The 10 Best Fly Fishing Books Every Angler Should ReadPublished on 04/07/2023 · 6 min readOf all outdoor pursuits, no sport connects more intimately with literature than fly fishing. Check out these ten Expert-recommended fly fishing books!
Sun Goes Down Over the Colorado River. Perfect time to hunker down with a Classic Fly Fishing Book. Photo by Andy Sparhawk
I love to fly fish. I'd spend all my time on the water, casting until both arms fell off. Seriously though, fly fishing all of the time is impossible, but just because you can't spend every day of your life pursuing fish on the fly, you can still enjoy the art of fly fishing with a great book on the subject.
Of all the outdoor pursuits, nothing lends itself to the pages of a book like fly fishing. Whether it is a non-fiction book on technique, strategy, or a specific fly fishing destination, or a fictional story of triumph over odds, anglers pore over the pages of fly fishing books because even though rivers and lakes freeze and the sun fades, we all need to get our fly fishing fix somehow.
The 7 Best Non-Fiction Fly Fishing Books
The best non-fiction books on fly fishing can be divided into two categories. The first type of book is a practical guide. The second type shares sage advice through vivid storytelling and philosophical reflection. These books are for advanced anglers and novices alike.
The Little Red Book of Fly Fishing | Charlie Meyers and Kirk Deeter
Any serious fly angler needs a resource that they can look back on time and again. One reference with everything from tactics and advice to technical information on knots and the essential lessons every angler needs to have. Deeter and fly fishing legend, Charlie Meyers, are just the writers to lend this help, and they've done so in their The Little Red Book of Fly Fishing.
The Orvis Guide to Beginner Fly Fishing | Tom Rosenbauer
Most anglers know Orvis by their gear, but the company's commitment to fly fishing goes far beyond rods and dog beds. Orvis has accepted the stewardship of educating, particularly those beginning fly fishing. The Orvis Guide to Beginner Fly Fishing and the seminal guide, The Orvis Fly Fishing Guide (1984), is jam-packed with fly fishing advice, technique, and diagrams to get you going and thriving on the river.
Caddisflies | Gary LaFontaine
No trout fly is more recognizable than the elk-haired caddis (EHCs), and few hatches get anglers (and trout) as excited as the caddisfly. Author Gary La Fontaine dives into this classic trout snack by investigating the caddis lifecycle, habits, and fly patterns. If you love a day of EHCs, you'll want this book. While you're at it, why stop at caddis? Add Handbook of Hatches by Dave Hughes and The Bug Book by Paul Weamer. Be sure to have these bug classics that will have you thinking like a fly fisher and an entomologist.
The History of Fly Fishing in Fifty Flies | Ian Whitelaw
Speaking of insect imitations, the tied fly separates fly fishing from other fishing; the patterns themselves are as rich in history as the rods or reels. Writer Ian Whitelaw examines 50 of the sport's classics, their place in fly fishing history, and why they became so important—such a fascinating book. It’s perfect as a gift for the special angler in your life.
The Longest Silence | Thomas McGuane
The Longest Silence is my favorite fly fishing book of all time. FULL STOP. Tom McGuane paints fly fishing scenes so vividly that you have to fight yourself from booking trips to Montana or Key West. It is truly the next best thing to fish these destinations. McGuane's no-BS critique of the sport and those who call themselves anglers cannot be discounted or missed. Read this book and repeat.
Trout Bum | John Gierach
Who doesn't dream of being a trout bum? I'd gladly live in a van down by the river, but I don't think my wife would consent. A good compromise is reading the book by John Gierach. This fish literary ties storytelling with wisdom like a double surgeon knot—a great book to read in a comfy chair waiting for your next trout adventure.
The Feather Thief | Kirk W. Johnson
Most would be surprised to discover that fly fishing has deep dark niches. Sure, it might all seem like good clean fun, but sometimes hobbies can become obsessions. Feather Thief is just such a story. Journalist Kirk W. Johnson tells the story of stealing rare bird feathers from the Tring Natural History Museum in the UK. For ransom? For science? No, for fly tying. The extinct bird feathers were heisted to make ornate and classic fly patterns. Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. Read the book or wait for the movie; the Feather Thief series is currently in development.
The 3 Best Fiction Fly Fishing Books
A River Runs Through It | Norman Maclean
No other book (or movie) has turned more people on to fly fishing than A River Runs Through It. Norman Maclean's book of essays romanticizes the hobby so well that it likely has much to do with why you can't find a hole to yourself at Deckers on most days if you've had it with being squeezed off the "Sh__*er Hole," maybe its time to pack it in and calm yourself with this fly fishing classic.
Big Two-Hearted River | Ernest Hemingway
If Norman Maclean's book helped spark the growth of fly fishing, did Hemingway's writings contribute to a general fascination of the outdoors? Hemingway was a true renaissance man who was just as likely to be living the adventures as he was to be writing about them. Big Two-Hearted River is just one of his many classic works and is set in Michigan at the Big Two-Hearted River.
The River Why | David James Duncan
Like The Feather Thief, David James Duncan's book, The River Why, isn't specifically about fishing but rather coming of age. What makes it a classic is the fly fishing imagery that is the setting for much of the book. Also, like The Feather Thief, it was adapted into a movie in 2010.
There are so many excellent fly fishing books that limiting this list to 10 seems a shame. Still, I'm confident these are the all-time must-haves for any fly fisher who sometimes needs to come in from the rain or dark and find a valuable way to pass the time until they can be back out there again. Many of the authors listed have written extensively, and I encourage you to seek out other books by Gierach, McGuane, Deeter, Rosenbauer, and of course, Hemingway. If you have a favorite, I’d love to hear it. Ask your Curated Fly Fishing Expert what their favorite book is the next time your on the hunt for some gear, I’m sure they’ll be able to suggest a great read, just like they can get your what you need on the water.