

Matching The Hatch:  A Practical Guide to Imitation of Insects Found On Eastern and Western Trout Waters (1955)—Ernest Schweibert

Matching The Hatch was a book that was far ahead of its time, providing trout anglers with their first useful guide to identifying streamside insects and flies that matched them.  Penned by Ernest Schwiebert, one of the most prolific authors of fly-fishing tomes of all time, Matching The Hatch was such a hit in the fly-fishing community that soon after its publication he was profiled in Life magazine.  Schweibert, an architect with two doctorates who specialized in planning airports and military bases, is considered by many as the leading modern-day angling author.  In this book and others that followed such as Nymphs and the two-volume Trout, Schweibert exhibited his rare gift of being able to take a technical subject and translate it into readable, enjoyable prose.  He also wrote a series of entertaining, engaging collections of short stories such as Remembrances of Rivers Past.

Selective Trout (1970)—Doug Swisher and Carl Richards

One would hardly guess that a revolution in fishing was started by a plastic salesman and a dentist, but that’s Swisher and Richards.  I remember plunking down the princely sum of $6.95 in the early 70s to purchase their book that was being widely hailed as “a dramatically new and scientific approach to trout fishing.”  And it was.  Angling icons like Art Flick, Joe Brooks, and Dan Baily sang its praises.  Their volume is chock full of hand-drawn illustrations of bugs and artificial imitations plus color photographs of the hatches across the country.  In the wake of the book, like many other anglers, I started carrying glass vials to keep the bugs I found on a stream as well as a net to catch them on the wing and another to seine with.  While a good number of us have become a tad less dedicated to a meticulous entomological approach when we hit the water, Selective Trout forever changed the sport of fly fishing and has withstood the test of time.

Stoneflies (1980)—Carl Richards, Doug Swisher, and Fred Arbona, Jr.

This is one of my favorite entomological works because it focuses on an insect I love to imitate, particularly using nymphs, one that many anglers overlook.  Co-written by the authors of the landmark Selective Trout, this book is one of the few that provides an exhaustive examination of stoneflies, often overlooked as one of the big three of insects savored by trout alongside mayflies and caddis.  It is a weighty tome in the style of LaFontaine’s Caddis, but presents information on habitat, hatches, and imitations in a clear, readable fashion.

Caddisflies (1981)—Gary LaFontaine

This book started the caddisfly insurgency, first by demonstrating that on many waters caddisflies are the predominant aquatic food eaten by trout, then by presenting a painstakingly detailed study of the biology of caddisflies, and finally offering savvy, practical insights on tying and fishing caddisfly imitations.  At 336 pages, LaFontaine’s treatise isn’t exactly a book one might carry on the stream, but back at home and on the fly tying bench it is an essential reference.

The Complete Book of Western Hatches (1981)—Rick Hafele and Dave Hughes

Although almost 40-years old, this book is one that I still refer to from time-to-time.  Its focus on western hatches is especially valuable to Colorado anglers.  Combining for the first time the scientific knowledge of an aquatic entomologist, Rick Hafele, and the extensive hands-on experience of a noted fly fishing practitioner and author, The Complete Book of Western Hatches is organized in a highly practical and readable format.  For each aquatic insect if sets out the common name, emergence and distribution, physical characteristics, habitat, habits, appropriate flies, and presentation tips.  In 2004 the authors followed up with another excellent book, Western Mayfly Hatches.

Guide To Aquatic Trout Foods (1982)—Dave Whitlock

Most anglers know Whitlock through his many innovative fly patterns such as the venerable and still effective Dave’s Hopper.  He has also written several excellent books on fly fishing.  This is one of my favorite “bug” books mainly because Whitlock covers the eight major kinds of trout food including not only insects but also crayfish, leeches, and forage fish in a practical fashion with just the right amount of detail for the average angler.  Then in his patented practical, easy-to-read fashion Whitlock discusses best flies and fishing technique for each.  I met Whitlock in the early 1990s when I attended one of his presentations at a fly fishing show in Denver.  My autographed copy of his book is one of my prized angling library possessions. 

Mayflies (1997)—MalcolmKnopp and Robert Courmier

This book has been called “the mayfly bible for serious fly fishers.”  Written by two Canadians from Alberta who had never authored any serious fly fishing publication before,  Mayflies at almost 400 pages, is definitely the weight of authority and the book to have for those looking to take their game to the next level.

