Published Jul 12. 2017 - 5 years ago
Updated or edited Jan 23. 2021

Great beginner's books

This article covers a handful of books that I would recommend to the new fly-angler and fly-tyer - the angler who is dipping his or her toes in the fly-fishing pond for the first time

A handful of books
A handful of books
Martin Joergensen

The fly-fishing and fly-tying market might not be the biggest one when it comes to books. It's probably considered more like a niche or specialty market by most publishers and book stores.
But if you're a budding flyfisher who wants to have something to read before you start fishing or simply want a bit of support on your journey, the selection can be quite overwhelming. A trip to your local book-selling fly shop, to Barnes&Noble or online to Coch-y-Bondhu or Amazon can be dizzying, and the number of titles will not leave you with the impression that you are in an exotic niche market.

There's a lot of books on the subject!
So what do you buy?

Well, this list might help you

a little in that respect. It's of course hard to recommend books that will serve all needs, because fly-fishing varies dramatically depending on your location or your quarry. The needs of a small streams fisherman in Pensylvania are vastly different from those of a Norwegian salmon angler or the person embarking on some tropical saltwater fishing for the first time.
In stead of trying to satisfy the needs of each of all kinds of fly-anglers, which is impossible anyway, I have selected some books that will give you some generally applicable knowledge about fly-fishing. They will introduce you to many styles and genres of fishing and fly tying and educate you a bit in fly-fishing and fly-tying culture... and not least, entertain you!
From there on you will be much better able to make your own decisions when standing in front of a stuffed bookshelf or sitting at the computer screen with the cursor hovering over that alluring Buy Now button.

These are books that I have

in my bookshelf. There are of course many more and many that I haven't included, but this is what I have read and what I can recommend.
As you will notice, most of them are older titles, which are not selected because I'm an old geezer (which I am), but because many of these classic titles still reign. One really great advantage of their age is price, and if you spend 20-30 US$ plus some postage you can quickly gather a really good basic fly-fishing library. Many of the books are still available from new, but you will have to buy some of them used since they are out of print and out of stock in most book and fly shops.
In the list I have tried to indicate the potential used prices, based on a quick search done during the time I researched for this article in 2016 and 2017.
I have linked to our reviews of the book if we have one.

You will also notice

that I haven't included any casting books. There are quite a few out there, but I honestly think that basic casting can't really be learned from a book. Grab a rod and a line and go to the nearest large lawn or to the water and start casting! Get lessons from someone who can cast - and practice. That's better than reading about it. Same thing can partly be said about fly tying, but books can introduce you to some techniques and will not least list patterns you can tie and fish.

Fishing, trout mainly

These books are all focused on trout fishing in streams, and might seem irrelevant to salmon or saltwater anglers, but they still hold a lot of knowledge about general fishing and can be read by any fly-angler-to-be.

Trout fishing
Trout fishing
Martin Joergensen
The Sotheby's guide to fly-fishing for trout
The Game-fisher's Book of Quarry, Tackle and Techniques

Charles Jardine (Dorling Kindersley, 1991)
This is a really appetizing and richly illustrated, large book on trout fishing. Jardine covers literally everything related to trout fishing – gear, casting, fishing, fly-tying and much more. Beautifully laid out and with a ton of photos and drawings.
This book is available used for as little as a couple of dollars, but don't be fooled by neither price nor age. It's a great and inspiring book for the beginner.
Available from less than 2 US$ (Cover price 25 UK£)

Catch That Fish

Peter Gathercole (David & Charles, 1999)
Gathercole has published several fly tying and fly fishing books, and this is a fun and different book that forms a really basic introduction to fly fishing. It covers many species including trout, salmon, grayling and other freshwater fish, but not fishing the salt.
Pages cut into two parts allows you to see fishing methods and tips in the top section at the same times as the flies covered in the bottom part of the page.
Available from less than 1 US$ (Cover price 17 UK£)
Here's our review.

