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/?p=7877

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.

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.

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. 

BRRR!!

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.

Arkansas River Fall Redux—Without The Madding Crowds

Mid-September 2020

For my previous articles about the Arkansas River, see https://hooknfly.com/2019/10/19/goodbye-to-a-river-a-sweet-afternoon-on-the-big-ark-near-salida-co/#more-6843

Come early September, there is a magical transformation of my home water, the Arkansas River near Salida, Colorado.  The jacked-up artificial summer water flows from local reservoirs for the benefit of recreational rafters are cut down dramatically from over 1,500 cfs to under 400 cfs, making the Big Ark wadeable, if just barely.  Better yet, for the most part the parade of pesky rafters, paddleboarders, kayakers, and float fishermen are gone, offering a modicum of solitude not to mention fewer watercraft running blithely through my honey holes as I watch in utter amazement only a short cast away. 

Just such a magical day recently presented itself coupled with a perfect weather forecast in the wake of a big freak snow storm and several nights of freezing temperatures—high in the 70’s, light breezes, and sunny skies. 

Freak Early September Snow Storm And Cold Weather Trigger Pre-Spawn Bite

I immediately stowed my small creek rigs and broke out heavier Ark river tackle that had been gathering dust since April—five weight rods and 5X leaders—and other essential gear like felt-soled waders. On one rod I tied on a dry/dropper combo with my old standby #16 Royal Coachman Trude on top and a #18 beadhead sparkle caddis nymph trailing two feet below. This time of year there are grasshoppers and big caddis flies around, which the Trude imitates, and the river rocks are loaded with caddis cases. On the heavier nymph rig I tied on a #16 Tung Teaser for the small stones and mayfly nymphs in the river and a #16 beadhead sparkle caddis nymph. I added a couple of BB split shots to get the flies down into the deeper holes and a small clear bubble strike indicator.

Tomorrow morning I’ll head downstream from Salida to one of my old favorite stretches that had been devastated in 2016 by the huge Hayden Pass fire.  The runoff after the fire deposited tons of ash and silt miles downstream past Texas Creek.  It killed off practically all the bug life in the river and silted over prime spawning beds.  I fished downstream of the fire in several locations each year since and only now has it finally begun to recover to its former status.  I found abundant bug life and some decent-sized browns last year up to 14-inches, but still lots of silt.  I’m hoping for even better things this year. 

With the snow storm, it’s been cold so I decide there’s no need to be up at the crack of dawn.  I’ll try to get on the river about 10:30 after the sun has had time to warm things up a bit.  I’m on schedule as I round the bend above my favorite spot and…DAMN….there are already two trucks parked in turnouts alongside U.S. 50 next to the river.  As I drive by the intruders slowly, I breathe a sigh of relief to see they are spin fishermen and are casting from the south shoreline.  Wade fishing Rule #1 on the Ark is to get to the north bank that isn’t trampled to death like the south by anglers not willing or able to wade the big water—which is a real challenge even when the water levels are low.  I like to see 330 cfs at the Wellsville water gauge (Google Colorado Water Talk and hit the Ark River tab.).  It had been down to that level last week, but the melt from nearly a foot of snow in Salida has bumped it up to 385 cfs—my limit.  Above that, it’s risk of life, especially for old codgers like me. 

In this stretch of almost a half mile, there are only two shallower runs that can be negotiated safely.  But before plunging in, I turn over some streambed rocks and am delighted to find they are loaded with caddis cases and small mayfly nymphs scurrying about.  I also notice there is a sporadic, light hatch of big yellow mayflies and caddis flies.  All systems are GO!

The current in my chosen route across to the north side of the river is strong, but with the aid of my trusty wading staff, felt-soled wading boots, and my long legs that keep the flow below my crotch for less resistance (I’m 6’3”, or at least I was before septuagenarian shrinkage began to occur.), I think I’ll make it.  Still, I nearly take a plunge when I venture into the thigh-deep part of the run.  I start to go slip sliding downstream but manage to pirouette to safety on a shallower gravel bar.