Hatch Guide For Western Streams/Hatch Guide For Lakes (1995-7)—Jim Schollmeyer

As noted above, most of the revered trout entomological books run into the hundreds of pages and are hardly tomes that the aspiring angler/ entomologist might carry on the stream for instant reference.  In contrast, Schoolmeyer’s Hatch Guide series is in a compact 4” X 6” format that is eminently portable on the water and is easily digested by novices–they remain one of the most useful of all guides in my library.  Each guide opens with a section on understanding the type of water body being fishing followed by one on tackle and technique.   The final section focuses on the main insects and other food such as beetles and leaches trout will likely be dining on.  It features clear color photographs of the insect and naturals plus three suggested flies to match the hatch.  The guide for lakes is particularly valuable as lake fishing for trout is often more challenging than in streams, each body of water seemingly inhabited by fish that can be maddingly selective.   Indeed, the last time I was skunked a few years ago it was on an alpine lake where after four hours of fishing for giant cutthroats cruising the shoreline in clear view, I managed only a couple of bites.

The Bug Book:  A Fly Fisher’s Guide To Trout Stream Insects (2015)—Paul Weamer

This excellent book provides an up-to-date guide to aquatic trout food, hatch charts, fly pattern recommendations, and fishing technique tips and strategies.  As a reviewer in Fly Fisherman magazine wrote, The Bug Book “breaks down the barriers between amateur and entomologist in a conversational tone, and explains when and why identifying insects can be fun and practical. This is no snobby book.” 


I’m not a big fan of the average fishing guidebook or fishing travel account—they are usually superficial on most levels, and the authors often are not intimately familiar with the waters they write about but relay second-hand information.  But there are a few exceptions.  Those that have caught my attention inevitably have a personal touch rather than just where to go and how to fish once you get there.  Moreover, I find that if the author has actually fished the waters he writes about more than once or twice, explores the colorful characters and culture of the region inhabited by their finned quarry, and puts some of his personality on the pages, the book is likely to be more useful from a piscatorial perspective and definitely more enjoyable to read. 

Fly-Fishing The 41st Around The World On The 41st Parallel–James Prosek

This is my favorite fishing/travel book by a substantial margin.  Prosek is more widely known in the angling world for his artwork.  Indeed, the New York Times has called him the Audubon of the fishing world.  You will find some of his beautiful images illustrating this wonderful book, but it is much more.  Proseck sets off to fish around the world, following the 41st Parallel.  Along the way he meets and has amazing adventures with a host of memorable characters like Johannes, a baker in France, who takes him on harrowing quests for rare species of trout in places like the war zone of southeast Turkey.  Along the way you will come to the conclusion that angling is indeed as close a universal language as there is.  Be sure to have a world map handy so you can follow his peregrinations around the globe. 

52 Rivers: A Woman’s Fly-Fishing Journey—Shelly Walchak

Shelly Walchak quit her job as a librarian in 2013, bought a camper, and challenged herself by taking off on an incredible year-long journey through seven Rocky Mountain States to fish 52 rivers in 52 weeks.  , She recounts her adventures in 52 chapters, one for each river with great stories about fly-fishing, people she meets along the way, and her own personal joys and fears.  Each chapter is accompanied by beautiful photographs.  An incredible journey!

The Hunt for Giant Trout:  25 Best Places In the United States to Catch a Trophy—Landon Mayer

The smiling face of peripatetic fly fisherman Landon Mayer is well-known to most western anglers through the many articles he has written and seminars he has conducted at major angling shows.  Mayer, a resident of Colorado, has put together a winner with his The Hunt For Giant Trout.  Mayer first discusses strategies and techniques for the leviathans, then takes the reader on a tour of 25 locations, most in the western United States.  The book garners more cred because Mayer is joined by locals who frequently fish the chosen sites.

49 Trout Streams Of Southern Colorado—Mark Williams and W. Chad McPhail

This is one of my all-time favorite guidebooks, authored by two anglers from Amarillo, Texas.  Williams and McPhail have a friendly, engaging style as they cover most of the major rivers and streams south of Glenwood Springs, Colorado.  While they fish the well-known rivers like the Gunnison, Arkansas, and Rio Grande, the real value in the book for many anglers, including me, is the little-known small creek gems they have uncovered like the Lake Fork of the Conejos and La Jara Creek.  Two pages are devoted to each water including beautiful color photos, directions to access the creek or river, a description of the water (e.g., riffles, plunge pools, meanders), and tips on best flies. 

