Fly Fishing Books: Some Worth Reading Twice (Or More)

By Kirk Deeter

One of my favorite quotes came from English literary critic Cyril Connolly, who said: “Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice; journalism what will be grasped at once.”  

That thought has shaped a lot of my own writing (and reading) efforts.  So it gives me great pleasure to know that one “See This, Do That” post on Fly Talk  can sink in with such profound effect that it (literally) can make you a better angler within the few minutes it takes you to read it online. In all seriousness, however, I’ve fallen into a recent pattern of re-reading some of my favorite fly-fishing books. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of new works out there worth checking out. But I’m finding that some of the books that got me going in the first place are even more profound and interesting the second (or third… or fourth) time around, especially now that I have many more river miles under my belt.

Let’s start with the obvious. “A River Runs Through It” is so clean, and so honest, I simply cannot read the last three paragraphs of that novella with dry eyes. Having seen a number of friends and mentors from the fly-fishing world pass away in recent years, and having learned that my own affinity to flowing rivers grows stronger as I grow older myself, I have indeed discovered that “under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.” I am indeed “haunted by waters.” Every single day. “A River Runs Through It” should be mandatory reading, and not just as a point of entry to fly fishing. It should be revisited at least every other year.

Thomas McGuane has arguably produced the most eloquent prose on fly-fishing culture ever. You can’t go wrong with any of his works.  But Ninety-two in the Shade is iconic.  Granted, that’s not a happy book. But it’s so real and relevant it reverberates like thunder claps over a gray saltwater flat. If you haven’t read it, you must. If you have, you should read it again, especially if you’ve spent some time chasing fish in the Florida Keys.

Ted Leeson is perhaps my favorite writer of all. All his writing is stunning—both in the journalistic (read what he’s done for Field Stream) and literary contexts. I cannot help myself but to revisit The Habit of Rivers now and then.  

James Babb is also in his own league. I’ve actually fished with Jim (and Ted), which I consider a very high honor.  Nobody turns a phrase like Babb. All of his stuff is magic. My favorite, River Music, is definitely worth a double or triple dip.

There are, of course, many others worth reading twice or more. Robert Traver (John D. Voelker) hit a chord like no other with Trout Magic. And David James Duncan knocked it out of the park with The River Why.  

So I’m wondering what you all consider “classics,” and what you’ve read more than once.

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