The Ark Is Challenging Wading Even At Low Water Levels

After my heart beat slows down, I unfurl the dry/dropper combo and make a short cast upstream of a pool formed in the wake of a big mid-stream boulder, a good spot that has produced in the past. As the Royal Coachman Trude floats jauntily down the riffle above the pool, past the boulder, and into quieter water, it suddenly disappears. I gawk for a second then wake up and set the hook. The pool erupts as a nice brown slashes back and forth with the caddis nymph in his mouth. Having fished mainly small creeks this summer, I make a mistake and let him get downstream of me and into the fast current. I utter a few choice epithets at myself, thinking it’s curtains for the leader, but to my surprise it holds and soon I work the fish—a hefty, healthy 14-inch beauty—into the net. Great start!! I get three more in the next few minutes if you count one well-executed long-distance release, two on the caddis nymph and one on the Trude.

Good Start To A Great Day

When the action slows, I venture into another fast, deeper current so I can reach a quiet run against the rocks along the north bank.  It’s always produced if I can drop the fly in the slower water no more than one foot from the shoreline.  My first two casts are too far out and the flies drag when the current catches the fly line.  But the third bounces off the rocks without snagging, and floats nicely downstream, me long-arming it so only the leader is in the water to avoid drag.  I shake my rod to feed out more line to get a longer drift and just as the Trude starts to drag, a fish shoots out from behind a rock and nails it—another nice brownie that immediately takes to the air then jets downstream.  With my rod bent double, I slowly coax him in against the current into my net. 

Now I am in shallower water and begin working upstream along the north shoreline.  The water is very clear and skinny in places, but I manage to pick up a couple more chunky browns on the nymph in deeper runs.  My destination is my favorite honey hole in mid-river another hundred yards upstream where the water cascades down a wide, shallow riffle past a big boulder and then pours into a long deep run that has produced some 18-inch browns and rainbows in the past before the big fire.

I wade gingerly out to midstream to get to a sand bar behind the big boulder where I can comfortably stand out of the current and reach most of the good water. With great anticipation I cast the dry/dropper rig, get a perfect float down the riffle into the pool and a nice drift through the deeper water, but it’s no dice. I try another half dozen casts but come up empty each time. So I switch to my double nymph rig and throw a long cast at a 45-degree angle upstream into the riffle just above the pool. The strike indicator bounces down the shallow riffle and as soon as it slides into the deeper green-colored water at the head of the pool promptly disappears. I snap the rod back, and a good rainbow skyrockets into the air. He puts up a terrific battle up and down the pool refusing to yield an inch. At one point when he zooms in front of me into a fast run and blasts off downstream, I am forced to execute a graceful, ballerina-like 360 degree twirl while trying to avoid snagging my other rod that protrudes high into the air from my waders where it’s stashed. Finally the bow relents and comes in for a quick photo and release. Pushing 14-inches, he’s dined on the caddis nymph. The next two casts into the same spot produce two corpulent, frisky browns, one on the Tung Teaser and the other on the caddis nymph. Now that’s more like it! It appears that the cold snap has clearly triggered some pre-spawn appetites.

Feisty Rainbow Adds To The Fun

I get a couple of more strikes, but don’t connect, and then the pool goes quiet. I spot a rise across the pool in a shallow run over a gravel bar, the only rise I will see all day despite the big mayflies and caddis that are floating by periodically and would seem to offer a hearty meal. I switch to the dry/dropper rod and cast across the pool into the shallow water to the north of the pool. BAM! The Trude disappears into the maw of another 14-inch brownie. Three more soon follow, one on the dry and two on the caddis nymph.

But where are the big boys and girls that have called the pool home in the past?? I decide to make the proverbial last cast upstream into the riffle and as soon as the dry slides into the pool there’s a mini-eruption. This is definitely a big fish! He bores deep, and I can’t gain any line. Then as if shot out of a cannon, the big brownie blasts downstream past me and out of the pool and into the heavy current below—with me in hot pursuit. My rod is bending double, and I’m sure he’s a goner, but suddenly the trout pauses and lets me gain the upper hand. I pressure him towards the bank and after several strong runs he slides up on a sand bar. I pounce on the prize, a 16-inch plus beauty. To my surprise he’s eaten the caddis nymph on the surface before it had a chance to sink! The brownie cordially agrees to pose quietly for a photo as I slide him back into the water. He’ll be the biggest of the day.