Fly Fishing The Gunnison Country—Doug Dillingham

This is a guidebook that in exhaustive fashion covers virtually all the main fishable rivers, streams, and mountain lakes in that trout mecca,Gunnison County, Colorado.  Dillingham is intimately familiar with each, and his extensive knowledge and unique personality comes shining through on every page.  He goes into detail regarding access points, types of fish present and data on each, hatches, and recommended flies with additional tips from local fishing guides.  All-in-all, a model of what a guidebook should be.

Central Colorado Alpine Lakes Fishing And Hiking Guide–Tom Parkes

If good stream fishing guidebooks are relatively few and far between, those that cover alpine lakes are even rarer. This one that focuses on 21 high country lakes in central Colorado is a model of what a good guidebook should be. Written by Colorado native Tom Parkes, it has clear directions regarding trailheads and access, advice on the best flies and lures, specific areas of each lake that are productive, and gorgeous photos to boot. You can readily tell that Parkes actually fished each water, often several times, over the ten-year period it took to research and write this book. I found several of my now-favorite lakes through Tom’s little gem.


Before recommending any books in this category, I have a confession to make with regard to saltwater sport fishing.  I am relatively new to the chase, having lived in Florida part of the year only since 2006.  Also, my fishing has been mostly inshore and backcountry, not blue water.  What is surprising is that there are relatively few books on saltwater fishing, and even fewer on saltwater fly fishing.  Saltwater fly fishing was in its formative years in the 1950s, with renowned anglers like Ted Williams, Joe Brooks, and Stu Apt leading the way.  There were few publications of any real consequence until the 1960s.  Here is a sampling of those that I have found valuable.

Before recommending any books in this category, I have a confession to make with regard to saltwater sport fishing.  I am relatively new to the chase, having lived in Florida part of the year only since 2006.  Also, my fishing has been mostly inshore and backcountry, not blue water.  What is surprising is that there are relatively few books on saltwater fishing, and even fewer on saltwater fly fishing.  Saltwater fly fishing was in its formative years in the 1950s, with renowned anglers like Ted Williams, Joe Brooks, and Stu Apt leading the way.  There were few publications of any real consequence until the 1960s.  Here is a sampling of those that I have found valuable.

SaltWater Fly Fishing (1950)–Joe Brooks

Joe Brooks was the prime mover in the 1950s in creating the sport of salt water fly fishing. He wrote this seminal book on the subject in 1950. It has been updated several times since. Brooks was perhaps the most famous fly fisherman in the 50s and 60s, helping Curt Gowdy to create the first television hunting and fishing show The American Sportsman in 1965. One of the first fishing books I purchased in 1966 as a teenager in Kansas was his Complete Guide To Fishing Across The United States, stoking my angling wanderlust.

Salt-Water Fly Fishing (1969)–George X. Sand

Sand’s book, published in 1969, was one of the first to popularize salt water fly fishing.  A true pioneer in bringing saltwater fly fishing to the masses, he writes in an engaging style, adding history to the narrative, and doesn’t overload the reader with technical information and advice.  One of the most serendipitous events of my life has been to cross paths with Sand’s daughter, Gayle, and her husband Tom Norton this past year in the Everglades where we all spend the winter.  As Gayle recounts, she often went with her father on his Florida fishing expeditions when she was a teenager.  She tells a hilarious story of how Sands managed to get such wonderful photos of leaping fish like the barracuda on the book’s cover.  According to Gayle, who is a tall lovely lady, her father would catch a fish then make her wade out into deep water and toss it in the air to be photographed as if he was in the middle of a pier six brawl with his quarry.  That’s just too absurd of a story not to be true!

Fly Fishing In Salt Water (1974)—Lefty Kreh

The inimitable Lefty Kreh moved to Miami, Florida, in the mid-1960s and began to fly fish saltwater in the Keys.  By 1974 he shared his knowledge about how to catch a range of saltwater sport fish like bonefish, tarpon, snook, and permit in this book which has been updated several times and has sold thousands of copies.  He covers a range of topics such as best flies, how to wade the flats, and salt water casting techniques.  Sadly for the angling world, Krey passed away in 2018

Complete Book Of Saltwater Fishing—Milt Rosko

First published in 2001 and updated several times since, Rosko’s book is a comprehensive guide to all types of salt water fishing including from bridges, surf, flats and off shore.  He covers a wide range of topics from tackle to technique to how to cook your catch, all in plain English.  This book is a good one for beginners and those wanting to involve the entire family in the sport.

