Best Fly Fishing Books, Our Top 12 Reviewed (2023)

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The snow and sleet is usually signal that it’s time to sit down at the vise and prepare boxes for the spring, patiently waiting for opening day and the trout that come with it.

Personally, I will still occasionally return to the waters that are permitted for winter fishing, but I too use the winter months to tie, reline my armory of rods, and reflect on the past season, while planning for the spring.

The Bug Book A Fly Fishers Guide to Trout Stream InsectsDuring the winter months, there’s nothing I enjoy more than diving into some books about the hobby that I love, and I have prepared a list of those books that I think you might like as well, with a short synopsis included.

In the article below we will take a look at

  • The best nonfiction fly fishing books
  • Our best fiction fly fishing books
  • Educational/instructional books
  • Fly fishing photography books

Let’s dive in!

Nonfiction Fly Fishing Books

The sport of fly fishing has entranced people for decades and this passion has produced many writers and artists in the process. These books are a collection of entertaining stories, philosophical observations, and witty anecdotes all presented in their own unique way.

1. The History of Fly Fishing in Fifty Flies

Ian Whitelaw’s masterpiece of a book is a must for anyone interested not only in classic flies but also in the history behind fly fishing.

Fly fishing has a history that spans 2,000 years, and Whitelaw uses fifty examples of flies to tell its story.

The History of Fly Fishing in Fifty States

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This book is perfect for anyone interested in fly fishing, from the newly initiated to the seasoned veteran.

The quality of this hardback makes it an aesthetically pleasing coffee table book, but it fits just as well on the nightstand and provides a great foundation of knowledge for those not in the know.

2. Lords of the Fly: Madness, Obsession and the Hunt for the World Record Tarpon

I reside in Pennsylvania, but have often dreamed of fishing saltwater, and chasing the species of fish that provide the backdrop of this book.

Lords of the Fly is a book that details the quest of some of the best fly anglers in the world chasing world-record tarpon on the fly.

Set in Homosassa Florida in the late 70’s and early 80’s, where a new tarpon record was set every year, this book is anything but a dry read.

Lords of the Fly Madness, Obsessions and the Hut for the World Record Tarpon

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The prowess and skill as well as the vices and shortcomings of some of the best fly fishermen in the world (Lefty Kreh, Stu Apte, Ted Williams, Tom Evans, Billy Pate, and more) are laid bare in this startlingly candid and personal book.

3. The Optimist: A Case for the Fly Fishing Life

Not every book on fly fishing needs to be a voluminous tome of dry scientific information.

While I appreciate reference guides and technical writing about leaders, knots, casting, and hatches, there is so much more to fly fishing than these things, than the mechanics and methods we use to try to bring a trout to the net.

The Optimist A Case For Fly Fishing Life

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The Optimist by David Coggins is a book that focuses on the meditative and deeply personal characteristics of fly fishing, and the philosophy of the sport itself.

Each chapter focuses on a specific type of fish and the necessary skill needed to capture it. From saltwater to high mountain streams, Coggins uses his wry and thoughtful prose to wax poetic on all things fish and fly, but also includes a refreshing amount of humor to keep the reader engaged and turning pages.

The Washington Free Beacon calls The Optimist “A pure and extended love letter to fishing…” and I can’t think of any better way to describe it myself.

4. A Fly Rod Of Your Own

As an aspiring writer and an aspiring fly fisherman, the name John Gierach was known to me before I ever began pecking at a laptop keyboard about the activity I love so much.

Gierach has written for Field & Stream and Gray’s Sporting Journal and I became acquainted with his writing after my father, in his infinite wisdom, procured me stacks upon stacks of outdoors magazines at various estate sales.

A Fly Rod Of Your Own

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Gierach is compared to a modern-day Mark Twain, and the comparison stands. He has a straightforward and wise delivery, making his work easy to read over and over again.

A Fly Rod of Your Own is a book about life and fly fishing, and it is full of the honest and thoughtful observations that have made Gierach into the legend that he is.

He covers everything about fly fishing and makes connections between the sport and the human condition seamlessly.

If you’re not familiar with Gierach and his twenty other books and numerous articles, this book serves as a great introduction to the man’s work and style.

