A Fly Fisher’s Gift Guide — Troutbitten’s Favorite Books

by | Dec 12, 2018 | 26 comments

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

Buy Trout Tactics Here

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

Buy A River Runs Through It Here

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

Buy Fishing Small Streams with a Fly Rod Here

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.

 

Buy Trout Bum Here

 

Buy Sex, Death, and Fly Fishing Here

 

Buy All Fishermen Are Liars Here

 

Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout, by Bob Linsenman and Kelly Galloup

Buy Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout Here

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

Buy The River Why Here

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.

 

Buy Dynamic Nymphing Here

 

Buy Strip-Set Here

 

Buy Nymph Fishing Here

 

Techniques of Trout Fishing and Fly Tying, by George Harvey

Buy Techniques of Trout Fishing and Fly Tying Here

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

Buy Trout Madness Here

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

Buy The Orvis Guide to Prospecting for Trout Here

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

Buy Reading Trout Water Here

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

Buy Caddisflies Here

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

 

Buy Night Fishing for Trout: The Final Frontier Here

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

Buy Keystone Fly Fishing Here

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

Buy Trout Streams of Pennsylvania Here

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.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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26 Comments

  1. The Dry Fly – New Angles by Gary LaFontaine

    The Gary Borger series:
    The Angler As Predator
    Fishing the Film
    Reading Waters

    What the Trout Want by Bob Wyatt

    Learning From the Water by Rene Harrop

    Fly Fishing Guide to the Upper Delaware River by Paul Weamer

    Mayflies by Ted Fauceglia

    Art Flick’s Streamside Guide

    Reply
    • I really like What the Trout Want too. Good stuff.

      Reply
  2. The Earth is Enough by Harry Middleton.

    Reply
    • That’s one I still haven’t read. Thanks for the reminder!

      Reply
  3. The books that I value the most because they contain large swaths of my youth are Ernest Schwiebert’s Matching the Hatch and Vince Marinaro’s A Modern Dry Fly Code.

    Reply
  4. ‘The River Why’ and ‘A River Runs Through It’ are, for me anyway, second to none in the Pantheon. I have all the Gierach books as well and reread them on a regular basis. Harry Middleton rocks. Robert Traver, too. I wish that ‘Big Two Hearted River’ had been written by any one of these authors; Hemingway’s minimalist Dick and Jane style makes my brain hurt. I’ve tried to love Schwiebert but he’s just too dry and bloodless for me. As for the ‘Tutorial’ side of the aisle there are any number of authors who stand out. Humphreys, Daniel, Hughes, Nemes. I could spend every dime I make in a bookstore, and have tried at times. I know I just dissed Schwiebert but if I could get my hands on a copy of ‘The Henryville Fly Fishers’ for less than $150 (and that’s for a bad copy) I’d buy it.

    Reply
    • Lol at the Dick and Jane style. It’s a good point.

      Reply
  5. I love all the books you’ve mentioned. I would add any of the great stories by publisher and writer Nick Lyons. But the big classic you left off your list that I think is the equal of all is The Longest Silence by Tom McGuane. It is an exquisite work.

    Reply
    • I’ve read a lot of Nick Lyons as well. Good stuff.

      So for some reason, I just don’t connect with The Longest Silence much. I think my expectations were too high, honestly, because it’s so well regarded. Somehow, I was let down when I read it. But I’m sure I’ll revisit it again soon, because it’s come up a lot today.

      Thanks, Kerry.

      Reply
  6. Any book by Roderick Haig-Brown, but in particular his season series which captures the beautiful cycle of nature in our sport. Wonderfully written, brimming with knowledge, his books will warm you through winter. Don’t forget one of his disciples, Tom McGuane. His book The Longest Silence right up there with Gierach’s best in my view.

    Reply
    • Nice. I’ll put Roderick Haig-Brown on my to-read list. Cheers.

      Reply
  7. Slack Line – John Judy
    The Trout and the Fly – Clarke and Goddard

    Reply
  8. Another vote for _The Earth is Enough_. Also highly recommend _The Habit of Rivers_ by Ted Leeson

    Reply
    • I like Leeson’s book. The title itself is a gem.

      Reply
  9. “The longest silence” by Tom McGuane.
    Transcends the act and art of fishing. Up there with “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance” as a treatise on exploring and experiencing life.