Blues—John Hersey

John Hersey was a ground-breaking journalist/writer who first made his mark at the end of WWII with a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Bell For Adano, a story about the Allied occupation of a town in Sicily.  He soon followed with a magazine-length article in the New Yorker  titled  “Hiroshima” that recounted the impact of the first atomic bomb on six Japanese citizens.  Hersey went on to write numerous other books and articles and teach writing courses at Yale.  He is probably the only angling writer who has been honored with a Postal Service stamp in his name.  Somehow in the midst of all this prolific production, he penned a book of angling for Bluefish, a quarry prized by saltwater fishermen for their aggressive fighting spirit.  As one reviewer noted, it is a paean to Bluefish that is chummed with  “gobbets of ichthyology, oceanography, seamanship, and fishing lore.”  The organization of the book is rather artificial—a sage old fisherman and neophyte angler meet serendipitously then spend a summer on 12 fishing trips chasing Blues.  For each trip Hersey weaves in fishing tips, thoughts on what motivates anglers, random ocean tidbits, recipes for preparing Bluefish dinners, poems from poets who wrote about fish, and an eloquent, prescient warning about the coming environmental disaster for the seas.  Eclectic indeed, but a good read.

Ninety Two In the Shade—Tom McGuane

When I became a snowbird and took up winter residence in Florida in 2006, I began casting about not only for how-to books but also novels involving salt water fishing that would be a good read.  One of the first that I stumbled on was by my favorite fishing writer, Tom McGuane, titled Ninety-Two In The Shade.  Set in the Keys, it is a tale about a spoiled, profligate young man who decides to get his life together.  He makes a fateful decision to start a fishing guide service and immediately runs aground on the shoals of a couple of crusty, older guides who resent his competition.  That’s when the fireworks begin. The book was made into a movie starring Peter Fonda as the young guide and Warren Oates and Harry Dean Stanton as his antagonists.  Oddly, the movie, which was directed by McGuane and received modest reviews, was reportedly filmed mainly in England.

Slightly Addled Senior Goes Slip Sliddin’ Away Down Steep Slope For Trout

Early October 2020

One distinct pleasure of my 72 years on this good Earth has been finding remote canyons deeply incised by an untrammeled trout stream.  The thrill of standing on a canyon rim and gazing down with anticipation on a picture-perfect creek is hard to equal.  But as the population of the West continues to boom it is becoming harder and harder to find these gems…but not impossible.  It takes some sleuthing on-line and studying Google Maps’ satellite images as well as topo maps.  And you must be prepared to be disappointed when you get in the field and strike out like I did a couple of years ago exploring the upper reaches of the Lake Fork of Cochetopa Creek, which looked so good on Google Maps but in reality hardly had enough water to float a minnow. 

The wild card now for me is whether my achey breaky body is up to the hike down that steep slope to trout nirvana, and more importantly, will it hold up so I can make it out.  I reached the point a couple of years ago where I seriously started to wonder, so I swallowed my pride and purchased an Garmin InReach emergency satellite phone. 

Garmin Emergency Satellite Phone–Don’t Leave Home Without It

This handy dandy device can get service just about anywhere and with one press of the emergency button will alert the closest rescue cavalry that I need help.

To keep these gloomy feelings at bay I vow each year to ferret out another candidate remote water or two.  Just such an opportunity presented itself a few months ago when, after some investigation, I discovered a way to access a new stretch of water that I had never laid eyes on in a deep canyon of a familiar creek.  It would require a rough 4WD ride to the canyon rim, but Google Maps seemed to reveal an access route, albeit steep, from the top down to the stream that I might be able to navigate, if just barely.

With the days growing shorter, I figured I better get going.  After a bone-rattling drive I got to the canyon rim around 9 a.m.  I assumed correctly that there wasn’t a need to get going at the crack of dawn as the cliffs sheltering the creek would keep the water in shadows and cold till later in the morning.   Canyon trout definitely wake up when the sun shines on them.  I jump out of my SUV, check the tires for any damage, and then walk to the edge to take a look.  The creek below looks fantastic!

