In the past few weeks, I’ve had at least three interactions regarding fly fishing books. Fly fishing books have been an important part of the sport for hundreds of years, taking different forms and meeting various needs. Even when so much information is available at the tap of a smart phone, tangible media is incredibly valuable. Whether it be a novel assisting in winter escapism or a tattered, dog-eared, highlighted river guide on the back seat, books are a part of the angler’s life.
But talking about fishing “literature” can be a bit of an exercise in going down the rabbit hole. There are some major genres, all with subgenres and the potential for some intermingling. Here is my informal Dewey Decimal-ization of fly fishing books:
- Guide (regional, site specific)
- Technical (methods, locations, fly tying)
- Literature (novels, biographies, history)
More often than not, a book can contain a little bit of each. Fly fishing is an activity tailor made for tacticians to wax poetical, and for tour guides to write with flowery prose. Some of the best books we have blur the lines of literary type. The anecdotes in guidebooks bring life to the maps and regulation lists. Inversely, a few tips and tricks in a person’s autobiographical work can help improve the reader’s time on the water.
Yet asking for a favorite book on fly fishing is a complicated question given the range of options it requires one to pick through. But people ask questions looking for answers, and it is important to oblige! I’ve given the topic some thought, and for this post I’ll offer up one of each… with a bonus book for fun. Undoubtedly, like my posts on podcasts, this is an exercise I will gladly revisit down the line.
This book and this author have received my recommendation before. Beasley has a very straightforward approach that is focused on getting you on fish in the best places possible. Covering North Carolina to New York, this book presents angling options that span mountain trout streams to saltwater flats. Endeavoring to take on such a diverse region with varied and sundry opportunities is daunting. But this book’s maps, anecdotes, and personal insight make it clear that Beasley put some hard work in. His gorgeous pictures reinforce that truth; as does the mileage he must have put on his car doing his research!
If you’ve fished central Pennsylvania, the Driftless region, or one of the few other limestone-influenced areas of this country then you’re perfectly aware of how different this type of angling can be. The fish, insects, vegetation, and even the water itself can be completely different than freestone streams only a few miles away. A specialized approach is required, and Mike Heck possesses the kind of expertise needed to inform beginners and veterans alike. A guide on Chambersburg’s Falling Springs, Heck’s numerous photos of gargantuan trout from this stream demonstrate this. He isn’t showing off, as everything from fly selection to leader construction to reading the water are explained clearly and vividly.
A local bookstore was closing down, and I might have been the first one to get back to the sports/outdoor section. What I was able to pick up at closeout prices was, at the time, all of Prosek’s works. I saved this little autobiography for last, but ended up liking it the best. It is the record a young man’s maturation in life and fly fishing significantly shaped by a mentor is a narrative so many of us can identify with. The stories are charming and fun; the lessons are present but not heavy-handed. A quick read, Joe and Me is a book that I’ve reread a handful of times. If all you know about Prosek is his artwork, this short little novel is a great place to start.
This book, subtitled “The Papers and Recollections of the Fly Fishers’ Club of Harrisburg, 1947-1997” is an essential addition to any east coast angler’s library. From terrestrial fishing to creek restoration, the topics covered in this collection reflect some of the first steps made in what we would consider common elements of fishing or conservation. Charles Fox’s contributions are many. There are also chapters from George Harvey, Joe Humphries, and Vincent Marinaro. Some of my favorite parts are Jim Chestney’s, stories of fishing on Big Spring. Limestone Legends is a book that combines history, technique, and the personal reflections of fish and fishing that makes it a quintessential piece of angling literature.