Fishing stories are as old as the rivers that hold ’em. We’ve collected some of our favorite fishing books to fill the time when you’re away from the water.
It’s fishing season, but we can’t fish all the time. And my favorite summer pastime just might be hanging out in my hammock with domestic brew and a good book after a long day of fun on the water. And if there’s anything to stoke the fire for more fun on the water, it’s a quality fishing story.
Here are my picks for your shelves, fishing pack, or Kindle. And if you don’t have a Kindle, uh, get one. Most of these books are available in a lightweight and packable e-format.
‘The River Why‘ by David James Duncan
After 35 years in print, David James Duncan’s “The River Why” still finds its way into the hands of new anglers. Why? It’s a novel that combines the spiritual nature of fishing with the intricacies of family, growing up, and redemption over time. And it’s a book that even an outsider can love. I read this book before fly fishing was a part of my life and loved it anyway. And that’s a stamp of universal approval.
‘52 Rivers: A Woman’s Fly Fishing Journey‘ by Shelley Walchak
In 2013, a librarian named Shelley Walchak set out in her newly outfitted camper to fish a new river every week for a year. First of all, that’s the greatest idea of all time. And secondly, she graced us with a piece of writing on each of these rivers. Not only is this book an adventure, but it’s also a documentation of place. For any angler looking to experience new waters or build the courage for a big adventure, Walchak’s journey is sure to inspire.
‘A River Runs Through It and Other Stories‘ by Norman Maclean
Listen. I’m including this book because the majority of anglers I know have only seen the movie. Now, if we’re talking about comparison, the story itself is a 40-page novella. Not sure how they made that into a 19-hour movie (just kidding, but man it drags), but Robert Redford can literally do whatever he wants.
Anyway, Maclean’s short and sweet version is debaucherous, beautifully written, and perfect for a midday break on the river. Of course, much focus is placed on the first novella of three within the book, but the two other stories are treasures of time and place meeting our human connection to the natural world. Don’t count them out. And pick up this dang book; it’s a worthy and easy read.
‘Joan Wulff’s New Fly-Casting Techniques‘ by Joan Wulff
One of the most legendary fly casters of all time, Joan Wulff expands on her techniques in this fly fishing classic. Certainly, things change over time. But Wulff’s legacy reigns strong in this technical book. Over 200 pages of in-depth discussion, drawings, and minutia help even the most nascent angler put some class in their cast. And although the techniques are difficult to master, the language is simple and stripped down for accessibility. Wulff’s classic book holds up in contemporary times. If you’re looking to get better with your rod and reel, this should be your first stop on the way.
‘The Longest Silence‘ by Thomas McGuane
The great Jim Harrison regarded McGuane as the best fishing writer “in the history of mankind” — no small feat, coming from the prolific writer himself. And McGuane is quite prolific on his own. He’s the author of my favorite hunting essay of all time, a novelist, a screenwriter, and a memoirist who captures his world with language so precisely that his books are teachers in their own right.
“The Longest Silence” is no exception. Fully focused on fishing, McGuane tells short stories of fishing for salmon, tarpon, trout, bonefish, and more. There are 40 stories that are all fish all the time. And if you want to hear him talk about his amazing life, outdoorsman and writer Hal Herring interviewed the legend as part of the BHA Podcast & Blast.
If you need a veritable collection of some of the top fishing writers of our time, 31 of them make up the bulk of this book. Personally, I love collections like this one because they often led me to writers I’d never have read otherwise. Pam Houston’s “In the Company of Men” might lead you to her fabulous collection “A Rough Guide to the Heart.” Guy de la Valdene’s “Remembering Woody” might lead you to his memoir “On the Water.” And so on and so forth. Discovering new voices all in one place is a gift. And “Astream” delivers.
‘Light Years: A Memoir‘ by Le Anne Schreiber
I pull teeth to find great writers of all genders in the outdoors, and Le Anne Shreiber’s story of city life turned rural — combined with the loss of her mother, father, and brother — makes for a powerful and intimate read. Fly fishing weaves through the essays herein, as Shreiber takes on a corporation dumping sludge into her father’s favorite trout stream. Beautiful and sparse, her work deserves a spot on the shelf and within that group of sacred books that us humans turn to soothe us in troubling times.
Hemingway has made his way onto the weathered dashes of pickups belonging to trout bums for decades. But it’s this small and powerful book that really carves out the plight of the fisherman. And particularly the old fisherman that makes up the main character of this book. For further Hemingway fishy writing, you can find both parts of his legendary short story “Big Two Hearted River” online, thanks to the University of Virginia.
Whereas Joan Wulff taught us the beauty of the cast, Lefty Kreh teaches us how to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right fly. This is a large format book that shows rather than tells, making it a great tool for the visual learner. It’s applicable to both the freshwater and saltwater angler. And at 361 pages, it’s a serious tome of knowledge meant to be consumed. Kreh was a master of his craft, and this book allows us to be his collective heir apparent. I’ll take it.
‘The Art of Angling: Poems about Fishing‘ by Henry Hughes
This little anthology plays to the more poetic nature of fishing. And its pocket-size binding makes for a perfect book to stash in your rig or by your bed. With 250 pages of poetry, this book allows something for every kind of angler, and the wide array of authors — from Margaret Atwood to Yeats to Izaak Walton to Homer — is impressive and curious. What do some of the most renowned poets of all time have to say about fishing? Quite a lot, it turns out.
‘History of Fly Fishing in Fifty Flies‘ by Ian Whitelaw
We’ve covered fiction, memoirs, technique, poetry, and essays. All that’s left on the list is history. And here it is, in one beautiful book. Ian Whitelaw goes back over 2,000 years of flies hitting the water, and he sums it up in 50 flies. The book weaves its way through the early flies of Scottish and English ancestry, to fly fishing’s eventual multicontinental takeover. The focus is on fly tying, but the flies tell their own stories. And Whitelaw’s detailed and generous descriptions also include a bit of how-to on building out your own historic fly collection. This book would make a great gift and angler’s companion. Plus, it’ll look gorgeous on the coffee table.