First glimpse Of Hidden Waters

But I blurt out a Holy **** when I focus on a nearly vertical route that had looked so promising on Google Maps, one that would require criss-crossing several scree fields of loose rock and gravel down a narrow gulch to reach the creek.    

Trouble Ahead!!

Thinking no way, I spend 15 minutes walking back and forth along the rim searching for a better path, maybe a trail local wildlife use, but come up empty.  I decide to ignore my misgivings and go for it.

I get suited up in my waist high waders that make for easier walking than chest-high models, unfurl my collapsible wading/hiking staff that will help  slow my descent, and double check my satellite phone to make sure it’s fully charged.  I start down the chute gingerly carrying my rod and lunch satchel in my left hand and the hiking staff in my right.  I make it down to the first scree field I have to cross and immediately lose my footing, slip down on my arse, and go sliding down the steep slope feet first.  I jam the staff into the loose rocks to slow my descent, but it’s going to take more.  I toss my rod to the side in a bush then jettison the lunch satchel, which goes careening down the slope at warp speed.  It makes for quite a show as half way down a can of Squirt in the satchel explodes and spews forth a geyser of the tasty elixir before the bag comes to rest against a pine tree only a few feet from the creek.  But with my left hand now free I’m able to grab another bush and put the brakes on.  After taking a deep breath I crawl back up the slope to retrieve my rod, which has miraculously survived unscathed. 

Question now is whether to abandon the quest. I’m maybe a third of the way down and what remains, if I continue, is one of the most dangerous slopes I have ever been foolhardy enough to tackle. But then my eyes rove to the gorgeous pools up and down the creek, so close and alluring. They are like lovely Sirens tempting me. I can’t resist and continue my mission, traversing back and forth across the slope very slowly, grabbing bushes and clumps of grass and jabbing my hiking staff into the ground to slow my descent. Ten minutes later I am standing next to the creek, pristine and crystal clear. I see a dipper bird on a shoreline rock, another good sign—dippers feed on subsurface nymphs and their presence means plenty of trout food.

But when I turn around, reality sets in as I gaze on the route I just took–it will be next to impossible to climb out on.

No Way, Jose!

Not to worry, I think, at least for now.  I have several hours to find a better exit track.  And lo and behold, I discover my lunch is mostly intact except for the now empty can of Squirt.  I stow the satchel under the shade of a pine tree and take off upstream, full steam ahead.  My plan is to fish upstream for about three hours, come back and have lunch, then three more hours of fishing downstream. As I do,  I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for a better route out. 

I’m on the water and casting by 10:15.  The water is clear and ice cold.  I’ve scared up a few grasshoppers as I walked upstream and a quick check of rocks in the streambed reveals throngs of small mayfly nymphs and caddis cases.  I rig up with a #16 Royal California Trude dry that with its yellow body (as opposed to a Royal Coachman Trude’s red body) is a reasonable facsimile of the small hoppers I saw.  Trailing beneath it is a #18 Tung Teaser nymph that has worked well on other stretch of this creek. 

Delectable Of The Day–Tung Teaser

The first bend pool I come to looks like a sure hideout for a good-sized trout….and it proves to be just that. 

Can’t Miss First Pool

I cast above the bend, and as the dry fly floats down close to the undercut bank, it is intercepted by a nice trout that jets downstream, then up then back again and executes a couple of athletic jumps before I can get him to the net. He’s a beautiful muscular 14-inch brownie. I score several more fish before moving on.

For the next couple of hours I have a ball catching and releasing several dozen 10-14” browns, most favoring the nymph over the dry by about a 4:1 ratio, not surprising as there are no hatches going.  Some I find hiding under mid-stream vegetation while others are concealed in quiet water behind boulders just off deep, fast runs. 

The variety of pools and holding water where I found the fish make for an interesting morning, each requiring a different approach. I’ve also spotted a few exit routes on the north side of the creek that look easier and less death-defying than my initial one.  Around 12:30 I head back downstream to my lunch and a short break in the shade.  When I set out this morning the temperature was hovering in the mid-30s.  Now it’s in the 70s. 

By 1 p.m. I’m bushwhacking my way downstream where the canyon narrows and the creek picks up some speed.  My goal is the big pool I spotted this morning just below some pinnacles. 

The Pinnacles Mark The Spot

Twenty minutes later I wriggle through a stand of head-high willows and emerge just below the prospective honey hole.  It doesn’t disappoint. 