Trophy Of The Day

Now it’s time for a snack and relaxation. I sit and reflect on the True West scene in front of me—rugged pinnacles dropping precipitously from high ridges to the river below. And the river is definitely in better shape, most of the ash and silt from the 2016 fire finally scoured away.

I also notice the little yellow western flycatchers and other songbirds popping out of their hideouts in the tall grass and bushes along the shoreline to feast on the big yellow caddis and mayflies floating on the water.  Yet nary is a fish rising for them.  Go figure. 

Then it’s on to my next old reliable honey hole.  I make an inspired cast in a narrow slot between two boulders and am rewarded with another muscular brownie. 

I then miss a couple of strikes in the main current and that’s all she wrote for this usually reliable stretch.

I continue upstream and pick up another couple of smaller brownies then come to another dependable pool below a giant boulder that splits the river. But there is too much water, the extra 60 or so cfs churning the pool into froth. I do get a flash at the nymph, but that’s it. Now it’s bushwhacking time to reach the next set of pools. I manage to catch a nice brownie leaning out over the water and executing a backhand cast upstream, but finally the brush wins, and I beat a hasty exit to the railroad track up above. I see the shoreline upstream has become completely overgrown this past year with bushes, thorns, and other nasty vegetation and find I can only descend again to the river where the local herd of bighorn sheep has trampled an opening. I make a few casts, but come up empty, except for nearly hooking a western flycatcher that picks off a mayfly in front of me then does an about turn and dive bombs my Trude, veering off at the last second! I take that as a sign it’s time to head home, the thought of wrangling with an angry bird on my line, albeit small, not being appealing, especially with a NA beer waiting in the SUV.

I wade up to the second crossing that is not risk of life and cautiously make my way to the north shoreline.  It’s been great to see the Big Ark is recovering from that huge fire, and the fishing is almost as good as ever.  Now I’m salivating thinking of how big all those 14-inch beauties will be next fall on my home water.

Now’s the time to sample the Arkansas at its best. Water levels have dropped back to around 300 cfs at Salida and Wellsville, and the brownies are feeding voraciously getting ready for the fall spawn. Best of all, you wont’ be overrun by the madding crowds of summer.

THE BEST FISHING BOOKS OF ALL TIME: INSTALLMENT #3

September 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 three or four installments.  I hope you enjoy perusing my choices, and would welcome hearing of any additions you may have. 

The first installment in the series focused on those I consider the Best Literature.  This installment covers three categories from the list below:  Funny Bone Ticklers, The Zen of Fishing, and How-To/Technical Expertise

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/https

The Categories:

Best Literature

The Storytellers

Anthologies

Oddities

Funny Bone Ticklers

Zen of Fishing

How To/Technical Expertise

Science and Entomology of Fishing

Travel

FUNNY BONE TICKLERS

Maybe because we take our sport so seriously, there are very few books involving fishing that really tickle our funny bones.  That’s not to say we don’t smile and laugh when we recognize ourselves in the stories from witty books like Trout Magic, and Trout Bum.   But I’m talking about the kind of books that will have you laughing out loud when you’re on an airplane.  But here are several exceptions:

Double Whammy and Skinny Dip –Carl Hiassen

Carl Hiassen is an award-winning journalist from Florida and accomplished salt-water fly fisherman who holds several IGFA records.  One of his first books, Double Whammy (1987), is a murder mystery that revolves around skullduggery in professional bass tournaments.  It features a host of memorable characters and a byzantine plot that is guaranteed to have you guffawing throughout.  In 2004 he followed up with Skinny Dip, another crime novel that has been included in several lists of the best comedic books of all time!  This one involves a crooked biologist in cahoots with agribusiness interests who are polluting the Everglades who throws his wife overboard from a cruise to keep his secrets.  This one really is a gut-buster.  Oddly, it was banned from prisons by the Texas Department of Corrections.  Another of Hiassen’s books, Strip Tease, was turned into a movie starring Demi Moore.

