In the Fall of 2011, Trout Unlimited asked it’s readers to tell them what were the top 12 books about salmon and trout fishing. Being that there are more than a few thousand titles in the vast realm of fishing literature, and that I know I have only scratched the surface of that massive pyramid of knowledge, I could hardly wait for the outcome of the best of the best. Granted, I read- not tons- but quite a bit. I would rather be on the water, tying flies, cooking, gardening and/or spending time with my family. But, when it comes to frigid evenings and the wind can be heard rattling the window pane in the middle of January, I truly do enjoy getting deeply enthralled in a good book. Nothing can take me there faster than a great fishing novel or one regarding newly found data on trout behaviour and their environment. So I began to take a closer look at my own small but concise collection- what it lacked in history, where could I improve on its foundation, and who were the influential authors, not only of my few decades on earth, but for all time. In this ‘not-really a review-‘ you won’t find titles like The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton, although I once spied it in a used bookstore in Eastown a few years back. Some of the early editions can fetch a couple thousand dollars, and it has been said that the only book ever to be reprinted more times is the Bible.
In this I must be clear> These are merely suggestions to other fellow readers in the Fly World who would like some references that I have personally read AND are in my own collection. There are others I have read and borrowed from fellow fishing buddies that must be mentioned. Titles like Selective Trout by Swisher and Richards, What the Trout Said by Datus Proper, In the Ring of The Rise by Vince Marinaro and Trout by Ray Bergman to name a few. I have also made good use of my local library card and read a few excellent observations by Tom Rosenbauer- don’t hold it against him, he gets paid by the guys that also make dog beds, but his writing is often provocative and to the point. Such works like Orvis’s Guide to Fly Fishing, Reading Trout Streams, and Prospecting for Trout go down as highly recommended reading for beginners and experienced anglers alike.
Sometimes I have read a few of my books three, four, even a half a dozen times before something in it clicks within my mind. Whether it is because a certain event occurred on the stream and a sudden realization enlightened me, or because I finally got to a level or point in my angling that I was ready to accept or invite that information into my knowledge base. We as humans are funny creatures. We can repeatedly do the same manual maneuver over a thousand times (like with tying flies) and then , in an instant- KAPPOW!!- you suddenly see a better way. Posting hackle on a parachute pattern for example, the easiest way to tie it off is to actually wrap the thread around the post, thereby capturing the hackle feather and then whip finishing the fly. No more messing around with tying the tip of the hackle feather and most of its barbules to the hook itself. What an Epiphany that was!!! How many years had I been missing that one? And why didn’t it come sooner?
“The List” from the TU readers is as follows: TROUT by Ray Bergman, TROUT FISHING by Joe Brooks THE COMPLETE BOOK OF WESTERN HATCHES: AN ANGLER’S ENTOMOLOGY AND FLY PATTERN GUIDE by Rick Hafele and Dave Hughes, A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT AND OTHER STORIES by Norman Maclean, STEELHEAD FLY FISHING by Trey Combs, THE CURTIS CREEK MANIFESTO by Sheridan Anderson, CADDISFLIES:A MAJOR STUDY OF ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT AQUATIC INSECTS-ENTOMOLOGY, FLY TYING, AND PROVEN FISHING TECHNIQUES by Gary LaFontaine, A MODERN DRY FLY CODE by Vince Marinaro, TROUT BUM by John Gierach, NYMPHS- VOLUME 1 & 2 by Ernest Schwiebert, FLY CASTING TECHNIQUES by Joan Wulff and finally THE RIVER WHY? by David James Duncan. All are extraordinary, they have made huge impacts on many fishermen and women of all ages, just that some don’t particularly pertain to my neck of the woods. Allow me to explain. When asked to embark on a journey of faith to Belize eight years ago to assist in the wedded bliss of a fellow angler, I did all the research on bonefish and the varieties of Crazy Charlie’s I could tie. I haven’t touched Mr. Fernandez’s insights on boney behaviour since. Last year, when prepping our family fall color trip to Colorado and staying near Estes Park, I read and bought several books on the multitude of rivers and techniques to fish that foreign landscape prior to going. The Best of a slew of “Fly Fishing Colorado….” destination books was “Where to Eat, Sleep and Fish Colorado” by Mark D. Williams and W. Chad McPhail. Hilarious, comical, informative, priced right, great budget/itinerary, awesome fishing, did I mention funny? They catalog summers of trekking up and down the Rockies while searching out the best honey holes, inventing great ideas for toilet paper dispensers and chuckling at Kum & Go gas stations. It is amazing what crazy things men can find humorous and creative in the same breath while on a fishing journey.