Pinnacles Honey Hole

It’s deep with three distinct channels pouring water in from above.  I can see fish finning in two of them where they flow into the pool.  In the run closest to me I spy a couple of 15-inch plus fish nonchalantly picking off bugs just below the surface.  I creep up carefully on the gravel bar below them then cast from a kneeling position.  I muff the first cast, dropping the fly right on their heads, but miraculously they don’t flee.  My second cast alights on target about six feet above them and a few feet to the side.  As the Trude slides down towards them, one of the big boys glides over with his mouth open and inhales the dry.  I set the hook and he’s on….but only for a second.  I flubbed and yanked a second too soon before he had really clamped down on the fly.  I let the pool rest for a few minutes and then try for his buddy.  I get another good float, but he ignores it.  Then, just as I begin to lift the fly 10 feet below at the bottom of the run, a smaller fish flashes up and nails the trailing Tung Teaser.  He’s on for a second, but I manage to execute another long-distance release.  I try another half dozen casts but finally spook the second big trout who disappears into the depths. 

Now I focus on the second run at the top middle of the pool.  I can see another good trout feeding actively in the shallower water just below where the current pours in.  I make a perfect cast above him a few feet, but the trout immediately rockets to the next county.  I then humbly fix my sights on the third run on the opposite side of the pool that against a boulder has created a big, slow-moving back eddy a kind of spot that often shelters big fish.  My flies land gently at the bottom of the eddy then slowly float back upstream along a foam line as I had planned.  Suddenly the Trude disappears, and I set the hook.  My rod bends, and a heavy trout thrashes to the surface, shaking his head to throw the fly…and he succeeds!  Aarrgghh! The fishing gods have forsaken me!! I flail the pool for another 15 minutes, but to no avail.  As I stand and walk up the gravel bar to do some reconnaissance for a possible future trip, I see four large fish, probably brownies, hugging the bottom, all with a case of lock jaw.  I smile and curse softly, letting the scoundrels know that I’ll be back and maybe the story will have a different ending then.  The good news is I think I have spotted a possible escape to get me back safely to my SUV later in the afternoon.

By now it’s almost 2 p.m. and I decide to work my way back upstream to get my lunch satchel, fishing along the way.  I manage a couple of more nice brown trout in a plunge pool, but this lower section is shallower and too fast to hold many fish. 

I grab my lunch and head back down to my chosen escape route, but on my way run into a little trouble. My wading staff breaks, leaving me with a short remnant to work with to steady me and help pull my old body up the steep incline.

Wading Staff For Sale–LIghtly Used

When I reach the bottom of the incline I say a little prayer and begin the climb out, criss-crossing back and forth on the steep slope. 

Stairway To Heaven??

It’s tough going, but easier than the way in because there are no scree fields and loose rocks to contend with.  I pause several times to catch my breath, and snap photos to remind myself that I was a bit daft to do this. 

On The Way Up!
Rest Stop!

But then again I can see some sweet looking pools just downstream that call out to be sampled in the future!

Who Can Resist The Sirens Call??

Fortunately, my broken wading staff is still just long enough that I can jab it into the soil above me just far enough to help pull my body up slowly but surely.  In 15 minutes I am back at my SUV, tuckered out but already starting to think about another trip using an easier access point I spotted further downstream. 

That night afters doses of wine and ibuprofen, I fall asleep quickly and have a vivid dream about what my fishing future might be like circa 2030.  I wonder if they make walkers that could work on a steep canyon slope??

Getting A Leg Up By Going Downstream: The Cochetopa Creek Test

Late September 2020

Like most fly anglers, when I get to a favorite stream or river, I invariably immediately start working upstream in the traditional fashion, coming up behind the trout that are facing into the current.  But increasingly as our waters become more and more crowded, I find it often pays to go against the grain and head downstream first where there is usually less pressure and work my way back up.  A prime example of that is a recent outing I had on Cochetopa Creek high in the La Garita Wilderness Area north of Gunnison. 

I’ve set up my mobile fish camp at Dome Lake State Wildlife Area, just few miles off of CO 114 between Gunnison and metropolitan Saguache. 

