All About Fly Fishing!

Talking 'Bout Books

Collecting Fly Fishing Titles
By Patrick Ayres

Book collecter and dealer Patrick Ayres offers his advice on what to look for.

My book collecting started innocently enough. I needed a couple of reference books to teach myself the art of fly tying and to learn some patterns I might use on the Klamath River for steelhead fishing. The problem at hand was that after buying all the necessary tools and materials, I had little money left to purchase the expensive books on fly tying!

A coworker suggested I try a used bookstore rather than the flyfishing stores I had been shopping. I found the books needed at a very fair price, and began the process of learning the basic patterns and tying my first flies. It was an accident that would later lead me to shop the bookshelves even harder.

As a subscriber to several fly fishing magazines, I ended up on a mailing list and received a catalog from a West Coast Angling Books Dealer. I noticed that several of the books I'd bought were listed at many times their purchase price. Baffled at first, I discovered that indeed the books were collectible, and I had inadvertently made quite an investment. Ten years have passed. My face is now quite well known amongst the used book dealers in town. I have a library of over 800 books on Fly fishing, including a number of signed copies, and limited editions. I have learned a lot along the way, and the purpose of this article is to pass along some tips that may be useful to you as a book buyer.

First, consider the reasons you are buying the books. It could be:

For reference material
As an form of entertainment
As an investment

If you only need the books for reference or for reading (Entertainment), you may choose paperback copies, books that are in lesser condition, Book club editions, or later printings. These books should be available at very affordable prices.

If you seek books as an investment, you should pay attention to the following guidelines: First editions are virtually always more valuable than the later printings. First editions can be very hard to identify. Buy from a reputable and knowledgeable dealer to insure that your are getting a true first edition. Even the words "First Edition" on the copyright page do not insure that the book is a true first.

Signed copies are Worth more.
Cute dedications can harm the value of the book unless they were written to a notable personality whose name might add to the value of the book. Choose a copy with a simple author's autograph, and perhaps a date. Limited editions are great investments.

Signed and numbered limited editions always cost more, but appreciate at a greater rate than "Trade editions". Recently, there have been a number of "Commemorative" style limited editions issued. These are generally worth far less than a limited edition issued at the same time as the first edition. CONDITION IS CRITICAL!!

The condition of the book and its dust jacket is absolutely crucial in the valuation of a book. This is true for virtually all books that are even remotely collectible. Bumped corners, sunned spines, damaged hinges, owners names written in the book, silverfish damage, underlining, or missing dust jackets can all detract from the market value. True collectors are very picky about their books. Minor flaws can sometimes provide an opportunity to pick up a book for a little less money than a primo copy.

Ten years ago, it was easy to find good titles in local used bookstores, at swap meets, and garage sales. People known to the trade as "Book Scouts" would buy up books in volume and deliver them to the book stores for prices virtually "By-the-pound". The book stores in turn would mark them up, and put them out on the shelves. Very few hometown book stores specialized in hunting or fishing titles, and you could usually find a bargain on most every trip to the store.

Times have changed. The most significant revolution in book collecting was brought about by the internet. Your local hometown bookstore now has the opportunity to sell their books anywhere in the world! But more importantly, they also now have the internet as a resource to evaluate the hunting and fishing titles on their shelves. Books I might have found eight years ago for $10.00 now may be priced at $80.00! Great for the book store, but not for the bargain-shopping collector. Furthermore, the supply from Book Scouts is drying up. Many of the Scouts are now selling the books they find over the internet themselves!

As a collector and a Dealer on ABE Books, I now buy a vast majority of my titles over the internet. By careful shopping, I can still find a buy. My collection is worth several times it's cost. The value appreciates each year. I've done far better in books than in any stock I've ever bought.

I made myself a promise that I would read every book on my shelf. Believe it or not, I have kept that pledge! My own personal tastes in collecting have evolved into angling books I call "Literature" rather than the "How-to" variety of titles. I have listed an abbreviated group of my favorite authors below. I feel as though I have barely scratched the surface, but here goes:

Dana Lamb: Perhaps the Poet Laureate of American Angling books. An Ivy Leaguer who spent most of his time flyfishing for salmon on rivers of the Eastern U.S. The majority of his titles were published only in limited editions that are now quite valuable. For a bargain, try WHERE POOLS ARE BRIGHT AND DEEP. Other titles include: WOODSMOKE AND WATERCRESS; ON TROUT STREAMS AND SALMON RIVERS; BRIGHT SALMON, BROWN TROUT; GREEN HIGHLANDERS AND PINK LADIES; NOT FAR FROM THE RIVER; and BENEATH THE RISING MIST.

Roderick Haig-Brown: This man could write so beautifully, he could make you think you ARE the fish! THE WESTERN ANGLER, BRIGHT WATERS-BRIGHT FISH, A RIVER NEVER SLEEPS, RETURN TO THE RIVER, SILVER, and the "Fisherman's". series-FALL, WINTER, SUMMER and SPRING. These are only a few of his masterpieces.
"When I go fishing I want to be a part of the river and all my surroundings, not a stranger thrusting in upon them. I want to move quietly and at my own pace. I want to see and hear and understand. I want to feel that I know something of where the fish are and what they are doing and why. I want to be able to name the birds I see and take time out to watch them. I want to feel the river about me and to fill my mind with the infinity of lights that break from it's surface and it's depths. I want to know the trees along it's banks, the rocks of the bottom and the creatures that shelter there and feed my fish"
--Roderick Haig-Brown

Robert Traver: John D. Voelker in real life. A former Michigan Superior Court Justice, Traver was a master at telling fishing stories. TROUT MAGIC, TROUT MADNESS (One of my first angling books), and the scarcer DANNY AND THE BOYS. Traver was better known for his mystery books like ANATOMY OF A MURDER and LAUGHING WHITEFISH. Curl up in a rocker by the fire with one of his angling books and a glass of merlot. This is a guaranteed wonderful evening!