5. A River Trilogy: A Fly-Fishing Life

A River Trilogy by W.D. Wetherell is made up of three different volumes of prose, namely Vermont River, One River More, and Upland Stream.

Each selection puts Wetherell’s unique and thoughtful writing style on display for the reader and while each could stand alone, the three work better together as a collection.

A River Trilogy A Fly Fishing Life

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Vermont River is a glowing, sincere piece detailing the fly fishing and natural beauty of Wetherell’s usual stomping grounds. Upland Stream is centered around the high mountain streams of New England with a lengthy foray into Scotland and the trout “across the pond.”

The final installment in this collected work is One River More and while fishing still provides the setting for this story, Wetherell uses it to make thought-provoking and profound observations about fly fishing and how it relates to life, family, and growing older.

There’s a lot of reading to be done inside of this trilogy, but it has been reviewed well, with Vermont River in particular being chosen by Trout magazine as one of the thirty best books on fly fishing.

Wetherell is no stranger to the written word and has published over twenty books. He has a mastery of the pen and fly rod, making this trilogy a must for those of us who can appreciate both a good book and a good fish story.

6. A Stream: American Writers On Fly Fishing

I love collections of short stories and anecdotes, specifically about fishing.

This collection features stories about fly fishing from over thirty acclaimed and classic writers, including:

Guy de la Valdène, Jim Harrison, Michael Keaton, Sydney Lea, Ted Leeson, Nick Lyons, Thomas McGuane, Joseph Monninger, Le Anne Schreiber, and many others.

A Stream American Writers on Fly Fishing

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Collected stories like the ones found here are easy to work through and require less of an investment of time than some of the longer books I have reviewed.

I think that this collection of stories is perfect for the nightstand or at the tying desk for a change of pace.

Fiction Fly Fishing Books

There aren’t too many fly fishing novels, as most are nonfiction or educational. However, we did find one book that deserves a read.

7. The River Why

David James Duncan has combined fly fishing with the modern novel, and since The River Why hit the shelves in 1983, it has been considered a madcap classic by fishermen and “civilians” alike.

Most of the books I have reviewed so far are based partially or entirely on real events and anecdotes from veteran fishermen.

The River Why

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This book fits fly fishing seamlessly into an energetic novel, and these pieces come together to make it an enjoyable read that’s hard to put down.

Within this fast-paced and comedic story is an honest and thoughtful description of fly fishing. Duncan is an avid fly fisherman himself and it shows in his firm, descriptive, and thorough grasp of the subject matter.

If you’re looking for something different than the other books I have reviewed here, The River Why would be what I recommend.

It should satisfy both the fly fisherman and those who have a soft spot for the American novel.

catching trout on fly icon

Educational Fly Fishing Books/Guides

It’s pretty easy to find instructional videos or articles on how to fly fish. But sometimes getting back to the basics with an instructional guidebook is the best route. Here we’ve reviewed a  few of the best instructional fly fishing books.

8. The Orvis Fly Fishing Guide

The Orvis name carries with it a long and storied history of passion and quality regarding fly fishing, and this book represents the company’s commitment to those values well.

This is a book that is relevant to both the amateur and the initiated, and it has a reserved spot of its own on my bookshelf.

The Orvis Fly Fishing Guide

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If you started your journey into fly fishing with YouTube as your only initial guide, you’re more than likely already familiar with Tom Rosenbauer, the author. His ‘Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing’ series on YouTube was and still is an invaluable resource to me, and this book is a fantastic companion to it.

This book is packed with information on a wide range of topics, including knots, casting, full-color fly patterns, and information on numerous gamefish, and how to find them. On the off-chance you are not familiar with Mr. Rosenbaum’s online work, The Orvis Fly Fishing Guide is a fantastic way to become acquainted with him.

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9. Tactical Fly Fishing: Lessons Learned From Competition For All Anglers

Devin Olsen’s laundry list of achievements and qualifications is long and indicative of a mastery of his craft, and that craft is fly fishing.

Mr. Olsen has been a member of Fly Fishing Team USA since 2006 and has individual bronze and team silver in the 35th FIPS Mouche World Fly Fishing Championships in Jajce, Bosnia in 2015.