Curtis Creek Manifesto
A Fully Illustrated Guide to the Strategy, Finesse, Tactics, and Paraphernalia of Fly Fishing

Sheridan Anderson (Frank Amato Publications, 1978)
This is a true classic and a very different fly fishing book made in the form of a cartoon, which shouldn't be missing in any fly angler's library. It's both very entertaining and educating, but first and foremost just fun to read. The subtitle “A Fully Illustrated Guide to the Strategy, Finesse, Tactics, and Paraphernalia of Fly Fishing”, does not promise too much.
Available from less than 2 US$ (Cover price 8 US$)
Our review rated it Extra Super Duper Global Class

Fishing, saltwater

Fishing in the salt is very different from traditional trout fishing, and saltwater fishing is done very differently depending on your target and location. These books give you an intro to the most widespread kinds of saltwater fishing: coastal fishing as it's done in Europe, tropical fishing and US coastal fishing.

Martin Joergensen
Saltwater Flyfishing
Britain & Northern Europe

Paul Morgan and friends, Coch-y-Bonddu Books, 1998
As the subtitle says, this is about European saltwater fishing - not the northern US style or tropical. It covers a large variety of fly fishing for saltwater fish, and has been written by a number of authors - a couple of chapters by yours truly too. The species include sea run trout, bass, cod, pollack, coalfish, garfish, flatfish and many more, and you will find tips on both gear, flies and how to find good locations.
The book is a great intro for those who want to dip their flies in water on the European coasts.
The book can be bought from new for 18 UK£. Used copies are around, but rare. The cover price is 20 UK£.
Our review.

Fly fishing the Flats - Bonefish, Tarpon, Permit, Trevally

Randall Kaufmann /Frank Amato Publications, 2000)
This might not seem as the obvious beginner's book, but is actually a very good and very thorough introduction - and then some - to tropical fishing in general. It's an almost intimidating book, and usually also quite expensive and kind of overkill for the beginner. But if you want the ultimate appetizer for tropical fishing and a wealth of good advice on top of that, this is where to look.
Seen as low as 28 US$ used (buy it immediately if you find it at this price!). Usually it's at least 100 US$, often way more - even used.
Our review

A Perfect Fish
illusions in fly-tying

Kenny Abrames (Frank Amato, 1999)
This is another one of those books that might not seem obvious for the beginner, but is in reality the best imaginable introduction to fishing for striped bass. Abrames' almost philosophical approach to the subject might seem a little odd, but the book is not only whimsical in its own way, but also chuck full of really excellent and practical advice, including some tips on gear, fishing methods and a handful of fly patterns.
Our review

Fly tying

The following books are focused on fly-tying. You will find some books with basic fly tying and books with a more narrow subject.

Martin Joergensen
The Handbook of Fly Tying

Peter Gathercole (The Crowood Press Ltd, 1989)
By sheer luck this was my first ever fly-tying book, and I can only recommend that it becomes yours if you are embarking on the journey of tying flies. It covers the absolute basic methods of fly-tying and a handful of fly patterns of all kinds. It's really easy to follow and contains step-by-step instructions for a number of different fly patterns representing a number of fly styles.
Available used from about 3-5 US$ (Cover price 25 US$)

The Fly Tier's Benchside Reference
to Techniques and Dressing Styles

Ted Leeson, Jim Schollmeyer (Frank Amato Publications, 1998)
If you are venturing into fly tying and want to be really good to yourself, here's an option. It's not cheap and not small, but it's literally the all encompassing fly tying book, which systematically and very well illustrated covers close to all fly tying techniques. It's not a pattern book and not a general intro to fly tying, but a book that shows in text and pictures how to execute almost any fly-tying step.
Available from about 50 US$ (Cover price 100 US$)

The Benchside Introduction to Fly Tying

Ted Leeson, Jim Schollmeyer (Amato Books, 2006)
Less ambitious, more approachable - and also less expensive - compared to the above, but of course also covering far less tying methods. But for the beginner that will be well outweighed by the step-by-step pattern instructions to a handful of useful flies.
Like the British book Catch that Fish mentioned above, this book has physically split pages, allowing you to look at a pattern and a selected tying method at the same time.
The book can be found from around 15 US$ used, 30 US$ from new and has a cover price of 45 US$.