Mobile Fish Camp

This location gives me access to miles of one of my favorite small waters, Cochetopa Creek. On this trip in late September, I have decided to fish the upper stretch of Cochetopa near the La Garita Wilderness Area. The lower section near Dome Lake is very low due to the drought gripping this area, running less than 15 cfs, and the water is warm. I’m hoping to find better conditions upstream in the high country where the nights have been cold with snow a couple of weeks ago. It’s about a 25-mile, one hour drive from Upper Dome Lake to the trailhead at Eddiesville. I have fished up from the trailhead into the wilderness area many times, hiking a mile south to where the trail intersects Cochetopa Creek. I usually cross paths with a few hikers and occasionally some anglers, although rarely do I fish without seeing a few boot marks on the shoreline. Only once in the past have I gone downstream from the trailhead, about one-half mile, and it was productive, especially in a string of big beaver ponds that were teeming with brown and brook trout. This time I decide to go contrarian again and walk another mile or so further downstream.

I’m up early and on the road at 7 a.m.  My SUV thermometer registers a balmy 29 degrees, and I have to scrape ice off the windshield. 


But the hour drive is so scenic, the aspens peaking, framing the scenic mountains along the Continental Divide, that I soon forget the icy temps. 

When I arrive, a couple of hikers have pitched tents at Eddiesville, a stopping point along the Continental Divide and Colorado Trails, but fortunately none are anglers. I also breathe a sigh of relief when I see the creek has adequate water and is flowing nicely, low but definitely fishable. And thanks to the frigid nights and snow melt I will find it is ice cold.

Just Enough Water!

I suit up in my lightweight waist-high waders, my Simms Vapor wading/hiking boots, my trusty wading/hiking staff, and of course my fly vest loaded to the gills then start hiking down the trail by 8:30.  The going is slow because I am stopping every 10 minutes to soak up the gorgeous scene and snap a few photos of the sun rising, bright yellow aspens, and snow-covered peaks. 

The trail is relatively flat with only a few moderate up and down stretches until at about one mile I come to a barbed wire fence and gate.  Below there, I begin to hit a series of rocky, rugged, steep stretches high above the creek that is flowing fast, straight, and shallow in a narrow section below. 

It doesn’t look too inviting from a piscatorial perspective so I continue downstream, making liberal use of my wading/hiking staff to keep my balance and prevent my aging body from sliding in the loose gravel and down the steep slopes.  My objective is a broad meadow Google Maps promises another half mile further on where the creek twists and turns in a serpentine fashion–which usually signals deeper pools at the bends where the fish can hole up in safety and feast in the slower moving water without expending a lot of energy.  It’s about 10 a.m. now, and the sun is up higher and quickly warming the air into the 70s with light winds—a perfect Indian summer day.  To my delight, as I round a bend in the trail I see a big beautiful beaver pond below with fish dimpling the surface and a few actually jumping high out of the water to snatch a meal. 

Beaver Pond Utopia

  This is a pleasant surprise since the usually reliable Google Maps doesn’t show any beaver ponds in the vicinity.  This I think must be fair compensation for what happened recently to me on nearby Nutras Creek (See my blog article from July.) where Google Maps promised a series of a dozen or more beaver ponds, all but one of which I found to be blown out after hiking a couple of miles along the creek.  I decide to stow my lunch near the pond and hike down another 45 minutes to near the confluence with Nutras Creek, then work my way back up.   

It’s 10:45 when I spy a pool below the trail in the meadow that screams fish.  I descend, and as I come up from below the pool, can see a couple of decent size trout finning in the crystal clear water at the tail end of the pool. 

First Honey Hole

I kneel to keep a low profile, and on my very first cast a 13-inch brownie nails the #18 sparkle caddis nymph that trails under a #16 Royal Trude dry.  Ten minutes and five fish later, I sneak up further to make a cast in the riffle that cascades into the head of the deep pool. The Trude slides quickly into the pool where a big trout rises slowly from the depths, scrutinizes the dry, then turns up his nose and disappears from sight.  I quickly try another cast, and get a nice drag-free float.  Just as I am about to pick up the fly and recast, the Trude suddenly disappears, and I set the hook into the big boy who seconds earlier had impudently ignored the dry fly.  He turns tail and bores deep towards some submerged snags along the opposite bank, but with my rod bending perilously, I coax him away.  After a couple more strong runs, he’s in the net, a beautiful, muscular 14-inch plus fish that will be the biggest of the day.  I see the brownie has fallen for the nymph.  Not a bad start! 

Big Brownie Starts The Day Right

From there my plan is to hopscotch past the shallow, fast stretches where I don’t see any fish, to concentrate on the deeper runs and bend pools, all of which prove productive for chunky, healthy 11-13 inch browns. By noon I am back at the big beaver pond where I carefully work towards an elevated spot covered in bushes just below the middle of the dam.

