THE BEST FISHING BOOKS OF ALL TIME: INSTALLMENT #4

October 2020

Introduction

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:  https://hooknfly.com/2020/08/01/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time/

Installment 2 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/08/09/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-2/?fbclid=IwAR3uBFsuuSQqAaiHnie6LT3Jhu-PyCm_18sjjmIQeSmognnyJ-8lVyny-34

Installment 3 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/09/11/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-3/

Installment 5 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/10/22/best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-5/

The Categories:

Best Literature

The Storytellers

Anthologies

Oddities

Funny Bone Ticklers

Zen of Fishing

How To/Technical Expertise

Science and Entomology of Fishing

Travel/Guidebooks

Saltwater

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.” 

Travel/Guidebooks

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.

Saltwater

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.

8 thoughts on “THE BEST FISHING BOOKS OF ALL TIME: INSTALLMENT #4

  1. My wife and I worked as the visitor hosts at Colorado’s Roaring Judy State Fish Hatchery for a couple of summers. Doug Dillingham, author of Fly Fishing the Gunnison Country, worked at the neighboring Pitkin hatchery. Both hatcheries were short handed one day and Doug had an injured hand and couldn’t do a stocking run by himself so I got to make the run with him. What a grand day. Stuck in the front seat of the stocking truck with Doug driving along the Gunnison and Lake Fork of the Gunnison talking about that book and it’s contents while driving past two of it’s rivers.

    Buy the book on his website, http://www.gunnisonflyfish.com, send him an e-mailed request before it ships, and he used to autograph it for you too.

    Chris, another great list! Thanks again.

    Like

    1. Thx Fran. My sciatica flared back up so lots of time to read and write the last couple of weeks. Getting treatment Monday in Denver so hopefully I’ll be able to get back on the water soon!!

      Like

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