Harry Middleton: A writer who passed on far too early in life. Harry wrote one of my personal favorites, THE EARTH IS ENOUGH. This is the story of a boy raised by two trout-fishing old men (Semi-autobiographical in nature). Middleton's other titles include THE BRIGHT COUNTRY, RIVERS OF MEMORY, ON THE SPINE OF TIME, and a deluxe limited edition that now sells for over $500 per copy, THE STARLIGHT CREEK ANGLING SOCIETY. My suggestion would be to start with THE EARTH IS ENOUGH. It's available in paperback. Hard back copies of Harry's books have all become collectible, and now bring prices several times their original issue price.

David James Duncan: If you grew up in the 60's, and you enjoy fly fishing, go out and find a copy of this book in paperback or hardback: THE RIVER WHY. What a hoot! The story of a young man and his search for himself. Born the son of a Fly fisher and a Worm fisherman. He treks off into the wilderness where his experiences will keep you thinking about your own misspent youth and the fishing you love. This book should be a movie! First editions are quite valuable, but other copies are available for quite a savings. Duncan's second contribution to contain some stories of angling is RIVER TEETH, a collection of more serious essays.

John Taintor Foote: A Hollywood playwright who could write wonderful angling stories with the best of them. Try ANGLERS ALL (Collection of stories), THE WEDDING GIFT, THE BROADWAY ANGLER, THE FATAL GESTURE, or SPORTING DAYS (Collection of stories). Foote could really spin a yarn, and keep you guessing right up to the end!

Sparse Grey Hackle: FISHLESS DAYS, ANGLING NIGHTS is one of the best books on the shelf. Great anecdotes of American Fly fishing history, as told in a humorous style. The earlier FISHLESS DAYS was only issued in limited edition, and now brings several hundred dollars a copy.

Gene Hill: MOSTLY TAILFEATHERS, A HUNTER'S FIRESIDE BOOK, SUNLIGHT AND SHADOWS, A LISTENING WALK, PASSING A GOOD TIME, etc. Gene's books are all collections of very short stories. They are very affordable, and really are some of my favorites. Gene could take you from Laughter to tears in 60 seconds! He writes about the smell of waders out in the field, the loyalty of a fine bird dog, the cost of good sporting equipment, and everything else you and I value about being out in the field or on the stream. We lost a fine author when he died several years ago after an extended illness.

OTHER GREAT MODERN TITLES:

  • Ted Leeson, THE HABIT OF RIVERS
  • Seth Norman, MEANDERINGS OF A FLY FISHERMAN, a very fine book!
  • James Prosek, JOE AND ME
  • Thomas McGuane, LIVE WATER
  • Steve Raymond, THE YEAR OF THE ANGLER or THE YEAR OF THE TROUT.
  • Dave Hughes, AN ANGLER'S ASTORIA (Available only in paperback and an expensive leatherbound limited edition)
  • Havilah Babcock, THE BEST OF BABCOCK (Bird shooting and angling)
  • Gordon Macquarrie, STORIES OF THE OLD DUCK HUNTERS AND OTHER DRIVEL (This is a fine book of duck hunting and some angling stories that are very entertaining)
  • Edward R. Hewitt, A TROUT AND SALMON FISHERMAN FOR 75 YEARS. Wonderful stories about angling in the 20's, 30's and 40's.
  • Austin Francis, CATSKILL RIVERS A must for the flyfisher who wants to know more about American Fly Fishing and its roots. A very personal account with many memorable stories.
  • Scott Waldie, TRAVERS CORNERS A wonderful fictional account of a small town in Montana and the angling characters who inhabit it.
  • John Gierach, Any of his titles including: TROUT BUM, DANCES WITH TROUT, STANDING IN A RIVER WAVING A STICK, ANOTHER LOUSY DAY IN PARADISE, etc. Great reading and affordable (Early first editions are becoming scarce)

The list could go on and on. I hope I have enlightened you. Perhaps you will spend an enjoyable fireside read, or a day in the park with a good book, and have this article to thank for the tip on an author. I hope so. If you have specific questions on authors or collecting, please feel free to contact me at my email address: FISHBOOK@aol.com. You may also visit my website and search my book inventory at: http://www.abebooks.com/home/fishbook/. I love to talk books!! I'm happy to email you a list of the titles I currently have available for purchase.

Remember: "Some of the best fishing is done not in water, but in print....." Sparse Grey Hackle.

(Patrick Ayres lives in Southern California with his wife and two daughters. A Project Manager for a Foodservice Design firm by day, he searches the book stores and internet by night and on weekends to find books for his collection and to offer for sale through PATRICK AYRES ANGLING & HUNTING BOOKS over the internet. He still ties flies on a regular basis and fishes for steelhead at his ranch on the Klamath River)