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A book list for Jes
This is a list of a few great books that are about fishing, but focuses on ambiance, adventure, philosophy, emotions, friendships - basically everything but catching that big one.
My good friend Jes, who emigrated from Denmark to Australia a decade or so ago, was visiting here in Denmark, and while we had coffee and chatted he was looking through my book shelves. He complained that so many books were technical books or what he called “trophy books” covering large fish and fantastic catches.
And he is right. So many books are about the methods, the gear, the catches, the trophies.
He wanted stories about the adventure, the camaraderie, the good times, the philosophy, the emotions and all the “softer” sides of fishing.
I own and have read a lot of books like that, and I promised him to create a list for him.
As I started compiling it, I thought: “Well, Jes is probably not the only one who wants such a list, so why not make it an article?”
And here it is, my book list for Jes, in no particular order.
And he is right.
So many books are about the methods, the gear, the catches, the trophies.
Trout Diaries, Derek Grzelewski
Polish born Grzelewski's “Trout Diaries” and “Trout Bohemia” are some of those books that seem to be good fishing books from a seasoned outdoors writer. Grzelewski's photos in the books promise nice fishing scenes from New Zealand, and the books deliver. But as a pleasant and welcome surprise Grzelewski also tells about his emotions, friendship and solitude, relations and much else that has to do with fishing, but actually has more to do with life in general.
Sure there are stories about fish, about selecting the right fly, about getting to the rarely fished water, but as in real life there's much more.
You can read an excerpt from “Trout Bohemia” here.
Fly-fishing the 41st, James Prosek
Prosek is best known for his paintings, but should certainly be equally praised for his writing skills, which come to its best in this novel.
This is simply a fantastic and captivating story about the author's journey around the world in pursuit of trout species to paint. This may sound as a slightly bland starting point for a story, but Prosek's mission brings him through Europe and Asia and in contact with all sorts of interesting people, not least the German Johannes who joins him on parts of his adventure, forming a team of what becomes ISOS – International Society of Schwartzfischers... poachers essentially - shunning almost no means to catch the fish that Prosek seeks, and not only with fishing rods.
The book is very well written, poetic and mellow in tone, yet entertaining and witty with accounts of some crazy fishing for indigenous trout species from the regions that Prosek passes through. It touches on friendship, relationships, love, foreign culture and much, much more.
And you won't miss Prosek's paintings if you know them and fear that you will, because the book is illustrated with his beautiful watercolors.
The book is widely available both new and used at very reasonable prices.
I reviewed the book here.
Fishing Season, Philip Weigall
This book is fishing stories, admitted. Simple as that: stories about preparations, fly tying, fishing and being out there. But these are very engaging and well written stories, presented in a really nice language and packed in a beautiful design.
Not as much philosophy or humor as found in some of the other titles here, but certainly worth reading anyway.
I reviewed the book here.
Trout Bum, John Gierarch
Gierarch is the grand old man in the genre “based on a true story”. He tells about his fishing trips and experiences with good fishing friends. His books are essentially a collection of short stories, often with a time line, but presented as independent stories that can be read separately. Trout Bum was the first in a long series of books, which are almost equally good: “Even Brook Trout Get the Blues”, “The View from Rat Lake”, “Where the Trout Are All as Long as Your Leg”, “Sex, Death, and Fly-Fishing”, “Still Life with Brook Trout”, “Standing in a River Waving a Stick”, “Dances with Trout” and several more.
Gierarch's style is laid back, easy flowing and witty. Lots of anecdotes, lots of little details, lots of things that almost any angler can relate to, all tied together in an almost endless array of essays over the course of a dozen books.
If you want to smile, have a great time, read a short fishing related story whenever you have 10-15 minutes off, then acquire a handful of Gierarch books and you are set. Many of them have been out for many years and can be picked up for almost nothing both used and new.
Real Ponies Don't Go Oink, Patrick McManus
If John Gierarch brings a smile on your face, McManus will make you chuckle and even laugh out loud in sputtering bursts. His writing is not just witty, but downright hilarious. His short stories are not on fly fishing only and not even on fishing only, but on his life as a boy and an adult, growing up and living with fishing and hunting, but also going to school, camping and just living a life somewhere in rural America.