    Reply
  10. How lucky am I…are we…to be part of this sport/lifestyle/ where it’s clear from the comments that books and writing about a thing are just as loved as the thing itself? Keep up the good work, Domenick.

    Reply
    • That’s such a great point, Gordon.

      Reply
  11. Mr. Swentosky missed what I consider to be the best book about fly fishing. It is THE LONGEST SILENCE by Thomas McGuane.

    Reply
    • I didn’t miss it, really. I just didn’t include it here, because it’s not one that I fell in love with. But like I said to Kerry, above, I’ll have to revisit the Longest Silence after today. I didn’t like Fitzgerald the first time I read him either. And I was wrong about that . . .

      Reply
  12. I’ll be adding yours to my similar collection when the time comes.

    Also, I’m working on one myself and I’d love to have you read it. Details to come in the spring! (Hopefully, if I can get more motivated to write than fish)

    Otherwise for me the George Daniels books have given me so much more than just a good read. They have changed my fishing game and taught me that I have so much more to learn.

    Dan Shields wrote a great read on spring creek a few years back. As a local this is a must have for me.

    Reply
    • Dan Shields did a great job with those books. I still refer to the one on Penns Creek. Good stuff.

      Reply
  13. The starting point for my library wae Art Flick’s Streamside guide published in 1969 as I grew up fishing th Catskills followed by Tom Rosenbauer’s Prospecting for Trout which I consider as my Bible. The cover is worn off my copy of Trout tactics along with GD’S Dynamic Nymphing . For pure entertainment I have read and enjoyed All Fisherman are liars which I lent out and never gotback. Great list for hot stove reading. I will be placing an order for several of your recommended books.

    Reply
  14. Hi Dominick, I love your blog and writing. A lot of the stuff you write about are things I’ve incorporated into my own fly fishing approaches. I must agree, Gary Lafontaine’s book about caddis is a must read. In the spring creeks of Minnesota and Wisconsin where I fish, caddis are a major food supply year round, but many anglers
    to their detriment only focus on the hatch. The caddis nymphs and pupa patterns are a wonderful designed and really effective. Thanks for your time and effort you put into this wonderful resource. I always look forward to your latest post.

    Reply
  15. Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten sooo old, but I was surprised to not see at least one book on wets. I ‘pert near have a shelf on them, and all of Syl Nemes titles. If I had to chose one of his, it might be Soft Hackle Imitations if for no other reason than his Mother’s Day caddis.

    I blew wets off as a youngster after reading Mr. Humpheries text, but I learned that was a mistake. I keep several patterns on hand always.

    Swisher/Richards Selective Trout was important for my generation as was the little booklet “Tying the S/R Flies”. Wanna know how to tie a Sidewinder No-Hackle?

    Oh, and how about Gary LaFontaine. I though him a little crazy at the time, but so did mourned his death as I felt we had lost a bright light.

    Well, crap, Marinaro’s “In the Ring of the Rise” ……

    Well, time to throw another Piñon log on the fire.

    Maybe my next favorite will be one by Dominick Swentosky.

    Jim

    Reply
  16. Thanks all for the suggestions. I have read many of those listed but also have a handful I’ll get hold of to read.

    My three that aren’t on the list.
    1. I think anyone into fly fishing would do well to have at least some idea of the history of this amazing (insert what it is to you). My pick here for a general overview would be The fly by Andrew Herd. I don’t agree with some of his thoughts but then it was first published in 2001 and our collective knowledge has moved on since then.
    2. Fish food by Ralph cutter.
    3. How to fool fish with simple flies. By Dr Paul Gaskell and John Pearson.
    Don’t worry that it’s by some guys known for Tenkara. This for me is the most up to date exploration of the fly fishers interaction with our quarry. The principles outlined explain just about everything else others have found. From why egg patterns work to why on some streams GD feels it’s necessary to make manny presentations to a small area, to why on some waters keeping nyphs in one current seam is more important than on another.

    None of the above are literary works of art but I think they still are important in our little sphere.

    I also think it’s good for anyone interested in fly fishing books to step outside the comfort zone and read stuff from other countries other than Britain or America.
    In terms of fish catching ability there are countries with a far greater heritage than both.

    Reply
  17. The Little Red Book of Fly Fishing!!

    Reply

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