Published Apr 2. 2012 - 12 years ago
Updated or edited Sep 13. 2015

Book review: The Orvis Guide to Small Stream Fly Fishing

Tom Rosenbauer
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One of the very first fly fishing books I ever purchased was Tom Rosenbauer's "Prospecting For Trout", which I found at the hardware store in Inlet, NY, deep in the Adirondacks. Those were the days when a $15 book purchase required a brief discussion with the missus, as we hadn't quite got on our feet yet and fishing books were still firmly in the luxury category. I still have that book - it is one of my favorites and a volume I pull off the shelf every year around this time as I start to look forward to the season. So yeah - I'm a big Tom Rosenbauer fan - and I was certainly excited when I saw that he published a book on small stream fishing as that is something dear to my heart.

What - you may ask - makes small stream fly fishing so special that there is enough material to write an entire book on the topic? After all, has anyone ever written a "big river fly fishing" book? The short answer is yes - small stream fly fishing is special in many ways. The long answer is the reason Tom wrote the book!

Like most modern fishing books, this one is overflowing with full page color photographs printed on smooth surface heavy stock paper. There is plenty of eye candy - with some really beautiful photos of streams, fishing action, and especially the jewel-like fish that are often found in small waters. I know jewel-like is an overused cliché when it comes to discussing trout, but I defy anyone to hold a tiny wild trout in their hand and describe them in any other way.

Tom Rosenbauer is certainly an outstanding photographer and the images in the book are beautiful, but people buy Tom's books for the text. He's an excellent writer, both his style and his ability to transfer knowledge to the reader. Some fishing books read like the dry calculus textbooks I had in college, while others pretend to be "literature" and work too hard trying to paint pictures with words and impress the readers with the author's vocabulary (often at the expense of creating an enjoyable reading experience). I guess there is a place for both, but I've always preferred writers like Tom. I always get the sense he is less interested in impressing people with his knowledge as opposed to simply sharing it - a trait that seems endangered these days.

The book is split into nine chapters, covering every topic you could ever imagine related to trout fishing on small streams. Of course he first offers a definition of a small stream so we all have the same mental image, then he gives us clues on how to find them in our neighborhoods. A whole chapter is devoted to reading the water, which is a direct follow-on to one of his previous books "Reading Trout Streams" (another book that should be on every trout fisherman's bookshelf). Small streams are more prone to fluctuations due to weather and seasonal changes, so there is an entire chapter giving anglers some advice on how to deal with these situations.

Of course there is a chapter on tackle and gear, which seems to be what most small stream fishers are interested in reading first. Please don't be tempted to skip to that chapter - the first four chapters are must reading. Perhaps the biggest challenge with small stream fly fishing is the problems associated with casting a fly when there are obstacles everywhere ready to ruin a cast and spook a trout. So he has a chapter on casting. Trout in small streams are also among the most skittish in nature. You can almost hand feed the trout in some of the Beaverkill's famous pools, they are so accustomed to seeing anglers flinging their strings through the air, but extreme caution must be taken on small streams or an angler risks a complete skunking. So there is a chapter on streamcraft and stealth. Finally - after much preamble - there is a chapter on fishing tactics. Trout fishing on small streams is rarely about finding the perfect fly, but once you found the stream, located a good spot, carefully positioned yourself to make a cast, I guess it makes sense that you have an idea of what sort of tactic to use.

The final chapter in the book is devoted to the stewardship of small trout streams. It's an excellent chapter and gives the angler plenty of tips on recognizing problems that may not be obvious to the untrained eye. The condition small headwater streams is a critical component of a healthy watershed, so we should all read this chapter ever year and follow Tom's advice if we find problems.

Fly fishing in small streams is not the sort of thing that extreme sports videos are made. It is, as John Gierach recently wrote, all about "the doglike happiness of being outside and off your leash". Not every angler finds joy in stalking six inch trout, or of fishing in an environment where you may spend the entire day without making a backcast, or dealing with the stratches and bug bites that come form scrambling through the brush and trees between pools. If that sort of things sounds like fun, then pick up Tom's book. He won't ruin your fun by trying to make small stream trout fishing more serious than it deserves to be, but he will help you get more enjoyment out of your time on the stream by offering gobs of no-nonsense practical fishing advice.

I'd like to meet Tom Rosenbauer some day and shake his hand. I've spend many enjoyable hours reading his books, and have become a better fisherman as a result. This latest books is no exception. Thanks again, Tom.


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