The hard water season is a time of feast or famine depending upon your preferred fishing pursuits. For dedicated ice-fisherman, of course, this is the season they’ve enthusiastically waited for through the rest of the year. But for those anglers who are not inclined to spend time on the ice, winter across much of western Canada is little more than six month of eager anticipation of the return to open water. For some, one means to help them through the angler’s equivalent of seasonal affective disorder is to relax in their favourite easy chair, perhaps with a glass of winter warmth at hand, and read some of the terrific literature that’s been penned over the years about fishing. Whether you want to learn new techniques that can help put more fish at the end of your line, lose yourself in fantasies about angling in far-off destinations, or indulge in the warmth and humour of true fishing prose, the choices are many. Following are a few of my favourites, books that have helped me through many snow-bound winter evenings. As an avid trout angler, I tend to lean towards books, oddly enough, about trout waters and techniques. We’re fortunate in Canada to have several superb writers who’ve written first-rate books on the subject. Okotoks, Alberta’s Jim McLennan is a personal favourite author of mine. I’ve read his book, Trout Streams of Alberta several times, and with every reading pick up new tips and ideas that have positively impacted my trout fishing experiences across the province. Jim’s classic 1987 work, Blue Ribbon Bow, has gone through at least one update and is an insightful treatise, providing the reader with detailed information on the renowned river, its history and how best to fish it. Another must read for the Albertan trout aficionado is Barry Mitchell’s book, Alberta’s Trout Highway – Fishing the Forestry Trunk Road. Barry covers the hows, whens and wheres of fishing the trout streams that cross the road’s more than 700 km length along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. Barry has never been one to keep what he’s learned about fishing these waters secret, and willingly offers specific reaches, runs and pools to the reader who’s looking to become a more successful trout angler. I know my copy is dog-eared from repeated use.
Red Deer’s Bob Scammell is another native son willing to share his wisdom, and in my estimation his best offering is The Phenological Fly, a guide to the insect hatches of the major western trout streams. This pocket-sized book helps readers understand the emergence sequence of these critical hatches by associating them with the time of bloom of specific flowers. The photography included is superb and this book is a great reference source for those wishing to recognize many of the key insects of importance to trout. Lastly, if you really want to learn about the mechanics of fly-fishing, from tackle and techniques to reading water and playing fish, you should pick up a copy of Clive Schaupmeyer’s The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing. Clive, another Albertan, doesn’t focus solely on trout, either, with specific sections devoted to fishing for pike, bass and other non-trout species.
If your fishing tastes run more to walleye fishing, one book I can heartily recommend is Cochrane, Alberta-based outdoor writer T. J. Schwanky’s Walleye Across the West. Written when T.J. was gaining notoriety as one of western Canada’s premier tournament anglers, every aspect of walleye angling throughout the seasons is touched on in a matter of fact, easy to comprehend style. Another must read for those looking for an edge on the water is the field guide Precision Trolling. Now in its 8th edition, it provides details on all of the common, and not-so-common, crankbaits, specifically the depths at which each lure runs depending upon the pound-test of the line being used and the distance back from the boat at which they’re trolled. Meant to be carried with you on the water, it is printed on water-resistant paper to ensure durability. For those who enjoy fishing B.C.’s west coast, or aspire to, Harbour Publishing from the Sunshine Coast offers a number of titles of interest, including books about salmon, halibut and trout fishing. All of their books feature great photography and enough how-to and where-to detail to satisfy the most discriminating angler, from novice to pro. And, of course, you never miss when you pick up any one of Roderick Haig-Brown’s books, all of which reveal the authors considerable knowledge about salmon fishing both on the salt chuck and in flowing waters. When it comes to reading about fishing, there are times I simply want to be entertained, times when I’m not necessarily looking to learn about the latest lure, presentation or trophy lake. Fortunately there is no shortage of terrific angling literature available, spanning several centuries of fishing experiences. If you’re a fly-fisherman, you owe it to yourself to pick up one of Robert Travers’ books – with my favourites being Trout Madness and Trout Magic. It’s can’t-put-down writing at its finest, and is guaranteed to leave you smiling, if not laughing out loud on many occasions. Another author with a penchant for turning every day fishing escapades into humorous reading is John Gierach; he’s written many books but the provocatively titled Sex, Death and Fly-Fishing is surely among his best.
If you like just a touch more adventure in your reading, don’t overlook some of Lee Wulff’s many titles. They focus predominantly on his quest to explore the east coast’s finest Atlantic salmon fishing and always provide compelling reading. Try his memoir, Bush Pilot Angler, as a starting point. A Canadian classic, albeit tough to find, is The Log of the North Shore Club by Kirkland Alexander. Written in 1911, it is the story of a small group of ordinary anglers exploring the coastal waters along Lake Superior as they search for untouched lake trout and brook trout fishing. Unlike much writing of the times, this is written in a style as easily digested today as it was 100 years ago when originally published. Another good, old-fashioned yarn that can’t help but make you feel warm all over is The Incomplete Anglers by John Robins, the true story of the travails of two “common and inadequate”fishermen on a trip through Ontario’s Algonquin Park. Every challenge they face and every poor decision they make serves as a pleasant reminder of angling adventures of my own where everything didn’t unfold exactly as envisioned. This is a difficult book to put down.
Canada lost a great writer and musician last year with the passing of Paul Quarrington. If you’re looking to become familiar with his work, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Fishing With My Old Guy, the recounting of Paul’s trip with three others in search of a world-record brook trout in northern Quebec. It’s truly laugh-out-loud hilarious to read, as you’d expect if you’re at all familiar with Paul’s work. If your inclinations are towards deeper, more introspective books about fishing, my two favourite authors are Thomas McGuane and Charles Gaines; both are award-winning authors more recognized for their non-angling works, though each has a deeply-rooted personal passion for fishing. These are writers of the highest calibre who have a way of putting into words the thoughts and emotions many of us share but struggle to articulate. Invariably the descriptions of their experiences leave you nodding in affirmation, thinking, “That’s exactly what I believe. I wish I’d said it the way he did.” Read McGuane’s The Longest Silence or Gaines’ The Next Valley Over for a taste of what I believe to be among the very best angling literature available.
As might be expected when trying to define one’s favourites, or the “best” of anything, I’ve had to leave many superb authors and books out. Names like Norman McLean, Izaak Walton, Zane Grey, Van Campen Heilner, George Reiger, Howell Raines, Sparse Grey Hackle, Sherwood Fox, E. Donall Thomas Jr., Trey Combs, Barry Thornton, Brian Chan and many, many more likely deserve a spot on this list. There is simply no shortage of wonderful books about fishing available, and I would encourage you to seek those that appeal to your taste. The best of them can provide almost as much anticipation and reward as does a day on the water.