We considered putting together a list of the best, but that started too many arguments. Instead, we offer a collection of our 10 favorite writers who always manage to translate the fly fishing experience into words that we really enjoy. The next time you’re stuck inside waiting for the weather to break, break out one of these authors. For easy reference and an end to friendly disagreements, we’ve alphabetized our list.
1. James Babb
Editor emeritus is a pretty impressive title, and Babb earns it with unmatched wit and style at Gray’s Sporting Journal. While we admire his well-earned literary credentials, he could be a lonely guy writing from the bed of his truck and still make this list with his book, “River Music.” He’s that good. When our copy of Gray’s hits the mailbox, we hit Babb’s fishing essay first.
2. Kirk Deeter
If you ever thought that you missed your calling as a fly fishing guide, read Deeter’s essays on what the professional’s life is really like. If you want to know everything about every type of fly, knot and line, snag one of his reference books. Deeter knows his stuff, and he generously shares it all with his blog over at Field and Stream. We admit it. We also enjoy the great photography.
3. John Gierach
Anybody who writes a book titled “Sex, Death and Fly Fishing” earns a place on this list. We won’t give away the first essay in this highly entertaining volume, but it involves mayflies. Gierach does more than put a knowing smile on your face. The original trout bum’s advice, strategies and river wisdom make any one of his 33 books a must-have for your fly fishing library.
4. Ted Leeson
We have a real winner here. Leeson snagged the IFFF’s Roderick Haig-Brown Award for outstanding fly fishing lit back in 1996, but you probably know him better from Field and Stream. If our sport had a philosophy professor, it would be Leeson, and his volume, “The Habit of Rivers,” would be the only class assignment anyone would ever need. His writing captures and celebrates the spirit that makes us all love fishing.
5. Nick Lyons
No fly fishing book collection is complete without several well-worn classics including a copy of “Spring Creek.” Lyons is a prolific writer and independent publisher, and we’re still turning his pages after more than 30 years. His ability to string together wisdom and humor makes us all proud of our collective fly fishing obsessions. We salute both his talent and longevity.
6. Thomas McGuane
Settle in, and travel from Florida to Russia and Montana to Iceland. You’ve probably never imagined fly fishing in the Andes, but McGuane puts you there as he paints pictures with words that capture the essence of some of the world’s most beautiful rivers and lakes. His essays are timeless, he’s been writing for more than 30 years, and he’s very funny.
7. Howell Raines
A Pulitzer Prize for journalism isn’t necessary to make our list of favorites here, but Raines has one, and he earned it with remarkable literary style. He’s an unusual addition to the trout bum club because he didn’t come over to the wet side until he was well into his mid-40s. That experience spawned “Fly Fishing Through a Midlife Crisis,” and that’s all you need to know.
8. Bruce Richards
If the IFFF includes your stuff in their Master Casting Study Guide, you make our list. Richards’ articles from Fly Fish America are available online with must-know info covering everything from rod tip path and line pick-up to wind knots. It helps that he really knows what he’s talking about. Richards only recently retired from line development over at Scientific Anglers.
9. Anthony J. Route
Yes, Route is a fellow native up here in the Last Frontier. Yes, you must read his book, “Fly Fishing Alaska.” However, he’s on our list of favorites because he’s an aquatic entomologist with a direct, how-to style of writing that makes him every fly fisherman’s best friend. When you’re headed up here in our direction, be sure to check out his book, “The Kenai River Journal.”
10. Robert Traver
He was the author and lawyer who gave us “Anatomy of a Murder,” but his best work just couldn’t be made into movies. Try any one of his 21 fly fishing tales in “Trout Madness,” and you’ll agree that no other writer could weave fact and fiction together around a trout season with such entertaining results. You don’t read the late Mr. Traver to learn the sport. You read his fly fishing stories for pure pleasure.
Whether you scan them on a tablet or slowly flip through one of their dog-eared books, these writers capture fly fishing with a language that we all understand. If we left out some of your picks, please accept our apologies, and let us know. Better yet, bring a copy of your favorite when you come stay with us here at No See Um. We’ll save you a chair by the Main Lodge fireplace.