Approaching Beaver Pond From Below To Avoid Spooking Fish

Here I can peer over the top without revealing too much of myself and still home in on the fish that are rising steadily all over the pond.  No sooner does my first cast hit the dark green colored water in the middle of the pond, and the Trude is unceremoniously yanked under.  It’s a scrappy 12-inch brownie that’s inhaled the caddis nymph. 

Beaver Pond Brownie

For the next 15 minutes I cast to risers, catching three more between several long-distance releases while only uttering intermittent profanities when my line gets snarled in the tangle of sticks and other detritus at my feet the busy beaver employed in their construction efforts.  When the action slows I creep gingerly south along the top of dam with the help of my wading staff to the shallow section of the pond that luckily has a firm enough bottom for me to wade across and up to the inlet where a couple of fish have been rising steadily.  Here the creek is flowing with a good current creating a deep run along the north shoreline of the pond.  I spot some good fish finning in the depths, so I stay back from the shoreline and throw a long cast across the pond into the current on the north side.  The Trude floats jauntily over the hole where the trout are holding.  One immediately rockets up and nails the dry. He’s a stout brownie pushing 14-inches.  I take several more out of that run on the nymph then move up higher.

Beaver Pond Magic

 Now I cast upstream into the creek just above where it empties into the pond.  As the Trude slides into the deeper, slower water, it disappears, and the fight is on.  After a good tussle, I find to my surprise it’s a handsome 12-inch cutthroat, the first I have caught in the creek anywhere less than a mile and a half upstream of the trailhead. 

Browns and brookies are the rule until then.  I manage to fool a couple more browns at the head of the pond, then my growling stomach reminds me my lunch is stowed back downstream under a bush near the dam.  I walk upstream a few yards and cross over to the north side of the pond and work my way along the shoreline past the beaver lodge where I fool several more brownies while scaring the daylight of many more that are putzing around in the shallows and in a skinny arm of the pond.

After lunch, revitalized by my RC Cola energy drink and a cooler full of victuals, I continue my approach of skipping the fast, shallow runs and concentrating on the bends and plunge pools.  As I walk along a game trail that parallels the creek, I do spook some fish in the shallow stretches that are hiding along the banks or under the long strands of dense vegetation midstream.  However, the strategy pays off with steady action for the next hour including another 14-inch brown and a nice brookie to boot that completes an unexpected slam. 

Around 3 p.m. I sight a good-looking plunge pool far upstream, so hop out of the creek and start to follow the game trail again, bypassing a long shallow stretch. As I near the pool, out of the corner of my eye I catch some movement up on the slope just ahead above me and hear some cracking of branches. I think bear, but see it’s a huge bull moose. He’s making his way down to the pool I was aiming for. I yell “hey Mr. Moose” to make sure he knows I’m nearby—moose reportedly have very poor eyesight to go along with their truculent nature. He slowly looks around and finally spots me waving at him. The big guy gives me the once over then turns and thankfully proceeds nonchalantly back up the slope to the main trail. He’s coal black and at least six feet at his shoulders with massive horns, the biggest moose I have ever seen, including those in Yellowstone and Alaska. When he finally disappears down the trail I decide that’s a sign for me to vamoose back to the trailhead.

Close Encounter Of The Moose Kind

As I get back on the main hiking trail above the creek, I can see plainly the hoof marks he has left.  Thankfully we didn’t meet face-to-face.  Despite the fright, I guess I prefer that over boot marks, nary of which I saw anywhere on the stream all day.

Moose Track On Trail

I take it easy of the way back, soaking up the scenery–it will probably be my last outing into the backcountry this year.

By 4:15 I am back at the trailhead and popping a celebratory NA beer and eating some peanuts. My little picnic is quickly joined by my fan club of Canada Jays.

The cheeky winged little devils show no fear as they search for anything edible they can steal from me, including a half-eaten granola bar that they pick pocket out of my fly vest. But who can complain. It’s been a fabulous day with dozens of fish under a sunny sky and a double bonus of pure solitude and a slam. Going against the grain and that extra mile downstream definitely paid off, something I’ll keep reminding myself of when I set out on another creek or river. Back at camp a couple of hours later, a gorgeous sunset coupled with a good glass of wine makes for a perfect ending.