True Love And The Woolly Bugger—Dave Ames

Written by an outfitter, guide, and self-described itinerant fishing bum who averaged 150 days of fly fishing a year, this book was praised by Tom McGuane as a “thoroughly amusing, manic, and perversely informative book about fishing in several of its most mutant forms.  This is another read that non-anglers will enjoy as much as the angling tribe.   It is chock full of interesting characters like a Bahamian fishing guide who searches for gourmet food for his clients and a tattooed, motorcycle-driving, fly-fishing babe who teaches the hero about life and love.  Need I say more?

So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish (Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Book 4)—Douglas Adams

A United Press International review called this “A madcap adventure . . . Adams’s writing teeters on the fringe of inspired lunacy.”  For you youngsters, the first volume of Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy was a cult sci-fi hit back when published in 1979.  It and successor volumes have been translated into 30 languages.  The broad theme of the Hitchhiker series involves the tale of last surviving human, Arthur Dent, following the demolition of the Earth an alien highway construction crew.    In this fourth volume, Dent is back on Earth trying to figure out whether his misadventures are just a dream.  However, when he finds a gift-wrapped fishbowl with a cryptic inscription along with the mysterious disappearance of Earth’s dolphins he deduces something is amiss.  Cosmic bedlam ensures.  The Boston Globe summed up the book well:  “The most ridiculously exaggerated situation comedy known to created beings . . . Adams is irresistible.”  Now admittedly, the link to angling is tad tenuous, but I guarantee you will enjoy this bizarre  fishing trip.

THE ZEN OF FISHING

Definition of Zen: A state of calm attentiveness in which one’s actions are guided by intuition rather than by conscious effort.

Perhaps that is the Zen of fishing—you become one with the water and fish, lost in the rhythm of the task before you.  Volumes have been written about why we fish…and many come to the conclusion that it’s not at all about catching fish, but everything that goes into the act as well as the environment that fish often inhabit.  For me, it is understanding the world of the fish so when I am on the stream I fish with intuition grounded in that knowledge.  A select few angling books could qualify here, for example, the insightful vignettes of John Gierach.  There are actually several with the title “The Zen of Fishing,” that didn’t make the cut.  Here is my short list.

The Longest Silence—Tom McGuane

First published in Sports Illustrated in 1969, this article about permit fishing has many devotees like me.  I will let the words of the opening paragraph speak for themselves:

“What is emphatic in angling is made so by the long silences—the unproductive periods.  For the ardent fisherman, progress is towards the kinds of fishing that are never productive in the sense of the blood riots of the hunting and fishing periodicals.  Their illusions of continuous action evoke for him, finally a condition of utter, mortuary boredom.  Such angler will always be inclined to find the gunnysack artists of the heavy kill rather cretinoid, their stringerloads of gaping fish appalling.”

Goodbye To A River—John Graves

As I age, this paean to an angler’s favorite river as he canoes down it one last time before a series of big dams forever submerges its wild nature under the sheen of still waters becomes more and more personal. Too often in my 70-plus years I have witnessed one after another of my home waters transmogrified sadly into something I no longer recognize. In the case of the Arkansas River near my cabin in the Colorado mountains, it’s not a dam but death by a thousand cuts by rafters, placer miners, float fisherman, wildfires, developers, and more lately paddleboarders. When he penned this wistful book in the 1950s full of zen-like reflections, Graves launched his career as a well-known writer. In it he weaves accounts of a three-week trip down the Brazos River in North Central Texas with fascinating stories of the history and settlement of the area and his experiences on it as a kid. Goodbye To A River became so successful that it helped stop most of the 13 dams planned for the river. One of the earliest voices against big dam foolishness of that era, the book became a landmark in conservation and has been compared to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Graves followed it with award-winning books including Hard Scrabble: Observations on a Patch of Land, published in 1974, and From a Limestone Ledge (1980).

The Zen Of Fish:  The Story Of Sushi—Trevor Carson

How can a book with a title like this not make a list of publications that capture the Zen of fishing?