The novels and instructional books that have changed the game for me aren’t altogether completely different, it is more a regional taste. I would trade a Traver/Voelker novel for a Gierach book in a heartbeat, simply because it is in my backyard. LaFontaine, Hughes & Hafele for Swisher and Richards, Bergman and Maclean for Tomas McGuane and Jerry Dennis. I have also dedicated a certain section to the history of Michigan and its authors. If you are curious about Trout Unlimited and its origins, as well as how one acquired gas stamps to sell hosiery and fish the AuSable and Boardman Rivers during the 40’s and 50’s pick up a copy of For the Love of Trout by George Griffith, it is a truly remarkable trip. The Olde AuSable by Hazen Miller gave me a glimpse of a former logging boom-town I have only known the aftermath in my lifetime.
You can’t fish these waters without giving credit to Rusty Gates for fighting to keep them as they are today and hopefully shall remain for generations to come. It was in his ability to get you to sign up for a duty or task without you ever knowing you had committed to the job. We need more like him and his presence when we visit the shop will eternally be missed. Seasons on the Au Sable recounts the many trips to the waters edge to see what was hatching, who got stuck in the two track getting wood and who managed to get that hawg out of that secret stretch of water nobody will tell you about. Josh Greenberg does an excellent job of recounting many of these moments, faithfully maintains the Lodge and has a hot cup of coffee waiting for you if you stop in for the latest river report. My other favorite Michigan author writes so eloquently of the little things we treasure in Northern Michigan- Jerry Dennis. From A Wooden Canoe, The Living Great Lakes and The River Home are all recommended, but if you have a child or a wife who asks sensible nature minded questions like- Why do leaves change color? or What kind of clouds are those? and you would much rather have a correct answer other than “Those clouds are cirrus-stratus/cumuli-nimbous.” Because there is much more to seasonal change and the climate of the Great Lakes and in the book It’s Raining Frogs and Fishes by Mr. Dennis covers a host of natural and other phenomenal acts of nature that I occasionally like to refresh my knowledge on.
You could search and find a million titles regarding all types of fly tying and tying techniques. The one I always go back to for reference is appropriately titled Fly Tier’s Benchside Reference by Ted Leeson and Jim Schollmeyer. A hefty book with 437 pages of varying posts, hackle, dubbing and other techniques, you may never exhaust it’s true potential. It may set you back a smooth C-note, but you will get every penny in return when you produce quality good looking flies that perform and outlast your previous attempts at awkward quill body wrapping. FISHBUGS by Thomas Ames Jr. combines magnificent photography and a touch of entomology to entwine a magical close-up look at the macroinvertebrates we seek for trout food. I have brought this book in to my college Macro-Invert professor and he continually uses it to show the stages of complete metamorphosis the giant stonefly goes through to reach adulthood. If you want to up your tying game or improve on your latin dialect, grab this beautiful coffee table book and see if you wife will let you keep it out, even if it is only at the cottage. NYMPHS- 1 & 2 by Ernest Schwiebert takes it to the next level. If you are looking for Ph.D in your Latin and want to know every family of mayfly or stonefly, this is your tome. Ernest was dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and passing it on. A true giant among men, he is one of the many men I wished I might have had the opportunity to meet but his passing in 2005 makes him one of our most treasured contributors to our past-time. He was an architect by trade and held two doctorates in Architectural design & principles from Princeton, but his true passion was found in the rivers around Chicago where he grew up. A few stories recollect fishing the Pere Marquette near Baldwin and this is where I feel a connection. In the same order of science and nature, TROUT and SALMON by Dr. Robert Behnke is a must read for those learning the species and elevations/locales of our quarry. Amazing detail and color illustrations by Joseph Tomelleri, this is my go to reference for all ichthyology related questions when you want to debate the difference between Oncorhynchus mykiss gilberti and Oncorhynchus mykiss newberri (not that this may ever impact my Great Lakes fishing).
