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What’s the Best Book for Beginners?

by Philip Monahan

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Question: If you could give someone just one book to get them interested in fly fishing, what would that be?

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Answer: If you’re talking about fly fishing for trout, that’s an easy one: The Curtis Creek Manifesto, by Sheridan Anderson. There are a ton of good books that will help a novice angler improve and progress into an “intermediate” fly fisher, but for simply laying out the basics, the Manifesto is hard to beat. Written in comic-book form, with lots of humorous asides, the book takes the reader through the basics of trout behavior, insect biology, necessary gear, and fly-fishing technique. Because it’s a comic book, the information is in no way intimidating to the complete novice. Faced with a 300-page “How to Start Fly Fishing” tome, many would-be anglers might feel that there was simply too much to know just to get started. Plunk a 48-page comic book in front of them, and they’ll feel as if they can get a handle on it pretty quickly. By starting a newbie out with a book that conveys the humor, pathos, and fun of fly fishing—rather than its more serious side—is also a good way to keep from scaring that person off.

Orvis Fly-Fishing GuideBecause the book was published in 1978, some of the information (especially the gear section) is dated, but the basics for creating a strong foundation of fly-fishing knowledge are all there. For gear information, you can’t beat your local fly shop, anyway. But for easing a novice into the complex world of fly fishing, Anderson’s book is deceptively information-packed. Plus, when you’re first starting out as a fly fisherman, a sense of humor is vital, and Anderson delivers on that score. (For more information about Anderson, read Evelyn Spence’s excellent profile of the author on MidCurrent.)

Once the person has read and absorbed the info in the Manifesto—and has, perhaps, gone fishing a few times—then it’s time for one of those bigger, more encyclopedic books. My choice would be one of two books, both written by friends of mine—Tom Rosenbauer’s The Orvis Fly-Fishing Guide, which he updated three years ago, and The L.L. Bean Ultimate Book of Fly Fishing, by Macauley Lord, Dick Talleur, and Dave Whitlock. The Bean book includes a lot more info on fly tying, while Rosenbauer focuses more on fishing tips and techniques, but both are quite good.

The next step is to start getting more specialized, and there’s a book for every kind of fishing out there.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Phil Monahan is a former Alaskan guide and was the long-time editor of American Angler magazine. He's now a columnist for MidCurrent and writes and edits the fly-fishing blog at You can email your fly fishing questions to us at
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