Tactical Fly Fishing

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Olsen gives an in-depth and critical overview of the tactics he has used to win said competitions here, and the non-tournament angler will only benefit from examining his techniques and comparing them to their own.

If you are looking for a book that takes a hard look at the nuts and bolts of fly fishing, this is it.


Books On Entomology and How to “Match the Hatch”

We reviewed two great books that any trout fly angler should have on their bookshelf. For those who love biology or want to understand what flies represent the bugs trout are targeting, these are a must-read.

10. The Bug Book: A Fly Fisher’s Guide to Trout Stream Insects

This is a book that explains aquatic entomology in a way that even the novice fly fisherman can understand.

“Match the hatch” is a phrase that is recited like a mantra by many anglers, and this book provides the information needed to effectively put that phrase into action on the water.

The Bug Book A Fly Fishers Guide to Trout Stream Insects

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There is so much that goes on in the waters that we fish, and this book is a comprehensive guide to the life cycles and behaviors of those insects that make up the primary food source of the trout we pursue.

Paul Weamer has created an ideal reference guide to not only understand the “when, where, and why” of the hatches we see on the water, but also to be able to identify and differentiate these bugs themselves.

There’s a lot of information here, but Weamer effectively tempers the mystery and complexity of understanding aquatic insects with his straightforward and plain language.

This is the kind of reference guide that is a must at the vise as well, and there are numerous fly recipes side by side with full-color pictures of the bugs we are trying to imitate.

11. Handbook Of Hatches: Introductory Guide to the Food Trout Eat And Most Effective Flies To Match Them

If Paul Weamer’s The Bug Book (reviewed above) is the intermediate introduction to understanding the complexities of various hatches and insect life, this book would be the masterclass.

Handbook of Hatches is an invaluable reference guide to the insects that occupy the silt and crevices alongside trout.

Handbook of Hatches

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This book doesn’t just explain the appearance and behavior of aquatic insects, it also provides vital information about what flies to use when, and the nuances of presentation necessary to convince even the most reluctant trout out from under its hiding place.

Even though this book is organized more as a reference guide, it is still written in a way that allows anglers of all skill levels to benefit from reading it.

The entomology that goes hand-in-hand with fly fishing is often the most intimidating and puzzling part of the whole endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be.

David Hughes has done every fly fisherman a favor by writing this book, and I highly recommend it along with The Bug Book to provide you with a strong understanding of what goes on in freshwater.

Fly Fishing Photography Books

Everyone loves a good coffee table book, right? We found one photography book worth owning. The stunning photography will dazzle anglers and non-anglers alike.

12. Salt: Coastal and Flats Fishing Photography

I’ve never fished saltwater, but it fascinates me to no end. This book and specifically the photographs inside offer a glimpse of the powerful and awe-inspiring world of saltwater fly fishing.

The quality of the photographs in this book makes it more than worthy of a permanent place on your coffee table.

Salt Coastal and Flats Fishing

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Amazing action shots of fly fishermen pursuing bonefish, permit, and tarpon are all on display between the covers of this book, but it’s not just an art-house gallery of angling photographs–Tom Rosenbauer contributed to this book as well.

If you’re looking for something different for your library, or just want to take a look at saltwater action from your specific, landlocked area (like me…) check this book out.


Conclusion/Reeling it in

Whether you continue to pursue trout into the winter or not, there should be enough reading material reviewed here to get you to the Spring.

Fly fishing is a subject so immersive and personal that it is no wonder that it has been written about for years, by people from all walks of life, and all skill levels. It did not take me long to fall in love with the hobby, and reading about fly fishing from those writers who seemed to appreciate it only further cemented my devotion to it.

Many of these writers succeed at putting into print the very big, very abstract feelings that I feel when I’m on the water. I implore you to check out some of these books, for pleasure, knowledge, or a combination of both.

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Andrew was brought up fishing high mountain streams for eastern brook trout in central PA, but fell in love with all things fly fishing later in life. Now, his days are spent pursuing all of Pennsylvania's freshwater gamefish on the fly, while attempting to make the hobby more accessible and approachable to everyone.

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