Published in 2007, this is definitely the complete work on sushi, from its history, through a sushi chef’s education, to how it is prepared.  As one reviewer noted:  “To the uninitiated, few things can be more intimidating than a sushi bar. Corson has created what could be the definitive work on the topic, enabling customers to comfortably and confidently stride into a sushi restaurant and order omakase without trepidation.”  No longer need we proletariat anglers be so intimidated when entering a sushi restaurant having an understanding of the Zen of fish.

Honorable Mention:  I stumbled across a blog on line with an article about the Zen of fishing that is a good read.  https://www.mrporter.com/en-us/journal/lifestyle/zen-and-the-art-of-fly-fishing-1082130

HOW TO/TECHNICAL EXPERTISE

The trend in angling books to the technical and how-to started in the 1950s and exploded in the 1960s-80s period.  It was very good in some ways, establishing a more scientific, thoughtful approach to angling, but in my opinion soon became overdone and started to take the fun out of the fishing experience.  However, I find the “how-to” books that follow are still valuable references. 

Streamside Guide To Naturals And Their Imitations—Art Flick

Published in 1947, this was the first blue-collar guide to fly fishing which heretofore had been the domain of private clubs and the wealthy.  Packed full of good tips, the book also broke ground with color photography and being small and portable so it could be carried on the water.  Just as importantly, it is fun to read as well–being, as one reviewer put it, “interspersed with quaint homilies and entertaining anecdotes.”  Fortunately before he passed away recently, Flick updated his book with a new edition that is just as valuable, particularly to novice fly anglers.

Fishing Different Types of Water—I learned a lot from these books when venturing out on challenging alpine lakes and small waters.

Fly Fishing The Mountain Lakes—Gary LaFontaine

Gary LaFontaine, who passed away in 2003, wrote several landmarks books such as Caddisflies.  But for my money, l learned more valuable tips and techniques from his guide to fishing alpine lakes.  Any angler who has hiked miles to a remote mountain water only to be skunked by finicky trout knows how different, difficult, and unique mountain lake fishing can be.  It is definitely a highly specialized pursuit, but this book helps unravel the mysteries.  Like Caddisflies, LaFontaine goes into astounding detail based in nearly fanatical efforts such as carrying four fly rod outfits, scuba gear,  and a float tube miles to thoroughly research his topic.  He was one of the first anglers to use a pack goat to haul his heavy loads up to tree line!  The book deals with topics from when to go to what to use.  The good news is that it is also very readable, chock full of stories and anecdotes that capture LaFontaine’s humor and warmth.

Small Stream Fly Fishing

As our major rivers in Colorado and elsewhere, like the South Platte and Arkansas, become more and more crowded, more and more anglers like me are retreating to small streams and creeks seeking solitude as well as fish.  One book I wished I had had two decades ago when I began exploring smaller, more remote waters is David Hughes’ Trout From Small Streams, published in 2014.  Hughes discusses everything from the right tackle and flies to casting and different approaches for meadow, freestone, and mountain creeks.  Another good choice is Tom Rosenbauer’s The Orvis Guide to Small Stream Fly Fishing.  It’s illustrated in greater measure than Hughes’ book and in a coffee-table style format that is easy on the eyes. 

Casting—Whenever I foolishly agree to take friends fly fishing who are total beginners, I am always immediately reminded there a many moving parts to the art of catching a trout with a fly rod.  Perhaps the most challenging is casting.  I have entertained notions of strangling my dear pupils as they ignore every bit of sage advice and guidance I have given them and end up snagging me, every bush in sight, and themselves as fish rise all around us.  Fortunately, the grand dame of fly fishing has provided us with a how-to book that is not only perfect for beginners but also us old codgers who need to brush up on specialty casts in special situations like brush-infested small creeks.

Fly-Casting Techniques—Joan Wulff

First published in 1987 and since followed up with New Fly-Casting Techniques in 2012, this book stands alone as the best guide to casting ever.  In the original edition, Wulff delved into the physical aspects of casting as well as clear, simple explanations of the key elements of a successful cast.  The result was a revolutionary book that made fly casting understandable.  When coupled with her instructional video, Dynamics of Fly Casting, both beginners and old coots like me can learn the basics as wells as advanced techniques.

