I still get excited about a new fishing book. And I trust that will never change. After all these years, I still look forward to shedding the dust cover, stressing the binding and digging in. Whether it’s tactics or stories doesn’t matter. If it’s a book about a life on the water, I’ll give it a look.
My uncle taught me to fish, to read water and find trout, to explore — to get away — and to enjoy fishing for more than just catching a trout. We fished bait. Mostly fathead minnows. And what I absorbed in those young years were the largest building blocks for any angler. I learned to love the river and feel at home there. And without that, the books that I later picked up would have felt like a foreign thing, like fiction, a tall tale, or like some branch of mysterious and inaccessible science.
Years later, my early tutelage into fly fishing came not through a personal mentor, but through two key books. (I’ll list them below.) And it was the enlightenment of those works that served as the gateway into so much of what has shaped my life to this day.
The words in a good book — the shared ideas — can change lives. And I’ve always wanted to be part of that, to pass on what I too have discovered, both technically and in experiential form.
I later bought Dwight Landis’ second edition of Trout Streams of Pennsylvania. And together with a Delorm Atlas and a four wheel drive, those ideas, shared in writing, took me everywhere I ever wanted to be.
All of this preamble is to say this: I love books — especially fishing books. And I know that a good chapter or two can change a life.
Herein are my favorite books. These are the pages that I continue to revisit, time and again, to read and reread. Because at every pass, I learn something new. A good book is like that. You can’t process everything on the first reading, because you simply aren’t ready for it.
These are the books that I’ve loaned to my friends. Most times they come back. If not, I buy them again. Because every one of these books will be with me until the end. At which point, a stack of papers and hardcovers will show the makings of a man. Of a fisherman.
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Trout Tactics, by Joe Humphreys
Troutbitten regulars understand my affinity for this book. Humphreys’ work was the gateway for my entry into fly fishing. And I continue to learn from Trout Tactics every time I open it. From tight lining nymphs and streamers on a Mono Rig to dry flies on the Harvey formula, from leader design, to trout habits and night fishing, Humphreys somehow covers everything. This is always my first recommendation for every trout angler.
A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean
This has been with me from the beginning. I found my first copy in a used book store sale bin in my late teens. And through the years, I’ve probably read this story a dozen times. I shared that first copy with my friend Rich, some years later. And we both loved Norman Maclean’s tale.
A few weeks before the unyielding cancer ripped through Rich, I wrote him a letter, and I closed it with the last paragraph of the book we both knew so well:
“Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.” (Norman Maclean)
In turn, Rich wrote back to me this simple line:
“Dom, I’ll meet you upstream.”
Fishing Small Streams with a Fly Rod, by Charles Meck
This is the second of the two books that taught me to fly fish. The wild trout waters available to me early on were small, often ten feet across and thirty feet at the most. So reading this book felt like Meck was speaking directly to me. It was the right book at the right time, and I’m forever thankful for that.
John Gierach Books
I refuse to pick just one Gierach book. Start at Trout Bum and work your way forward. Like Maclean, here is an author who has affected generations of anglers. What distinguishes Gierach from the rest? He fishes hard. And yet, he’s a masterful writer who manages to collect the essence of fly fishing and mix it with a little humor. Add in the philosophical meanderings, and Gierach’s words are the perfect companion for those who love the river and the long rod.
Here are three of my favorites.
Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout, by Bob Linsenman and Kelly Galloup
This book changed the game. This is where we got the Butt Monkey and the Sex Dungeon, and where streamer fishing was renewed for the 21st century. Galloup and Linsenman sparked a sea change in the game of streamers for trout.
The River Why, by James Duncan
My adviser and friend at the IUP English Department, Dr. Tom Wilson, loaned me this book when he discovered my love for trout fishing, and I’m forever in his debt. It’s a brilliant piece of writing that any fly fisher will love. It’s the kind of book that can change the way you live your life.
George Daniel Books
George is not only a friend, but one of the best communicators of fishing ideas I’ve ever met. No doubt, it comes from George’s intensity for tactics, for learning more and analyzing what’s really going on in the river. Deep and dense in the best way, George’s books are not for the casual angler — but you probably weren’t looking for that.
Techniques of Trout Fishing and Fly Tying, by George Harvey
Own this book for Harvey’s theory of leader design. The George Harvey dry fly leader is integral to my success every time I catch a trout on the surface. Harvey’s chapters on techniques, though short, are words from the master. This book is also a must for every night fishing angler.
Trout Madness, by Robert Traver
Traver caught my attention when I first read his two-hundred word essay, Testament of a Fisherman. He so perfectly captured the essence of why I want to fish every day that I had to read more. Trout Madness is a wonderful collection of stories to read over and over.
The Orvis Guide to Prospecting for Trout, by Tom Rosenbauer
Rosenbauer covers the wide range of techniques that fool trout, and manages to do so, in depth, with entertaining writing. Here’s another book in my library with stains and a worn cover, not only from my own readings, but from passing it along to my friends. Tom’s ideas about prospecting for trout, and not just waiting for a hatch, were exactly what I needed as a young fly angler.
Reading Trout Water, by Dave Hughes
Dave Hughes has many excellent books, but this is one that I continue to learn from. If you didn’t grow up fishing trout streams, something like this book is a critical part of your education. And if you did grow up on trout streams, this book will show you what you missed.
Caddisflies, by Gary LaFontaine
Here is the only book you’ll ever need about caddis — truly. LaFontaine approaches the most prolific trout food insect with research and science. And yet, the text is more than readable — it’s interesting in a way that I’ve not found in another book of its kind.
Night Fishing for Trout: The Final Frontier, by Jim Bashline
After reading every single piece of night fishing literature I could get my hands on, this is the one I return to. It’s not even that I fish wet flies in the same manner as Bashline. It’s more that I understand what he was writing about, that I feel a kinship, an understanding from an author who doesn’t dramatize his own efforts at night. He just fishes –after dark.
Keystone Fly Fishing, The Ultimate Guide to Pennsylvania’s Best Water
Every PA angler must own this book. It’s packed front to back with critical information about rivers, tactics and patterns.
Trout Streams of Pennsylvania, by Dwight Landis
Landis has a remarkable way of leading you to new water without giving away its secrets. He preserves the discovery for you. This is still my favorite PA guide book.
Let’s Call It
That’s a long list of books, but it’s not even a tenth of the fishing books I’ve read through the years. These are the books that take up the prime real estate on my bookshelf. These are the ones that gather no dust, because they’re handled, read and referred to so often.
What are you favorites? What books have changed the way you fly fish and enjoy your time on the river? Leave a comment below, and share your recommendations with everyone else.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N