For the days you’re not out taking on the river monsters, there’s nothing better than curling up with a good book, some delicious tea and a warm quilt. The simple pleasures in life are truly the best! But we understand that all fly fisherman love to talk tips if you just want tips then check out our best articles here.
If you’re a fly fisherman, any spy novel, any romance novel or any biography will have to work overtime to compare to the sheer thrill of the chase that you know so well. So, to give you a little extra happiness on those most dreary of non-fly-fishing days, we’ve rounded up the best fly fishing books known to man.
These are the classics, the manuals, the legends that every serious fly fisher should have on their bookshelf. We’ve picked one for every category, because fly fishing literature is a treasure trove of diverse wisdom, from the technical to the historical and the humorous.
Here are our favourite fly fishing books of all time:
Best Fly Fishing Book for Beginners
Fly Fishing For Beginners (The Freshwater Angler) by Chris Hansen
Chris Hansen is a bona fide master of the art of fly fishing and currently still writes a blog on the subject. He even does guided tours, so if you’d like to learn straight from the legend, he might be available!
The book is a sterling example of mastery in action. Chris knows the craft of freshwater fly fishing incredibly well, and the book covers every angle from finding the right gear, practising casting, reading the water and even cleaning your gear after an outing. The photos and illustrations add to the clarity of the book and are additionally helpful to people that are just starting on their fly fishing journey.
The tone of the book is friendly and accessible, you feel like Chris is right next to you, explaining the nitty-gritty of fly fishing over a coffee, anticipating your questions and giving detailed explanations. The book was published in 2003, so the equipment suggestions might be a bit dated, but the generation Z fish haven’t changed that much, so the fly fishing advice is still just as solid!
Best Classic Fly Fisherman Book
A River Runs Through It – Norman Maclean
“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing”. This sentence marks the beginning of a book that can not be described in any other way than – an American classic.
The book chronicles Norman Maclean’s childhood experiences and is a beautifully written account of a time and place that are now lost in the echoes of days past. The stunning depictions of nature, Montana’s Big Blackfoot River, and a family’s endless passion for fly fishing have been etched not only in literature but even on the silver screen in Robert Redford’s 1992 classic by the same name, starring Tom Skerrit and Brad Pitt.
The last sentence, “I am haunted by waters”, is something I think we can all relate to, for our love of the echoing call of nature and the thrill of the chase.
Best Book about Fly Fishing Technique
Simple Fly Fishing (Revised Second Edition) by Yvon Chouinard
Yvon Chouinard is the founder of Patagonia, one of the worlds most committed environmentalists and, not so secretly, a world-class fly fisher. Chouinard is the real deal. Famous for his rock climbing prowess and his billion dollar equipment empire, his skill in fly fishing is a lesser known, but not less developed quality of the naturalist. He was chosen by (the now defunct but not forgotten) FlyRod and Reel magazine as Angler of the Year in 2009.
This book is the revised second edition of the now famous “Simple Fly Fishing: Techniques for Tenkara and Rod and Reel”, which was released to huge acclaim for its no-nonsense approach to technique, and comprehensive coverage of both western style and Tenkara fly fishing techniques. It’s a great resource for the fly fisherman who wants to get back to basics, to what works, and not get lost in the endless shopping lists that other books prescribe. Chouinard loves nature, he loves catching fish and he loves simplicity and it comes across incredibly well in this revised masterpiece.
Best Book about Fly Tying
Fly-Tying for Beginners: How to Tie 50 Failsafe Flies by Peter Gathercole
Peter Gathercole has become synonymous with the art of fly tying.
He’s written ALL the books on the subject, including the relatively harder to find The Handbook of Fly Tying, and is the main resource for anyone trying to master the art of fly tying.
His Fly-Tying for Beginners book amply illustrated and full of rich explanations, is a zero to hero guide on how to tie your own flies like the master, without having ever done it before. Gathercole manages to convey his technique and his legacy in easy steps and this way paves the way to a whole new generation of master craftsmen in fly-tying.
Gathercole’s photography background shines through in the stunning macro shots in which he captures the details of every fly. The book presents 50 basic flies, but once you’ve learned the ground rules, it’s easy to get creative and experiment with more nuances designs.