Environmental issues have been plaguing us in the Great Lakes region ever since we opened up our doors to the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence Seaway. Muskegon Chronicle reporter Jeff Alexander wrote a great book on its development and history- PANDORA’S LOCKS. In it we find how we had nearly become the nations largest seagoing system, we could move large shipments of various commodities halfway across the United States by boat and save millions of dollars in trade. But at what cost? We are only beginning to find out the price tag on environmental issues and we don’t see the end in the near future. Invasive seagoing lampreys that quickly modified to our sweet water and mussels that could filter liters of water a day had a brand new neighborhood to call home. It was similar to a perfect storm, all the right pieces were in place, greed for growth and lack of ethical policy, a vast freshwater aquarium teeming with fish and life just waiting to be brought to near extinction. We had already wiped out Grayling and the Passenger Pigeon, Whitefish and Lake Trout were soon to be on that list.
Four Fish by Paul Greenberg recounts the trophic levels in the Ocean as we decimate each one, starting with the Salmon and alewives of the East Coast, everyone’s favorite table fare Chilean Sea-Bass, or should I say Patagonia Toothfish? Not a very palate pleasing nor menu selling moniker, so we edited a little. Then moving out deeper in the sea for great Cod depletion of the 1980’s, further out yet to find the last of the great Tuna fisherman and how we have built massive ships that can do everything from catching, cutting, deep-freezing and packaging our filet-o-fish before it even reaches shore. Read it if you dare, it is eye-opening, much like watching FOOD Inc. for the first time, we are slowly becoming aware consumers. How did we get this way? Well, first we had to go to war, a world war, not once, but twice. then we became a wealthy country, then we had educated young men with talents and not much to do with those talents after the war. So we built things. Great things. Huge superhighways, and massive dams large enough to drive several lanes of traffic over the tops of them. Some airplane pilots discovered they could fly up into the mountain lakes and drop rainbow trout into isolated and barren lakes in the Northern region of California. In An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How the Rainbow Trout Beguiled America by Anders Halverson, we see the development and the spreading of America’s most accepted fish hatchery trout- the rainbow trout. It was once indigenous to the McCloud River, and after early settlers risked their lives camping in hostile Native American territory to bring this fish to thier fishing ponds, it quickly became a sportfishing favorite and delectable campfire nourishment.
I believe everyone has read or at least seen the Robert Redford narrated version of Norman Maclean’s A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT, easily a classic, and if you haven’t, I do suggest you give it a read. I rather enjoyed THE RIVER WHY? by David James Duncan as much. Taking a journey to find oneself in the Pacific Northwest while chasing steelhead and figuring out
life’s bait versus fly technical query is every young fisherman’s fantasy, throwing in a mermaid who can cast and catch a fish is merely a bonus. For other light-hearted stories I have enjoyed the writing of David Ames. True Love and the Woolly Bugger and A Good Life Wasted are fun and frivolous accounts of the guide life put to prose in a way we all can relate to. Thomas McGuane, THE LONGEST SILENCE and 92 in the SHADE> wow< I saw that 92 in the shade was made into a movie in the 60’s, it would be remarkable to see it adapted to modern times and share that fishing story with the world. McGuane has a writing talent like few others, you immediately are sucked in, and like all good writers, you don’t want to stop. Pick one of these up, throw a log on the fire and see for yourself.
Two game changers that have played the biggest active role in my angling success and failures- I only say failure, because without skunked days, I cannot improve on what I could have done to be more effective in my fly angling pursuit (let’s be honest, it’s called ‘fishing’ and if everyday was a bang-up hilatious-catch-a-fish-on-every-cast kind of day, would we really keep coming back?- I sure would)- The TROUT and The FLY by John Goddard and Brian Clarke look at the world through a trout’s
eyes, like many others, but in this edition- the third, they have revisited earlier theories, line color, mono-versus flouro, feather and hook dimples, and they have rettracted and edited previous thoughts or shown significant differences. These are the invaluable resources for the angler to improve his odds on the animal that has a brain the size of a pea and a guesstimated memory of a mere 30 seconds. I have also been a big fan of the big take. Huckin’ meat some would say. Throwing wet tube socks is another great analogy. The pioneer of my day would have to be Kelly Galloup. When he teamed up with another Michigan angler, Bob Linsenman and co-wrote the modern code of MODERN STREAMERS for TROPHY TROUT, many anglers took notice. Yes, it can be tiring slapping that 7 or 8 wt all day and hitting wood, snagging, dislocating shoulders or rotator cuffs, but when a 22-24 inch swamp donkey comes crashing out of the LWD and absolutely crushes your Circus Peanut or eternal favorite Zoo Cougar- your adrenal quickly reduces your sunburnt/aching shoulder to a non-existent numbness and you yell —>”FISH ON!!!”