Not long ago an acquaintance said she was interested in fly fishing. Could I suggest some fly fishing books, she asked. No sooner had I affirmatively nodded when I began stammering to find the right answer.
It happens that fly anglers buy books disproportionately to their numbers in the sportfishing world. Which is to say that fly angling is a small part of the big game, yet the number of books about fly fishing far outnumber those for other types of angling. My unscientific observation is that book publishers therefore produce more tomes on various aspects of fly fishing than all other fishing titles because they sell more copies of the former. I’ve visited many Barnes & Noble stores whose fishing section was heavily weighted to fly fishing books.
There are books about fly fishing as a sport and books about how to fly fish, the former being armchair-read stuff and the latter being more technical guides to the mechanics, equipment, and methods involved in fly fishing, as well as fly fishing basics.
You can do a search for “best fly fishing books” and find many authorities who think that means good reads that focus on why people fly fish and the enjoyment they get out of it as well as being in beautiful places where fly fishing is practiced, disproportionately trout streams.
If you want to be infused with the romance, passion, mystique, and je ne se quoi of this sport, then you should read the acclaimed novels by David James Duncan and Norman Maclean, as well as the highly literate experiential works by Tom McGuane, John Gierach, and Robert Traver.
On the guidebook side, my own noncomprehensive bookshelf features titles devoted to inshore fly fishing, stillwater fly fishing, fly fishing techniques, species-specific fly fishing topics, individual genres of insect-imitating flies, and so forth. There are also many manuals on general fly-tying techniques as well as tying and fishing specific types of flies.
You can best learn about knots and casting technique from videos, but to get into tactics, fly choices, presentations, and the like, take stock of your interests – if you want to tie, what type of water you’ll fish, what species, etc. – and look for one book on each of these aspects. There are a number of good fly fishing books for beginners, non better than those produced by Tom Rosenbauer for Orvis. Older practical guides by A. J. McClane, Joe Brooks, Ernest Schwiebert, and Mark Sosin are still important today.
One caveat, especially if you’re buying a book online: make sure that whatever you purchase is devoted to North American fishing, as there are numerous fly fishing books (especially color large-format) devoted to primarily British topics, and which do not adequately cover our species, waters, and equipment.