Have you ever wondered about the history of fly fishing? It’s an interesting topic to me, which explains why I’ve been reading old fly fishing and fly tying books lately. Why? First, they are a source for my Throw Back Thursday Flies. Secondly, I wonder how previous generations fished and what some of their streamside conversations were.

Favorite Flies and Their Histories | www.johnkreft.com

I always enjoyed reading the Pioneers & Legends stories in NW Fly Fishing Magazine. John Shewey, the magazine’s editor, writes some of these articles. It’s one of the reasons I purchased his books Classic Steelhead Flies and Spey Flies & Dee Flies, Their History & Construction to read more about our fly fishing history.

The reason for today’s post is because I finished a novel while soaking in the Kona, HI sun and was looking for something else to read one evening. That’s when I remembered my laptop had several PDF versions of old fly fishing and fly tying books.

I decided to read the Practical Dry-Fly Fishing by Gill. Gill was one of the first authors to discuss dry fly fishing in America. He highlighted the differences between English fly fishers using wet flies and the beginning of dry fly fishing. I was interested to see how his diagrams depicted where fish lay and how he fishes certain pools in an attempt to obtain a drag-free drift with his fly. Sound familiar? The year was 1912!

My digital book list includes those published anywhere from 1781 to 1922.

Did you know a book’s copyright expires at some point? I really hadn’t paid attention to this fact. I first learned I could read many old books from an acquaintance, Monte Smith and his website – Northwest Fly Tyer. I found his site because of my interest in learning about Atlantic Salmon and Spey flies several years ago. He ties beautiful flies. Monte has a page he calls Classic Books. The books he listed were the beginning of my digital library.

What can you find in old fly fishing and fly tying books? You’ll learn about spey flies, Atlantic salmon flies, detailed fly tying instructions, and casting mechanics to name a few. I’ve used old books to identify the names of older flies found in vintage fly boxes.

And I found out I’m a “fly dresser” not a fly tyer!

The flies below are a few Throw Back Thursday Flies I found in these old books: 

Lady Caroline

Lary Caroline | www.johnkreft.com

Golden Butterfly

Golden Butterfly | www.johnkreft.com

The Rose

The Rose | www.johnkreft.com

Here are a few other TBT flies I’ve posted: the Parson, the Baker, the Kate, Rosy Dawn, Grizzly King, and the Gray Hackle Peacock.

I encourage you to peruse a couple of the books and find one that speaks to you. Many of these authors, by nature of the age of the books, are English writers. You might be intrigued by what fly fishers did or thought in the late 1800’s. Perhaps you’re interested in Atlantic Salmon flies, not to tie them, but looking at the colored fly plates for their beauty. It was a different era in those days.

I’m amazed how someone writing in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s could have easily written similar books today. Yes, much has changed in fly fishing, but then again, maybe not.

Here is a list of old fly fishing and fly tying books in my digital library. Click on the links to read these books. In addition, scroll down on each of them to download and create your own digital library in PDF, Kindle, or other formats.


They are listed in the order they were published:

The Art of Angling by Richard Brookes, MD (1781)

The Angler’s Manual; or Fly-Fisher’s Oracle, by John Turton (1836)

The Northern Angler; or Fly-Fisher’s Companion by John Kirkbride (1837)

Handbook of Angling: Teaching Fly-Fishing, Trolling, Bottom-Fishing, and Salmon-Fishing; with the Natural History of River Fish, and the Best Modes of Catching Them by Ephemera (Edward Fitzgibbon) (1847)

Book of Salmon by Ephemera (Edward Fitzgibbon) (1850)

Art of Angling by Charles Bowlker (1854)

Art of Flymaking by William Blacker (1855)

The Practical Angler by W. C. Stewart (1857)

The American Angler’s Book by Thad. Norris (1864)

Autumns of the Spey by A. E. Knox (1872)

Yorkshire Trout Flies by T. E. Pritt (1885)

Floating Flies and How to Dress Them by Frederic M. Halford (1886)

Ogden on Fly Tying, etc. by James Ogden (1887)

British Angling Flies by Michael Theakston (1888)

Favorite Flies and Their History by Mary Orvis Marbury (1892)

How to Tie Salmon Flies by Captain Hale (1892)

The Salmon Fly: How to Dress It and How to Use It by Geo. M. Kelson (1895)

Salmon Sea Trout by Sir Herbert Maxwell (1897)

A Dictionary of Trout and Bass Flies by Malcolm A. Shipley (1898)

How to Tie Flies for Trout and Grayling Fishing by H. G. McClelland (1899)

Tips by Geo. M. Kelson (1901)

Dry-Fly Fishing the Theory and Practice by Frederic. M. Halford (1902)

Salmon Fishing by John James Hardy (1907)

Book of the Dry Fly by George A. B. Dewar (1910) 

Practical Dry-Fly Fishing by Emlyn M, Gill (1912)

Fishing at Home and Abroad by Sir Herbert Maxwell (1913)

How to Dress Salmon Flies by T. E. Pryce-Tannatt (1914)

The Dry Fly and Fast Water by George M. L. La Branche (1914)

A Book on Angling by Francis Francis (1920) – First edition was 1847

Salmon Fishing by W. Earl Hodgson (1920)

A History of Fly Fishing for Trout by John Waller Hills (1921)

Secrets of the Salmon by Edward Ringwood Hewitt (1922)

Most of these digital books are the result of Google’s approach to keep these books available in our time. Here is an excerpt from Google:

“This is a digital copy of a book that was preserved for generations on library shelves before it was carefully scanned by Google as part of a project to make the world’s books discoverable online.

It has survived long enough for the copyright to expire and the book to enter the public domain. A public domain book is one that was never subject to copyright or whose legal copyright term has expired. Whether a book is in the public domain may vary country to country. Public domain books are our gateways to the past, representing a wealth of history, culture and knowledge that’s often difficult to discover. Marks, notations and other marginalia present in the original volume will appear in this file – a reminder of this book’s long journey from the publisher to a library and finally to you.”

Laws differ by country and even though the books listed are in the public domain for users in the United States, it may not be in the public domain in other countries.

Enjoy…go fish!

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