The Fly-Fisher's Handbook
The Natural Flies and their Imitations

Malcolm Greenhalgh and Denys Ovenden (Coch-y-Bonddu, 2004)
This book focuses on what most people would probably call “traditional” fly tying and entomology. It covers systematically and in depth the different insects and aquatic animals eaten by freshwater fish, and lists numerous flies that can imitate them - nymphs, wet flies, dry flies and streamers. It also contains a small section on fly tying in general.
Available from about 5-10 US$ used, 15 UK£ from new (cover price: 25 UK£)

Salmon flies
Their Character, Style, and Dressing

Poul Jorgensen (Stackpole Books, 1999)
This is an excellent introduction to traditional salmon fly tying, even to tying the gaudy full dressed salmon flies. It gives an good intro to some basic fly tying methods and material handling used in salmon fly tying, even introducing tube flies and Wadington shanks. The book lists several patterns and contains detailed and richly illustrated step-by-step instructions.
Used price from about 25 US$, but often more (The cover price is 40 US$).

Saltwater flies
Saltwater flies
Martin Joergensen
Fly Fisherman's Guide to Saltwater Prey
How to Match Coastal Prey Fish & Invertebrates with the Fly Patterns That Imitate Them

Aaron Adams (Stackpole Books, 2008)
If you expect to be fishing the salt, this book is an excellent introduction to the different food animals and the possible imitations. It does focus mainly on tropical saltwater and to a certain extent cold saltwater in the US tradition, but can also be applied to saltwater fishing as it's practiced elsewhere.
It contains the natural history of a long row of marine animals and different patterns that will imitate them.
Available from about 10 US$ used and 15 US$ new. The cover price is 25 US$.
Our short review

Saltwater Naturals And Their Imitations
How to Match Coastal Prey Fish and Invertebrates With the Fly Patterns That Imitate Them

George V. Roberts Jr. (Ragged Mountain Press, 1994)
The subtitle “How to Match Coastal Prey Fish and Invertebrates With the Fly Patterns That Imitate Them” very aptly describes what this book is about. It covers a very wide range of what saltwater predators eat and which flies to tie to imitate them. It's a great way of learning about small fish, crabs, shrimp and much more.
Available from about 5 US$ used and 15 US$ new (Cover price 38 US$)
We reviewed the book many years ago.

Feather Brain
Developing, Testing, and Improving Saltwater Fly Patterns

Drew Ciccone (Stackpole Books, 2013)
If you are going into fly-tying and know that you will enjoy tying flies and want to become a creative fly-tyer, this is a great book to read. It's about developing and improving saltwater fly patterns, exactly as the subtitle says, and a good way of learning about fly design with saltwater fly tyers as the primary target group.
Available from about 15 US$ (Cover price 25 US$)
Our review

Fly fishing culture

If you want to read some books, which can introduce you to the culture and community of fly-fishing, here's a list of great reads.

Martin Joergensen
The Compleat Angler

Izaac Walton (First published 1653!)
This is not fly fishing as such, and can seem odd and esoteric at first, but it's a highly entertaining read, and a book that's quoted all the time. I find it a perfect part of the educational Grand Tour of any angler.
Available for free as an e-book and from about 10 US$ on paper.

Trout Bum

John Gierach (Simon & Schuster, 1988)
This is the all time classic Gierach book. Funny and highly entertaining stories from Gierach's fishing life in the US, falling somewhere suitable between fact and fiction.
You can essentially buy any (or several) of Gierach's titles and find the same kind of content. Sex, Death, and Fly-Fishing, The View From Rat Lake, No Shortage of Good Days are just a few of his many books, which will give you hours of entertaining and cozy reading.
Available from less than 1 US$ (Cover prices about 10-15 US$)

Fly-fishing th 41st
Around the world on the 41st Parallel

James Prosek (Harper Collins Publishers, 2003)
A wonderful account of painter and artist James Prosek's trip across the face of the globe, approximately on the 41st longitude in pursuit of various trout species to draw and paint.
Well written, funny, educating and a fantastic intro to how many anglers think about the world, the fish, conservation, friendship and much more.
Our review

As already said there's a whole lot of other books, which are great for beginners. these are just the ones I own and have had great benefit and joy from reading.


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