We already curated our picks for the greatest fishing stories ever published and crowned the best fly fishing films ever made. Fly fishing media, however, isn’t all about well-honed phrases and cinematically curated clips. While fly anglers tend to be aesthetes, we also turn to media to help us improve our angling knowledge and skill.
We realize that a huge percentage of modern anglers probably seek knowledge about the sublime act of fooling a fish on a fly in the same place they turn for advice on clearing a clogged drain: YouTube, aka the media gutter—where everything eventually floats by if you watch the stream of refuse long enough. Maybe one day our standards will wear so thin that we’ll curate a list of the greatest fishing YouTube channels...Thankfully, today is NOT that day.
Before you assume we’re a bunch of snobs dumping on streaming videos and exalting snooty fishing words, look closely at the list itself. You won’t find Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler, and our top recommendation is a comic book.
Runoff is upon us, friends. Use your mud season wisely. Put down your phones and read well.
Curtis Creek Manifesto by Sheridan Anderson
Imagine learning to fly fish from an R. Crumb comic. That’s what this book is like. Less than 50 sparse pages of insight and entertainment. You can read sprawling tomes the drone on through chapter after tedious chapter without learning as much as you’ll get from the slim, clear, and hilarious CCM. If you only own one fly fishing how-to book, this should be that book. In fact, we recommend keeping at least two copies (three to be safe) on hand at any given time. If a friend, family member, or acquaintance expresses interest in fly fishing, give them one immediately. Anderson covers all the basic information an aspiring fly angler might need to catch trout on fly tackle, and they’ll actually read it.
Tying Nymphs, Tying Dry Flies by Randall Kaufmann
Technically, we’re giving two books a single slot on this list, but they deserve it. No single book (or pair of books) can possibly contain all the myriad fly patterns or materials in modern fly fishing. Even if they could, that book would outweigh the complete works of Shakespeare, and nobody wants to deal with that kind of volume. Tie your way through Kaufmann’s two books, however, and you’ll be sufficiently versed in common materials and techniques to tie just about any trout fly you can imagine (or find on the internet). With clear photography, digestible descriptions, and a logical progression of patterns that build throughout the book, Kaufmann’s “Tying” books remain required reading for neophyte and serious tyers. Pro tip: Get the spiralbound editions so they lay flat on your tying desk.
Fly Fishing in Salt Water by Lefty Kreh
Lefty authored more than 50 books about fishing in his long, fascinating life
. He was a paragon of our sport and one of the smartest, funniest, and most skilled people to ever hold a fly rod. Fly Fishing in Salt Water, however, remains iconic and impactful, partially because Lefty was one of the people who actually figured out how to bring fly fishing to oceanic environs. Lefty covers just about everything a coastal angler might need to know, from tackle and knots to casting and presentation, bonefish to sailfish. His straightforward style and knack for problem solving made him the anti-snob in fly fishing. His books don’t offer what he used to derisively describe as “pretty writing,” but they’ll teach you everything you need to know and more.
Caddisflies by Gary LaFontaine
Some might consider 336 pages about caddisflies overkill. We see their point but tend to disagree. Caddis are arguably the most important, diverse, and complex aquatic insect for trout anglers. They live and hatch in just about every trout river and stream in the world and make up a huge percentage of most trout diets. This isn’t just a how-to fishing book, it’s an obsessive genius’s masterclass in aquatic entomology and the relationship between trout and a fascinatingly diverse order of insect. LaFontaine spent ten years gathering the necessary research as well as designing and testing the fly patterns. Do you need to read this book cover to cover in order to catch trout on caddis? Of course you don’t. Will reading this book make you a more knowledgeable trout angler? Almost certainly.
Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout by Bob Linsenman and Kelly Galloup
Streamer fishing’s meteoric rise in popularity over the couple decades has altered the image, practice, and culture of fly fishing, and much of that popularity can be traced back to Kelly Galloup. Hucking meat isn’t dainty or delicate—it’s often heavy and aggressive—but going big doesn’t require giving up the thoughtful problem solving of fly angling. Modern Tactics teaches us that effective streamer fishing requires more than plopping chickens against the bank and ripping them back. Galloup and his co-author, Bob Linsenman, share years of detailed observation and study about the feeding habits of mature trout, all of which informed the specific techniques and patterns they developed. If you fish streamers, you should own a copy of this book, and probably the sequel
The Soft-Hackled Fly and Tiny Soft Hackles: A Trout Fisherman’s Guide by Sylvester Nemes
Hopefully you catch the irony of listing this book right after Modern Streamers. While Galloup pushed and shaped the speed, weight, and aggression of modern fly fishing, Sylvester Nemes revels and meditates at the opposite polarity: slow, light, and pensive. It’s an entire book (technically two books
combined into a single title) about soft-hackles—how to fish them and how to tie them. Most of us choose a fly fishing method as if we're ordering a meal off a tri-fold menu at a 24-hour diner: we can pick dry flies (breakfast), nymphs (lunch), or streamers (dinner). But there’s another option: soft-hackles (snacks!). When presented effectively, soft-hackles will catch a surprising number of trout during every stage of a hatch, and this book will teach you everything you need to know. Swinging a spider might not sound quite as cool as stripping a sex-dungeon, but it’s still a tight-line grab, and you’ll catch a lot more fish.
Steelhead Fly-Fishing by Trey Combs
Reading this book may stir the sludge of nostalgia and regret, perhaps jealousy for those too young to have experienced steelhead fishing before The Fall. Though written as a comprehensive guide to this iconic fish, it now reads a bit like a eulogy, or an unheeded warning, though maybe that’s a bit premature. Steelhead aren’t exactly thriving, but they also aren’t dead yet, at least not all of them. They are, however, one of the most electric and addictive fish one can catch on fly tackle, and Trey Combs’ authoritative book remains a brilliantly written, thoroughly researched, and meticulously edited masterwork. Combs balances deft prose with an unmatched depth of knowledge and covers everything from the impulses that motivate a steelhead to take a fly, to rigging and fishing methods, to specific rivers and seasons. Steelhead are core to American fly fishing, and Combs wrote the book on steelhead.
Little Red Book of Fly Fishing by Kirk Deeter and Charlie Meyers
We started this list with one catch-all how-to book, and we’re going to close it with another. The Little Red Book of Fly Fishing is more a loosely organized collection of helpful tips and useful anecdotes sanded smooth by the wit and humor of two solid writers than a start-to-finish fishing book. You can open to any page you like, pick a paragraph, and glean some nugget of insight. The Little Red Book assumes a basic level of knowledge and terminology, so it’s not directed at the totally uninitiated. Life-long, die-hard fly anglers might find it overly simplistic (though they will certainly get something out of reading it.) This is the perfect book for the place where most fly anglers find themselves: the limbo of intermediacy. Most anglers fall somewhere in between the poles of normal, non-fishing people, and professional guides. They fish, they love fishing, but they don’t live fishing, at least not yet. This book was written for all those anglers.