Best Humour Book
Fish, Fishing and the Meaning of Life – Jeremy Paxman
This one is an anthology, curated by the fishing enthusiast and journalist Jeremy Paxman.
With chapter titles like ‘Ones That Got Away’, ‘Ones That Didn’t Get Away’ and ‘Fish That Bit Back’, the book spans over 300 articles from more than 250 books written in the last 2000 years.
Why is this the best humour book? Because it’s got all the tall tales, all the clever mischief and all the splendid stories that fishermen have accumulated over the last two millennia. And as anyone who’s ever been on a guided fishing tour knows, there is nothing funnier than the stories of old sea dogs (and old freshwater dogs, for that matter!).
Best Book about Fly Fishing for Trout
Fly Fishing for Trout: The Next Level – Tom Rosenbauer
Another fly fishing legend, Tom Rosenbauer has gotten about as far in fly fishing as humanly possible. He’s been the marketing director at Orvis Rod & Tackle for 30 years, has written 10 books, was FlyRod and Reel’s Angler of the year in 2011, has taught countless people how to fly fish and even hosts a podcast on the subject.
Rosenbauer’s book is an insightful journey into the mind of the trout. He’ll guide you in understanding how this fish thinks, his likes and dislikes and how he interacts with his environment. The more you know about the trout, the easier he’ll be to catch.
The book is written in a casual, friendly style which never betrays the true mastery of the man writing it. It’s incredibly well illustrated, and an amazing companion to his videos.
Best Fly Fishing Cult Classic
The History of Fly Fishing in Fifty Flies – Ian Whitelaw
A great concept and set-up for a history of fly fishing. Whitelaw looks at fifty flies and their historical origins and builds the whole story of fly fishing on the back of that.
It’s slightly tilted toward the English speaking world, missing some key European flies like CDC or F flies, but comprehensive enough to present most of the history of fly fishing on the back of the ones presented.
The lovely illustrations and the sheer beauty of the book make it an excellent gift for any fly fishing enthusiast in your life.
Best Book for the American Fly Fisherman
This book is like Walden, but instead of a dreamy, philosophical Thoreau, we have highly practical Sautner, a hero who loves fly fishing, nature and his community. A man that’s more relatable to most of us, I would say.
In beautiful prose and playful narrative, the book really manages to “get” why we fish. The stillness of nature, the joy of the pursuit, the deep satisfaction of learning the craft.
An amazing book that’s not only about a place, a cabin in the woods in the Catskills, but about the people there, the stunning rivers, tricky fish and about preserving the nature we all love to enjoy.
Best Fly Fishing Travel Book
This is a book for dreaming. It’s perfect to have on your coffee table for inspiration and to sneakily have your significant other browse it. The images are so stunning that you don’t even need to be a fly fisher to yearn to visit these breathtaking locations.
This book makes travelling to the best rivers in the world an easy sell.
The title might be a bit macabre, but sometimes we have to look our mortality straight in the eye, check the bucket list, and just go for the experiences we really want to have before the clock runs out.
Fifty Places to Fly Fish Before You Die makes a lovely present as well, as it’s beautifully designed and marvellously illustrated. Just don’t give it to your grandparents if they are very old, they might take it the wrong way.
Best Fly Fishing Novel
The Longest Silence: A Life In Fishing by Thomas McGuane
This book has been described as the next best thing to actually fishing. Not a bad review.
McGuane is a novelist first, an angler second. Not because he’s not committed to fly fishing, but because he’s just so good at writing. The Longest Silence is a modern classic, full of wit, dazzling stories and a lot of reflection on the pleasures of fishing and a true pleasure to read.
Because there’s no list of books on fishing that skips Hemingway, we’re not going to start now.
For his collected anecdotes and thoughts on fishing, read Hemingway on Fishing.
Fly fishing is a bug that you can catch out on the water, out in the depth of nature, battling it out with the elements. Or, you can catch it in the comfort of your own home, browsing the countless stellar books that have been written on the subject.
The books we’ve listed here include some of the best resources to learn the craft, but also some of the most beautiful literature to help you understand what fly fishing is all about, why it’s our passion and why we do it.