What Fish Actually Want—The avalanche of technical fly fishing books in the 1960s-90s, such as Selective Trout, by Swisher and Richards and Mayflies, a 366-page tome by Knopp and Cormier, introduced a more scientific approach to trout fishing. They also practically guaranteed a degree in entomology to any angler willing to actually read them through to the end. I bought every one I could get my hands on. No doubt they were valuable and helped put fly fishing on a sounder technical basis. They also led to a rush to tie flies to match the hatch that were more often more realistic than the natural! Eventually I and some of my brethren wearied of the movement that threatened, at least for us, to take the fun out of fly fishing and make it a job. Fortunately, I discovered several authors who shared my perspective and led a revolt against the overly technical trend that had gripped my beloved sport, also helping many of us lesser mortals to shed our guilt and angst at not having PhDs in fly fishing, bugs, and the like.

What The Trout Said About The Design Of Trout Flies And Other Mysteries—Datus Proper

“Innocence is a wild trout.  But we humans, being complicated, have to pursue innocence in complex ways.”  That quote captures the gestalt of Datus Proper’s book.  As one reviewer observed, his message is essentially to have us forget all the fancy stuff and listen to what the trout said.  Proper, an American Foreign Service officer, undertook exhaustive observation of trout in their habitat, their stomach contents, and other aspects of their feeding habits.  His basic conclusion is that for most waters, flies that are general imitations of the food trout are consuming are just as if not more effective that exact copies and that color is rarely as important as overall design.  This comports with my own experience except on still waters or slow-moving meadow or spring creeks where the trout have plenty of time to examine their quarry.  His book helped me breathe a huge sigh of relief and off-load a half-dozen fly boxes from my fly vest—leaving only another half dozen just in case.  Proper died in 2003, drowning in a Montana trout stream near his home while fishing after his retirement.  Not a bad way to go.

In The Ring Of The Rise—Vincent Marinaro

The same year What The Trout Said was published (1976), another landmark angling tome appeared that rocked the fly-fishing world.  Marinaro took a startling for the time approach to exploring feeding patterns and behavior of trout—he actually utilized high-speed color photography to capture unexpected and surprising responses of trout to food.  His conclusion was similar to that of Datus Proper:  Because the floating fly is the form least accurately perceived by the trout, presentation is far more important that imitation.  As esteemed angler Leonard Wright, Jr., observed, this book helped pull trout fishing literature off the “exact imitation” merry-go-round.  The first chapter of the book, “The Anatomy of the Rise,” with its incredible analysis of a variety of rise forms through color photographs, is worth the purchase price alone.

Through The Fish’s Eye—An Angler’s Guide To Gamefish Behavior—Mark Sosin and John Clark

Published three years before Proper’s and Marinaro’s landmarks, this book broke new ground by pairing a well-known angler and a fisheries biologist as authors.  It was the first to combine insights from ichthyology and fish biology to explain why fish bite and why the don’t.  Because Sosin was a renowned salt-water angler, there is more emphasis on saltl-water fishing than the other two.  On a personal note, John Clark, a brilliant practical hands-on fisheries biologist and certified character, was a colleague of mine in the 1970s at the Conservation Foundation (which later was merged into the World Wildlife Fund).  When we first met in 1975 he was tremendously impressed that I knew his name from this fishing book which was in my library rather than through his scientific and conservation accolades.

Award For The Most Practical And Useful How-To Fishing Book

The winner is, hands-down, Lefty’s Little Fly-Fishing Tips:  200 Innovative Ideas To Help You Catch Fish by Lefty Kreh.  I first met the iconic Lefty in the 1990s at a fly fishing show in Denver.  He delivered one the best practical and most entertaining sessions I have ever sat in on where I learned, for example, to sharpen your fly hook early and often.  I’ve come to find that I miss more strikes because of a dull hook than practically any other reason. Now that hook hone hangs at the ready on my fly vest.  Lefty expanded his practical tips in this book based on his over five decades of fishing to include topics such as how to rescue a fly that is stuck in a log and how to cast easily in tight quarters.  Get a copy today!