Like Gierarch, McManus has also been very productive, and his essay collections with titles such as “They Shoot Canoes, Don't They?”, “A Fine and Pleasant Misery”, “Rubber Legs and White Tail-Hairs” and “The Bear in the Attic” are wall to wall outdoors humor, which will appeal to most anglers, hunters and other outdoors people, and can be read by almost anybody with joy.
McManus has built a fantastic universe, populated with the most riotous characters, probably partly or even fully based on real people. The situations he puts them in forms the foundations for entertaining convolutions and wonderfully meandering stories.
MacManus' books are all out as paperbacks, and can be picked up for very little money. Again we're talking books that are perfect for the bed table, the commute or the waiting room, offering a handful of small doses of great reads. But be prepared for some side glances when you try to suppress your outbursts of laughter!
Chalk Stream Chronicle, Neil Patterson
British Neil Patterson tells a story as British as they come about the life on British chalk streams. It's the amazing yet every day story of his life and fishing seasons in one of England’s most famous and fantastic areas, which even though fairly small in square miles has been huge in influence and probably has a very distinct place in the minds of most fly anglers.
The book is what the British would probably refer to as a lovely book. Not in the sense beautiful or handsome, but more like lovely in its concept, its tone, and its storytelling. The book is full of Patterson's small pen drawings, giving the reader small visual diversions in the stories about beats, manors, flies, wildlife, people... and of course fish.
Dry River, Paul Hogan
Dry river is a book about discovering, solitude, nature, relationships, people... and of course fishing.
As author Paul Hogan writes on his blog: “It is largely about fishing but is not a “hard ass” fishing book. Don't be put off if you are not a fisherman!”
And don't be put off if you are one! The book is a great read, taking the outset in Spain where Hogan lives, but also bringing us to other places.
Each chapter in the book is adorned with a stunningly beautiful painting of the fish that plays the main character in that specific chapter. And I really mean stunning. They are done by the author, and adds greatly to the pleasure of reading the book.
Small Fry, ron P swegman
This is a great little book about humble fishing. Humble in the sense that there's absolutely no strive for trophies or adventure unless you can call a local bike ride and the pursuit of panfish an adventure – which is actually what Swegman does. He manages to present his everyday fishing for local species in neighborhood waters as the great fly fishing it can be, but also takes us fishing in the mountains and on small rural streams and ponds.
In spite of the practical advice on gear and flies, the book still has an almost philosophical approach to its subjects and is a a very nice stray away from the usual trophy hunting found in many fishing books.
The book can be found online in several bookstores, but can actually be read in its entirety here on GFF.
I also reviewed it here.
A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean
No list as this one would be complete without this classic. It needs almost no introduction, but most people know it through Robert Redford's excellent movie. While the film is quite loyal to to book and basically follows its story line, the book still has more depth and more intensity in my opinion.
The novel was originally a part of the 1976 book “A River Runs Through It and Other Stories”, but can also be bought in a separate volume containing only this single story.
The old man and the sea, Ernest Hemingway
It might not be fly fishing and it's definitely about catching big fish, but Hemingway's all time classic from 1951 is still so much worth a read for anglers as well as other readers.
The story is compelling, the way it develops is simply spellbinding and the writing is Hemingway at his best. This was his last major work and won Hemingway a fiction Pulitzer price as well as contributed to earning him a Nobel Price in literature.
It's a fairly short and quickly read story, which many will read in one sitting, and it can be found in many incarnations as a paperback for close to nothing.
If you get through this list, here's a few more to look into:
Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis by Howard Raines, a biography about the hectic life of an editor of the New York Times, a man who fished with many great anglers, but also had a troublesome family life.
Frog Call by Greg French, adventure and fishing, but also a perspective of the bigger themes of life.
The Next Valley Over by Charles Gaines, traveling the world, fishing, bonding and thinking about life, family and many other things.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday, a wonderful, crazy, witty and romantic story about a fisheries scientist who gets the assignment of creating a salmon river in the middle east. Slightly odd in writing style, but definitely worth the time.
Many, many more...
And the list goes on. There are many great angling books that don't just focus on getting the biggest fish, and I'm sure a lot of people might not agree with me or may have other fishing-but-not-just-big-fish books that they love and feel should be on the list. Let me know, add a comment, let your favorite book titles be known.