Science for the Angler

When taking a break from writing, I often visit to local public library. I read nonfiction. I find real life is a lot more interesting than what someone can make up in their mind. Recently I came across a great book that every angler and seafood fancier should read. It is Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg. It is well written, easy to read and drives home an important message.  This got me thinking about science books for anglers and what should be essential to an angler’s library or at least borrowed and read.  Here is my list: 

How Fish Work: Fish Biology and Angling by Thomas J. Sholseth, DVM, MPVM.  I came across this book a few years ago at a fly show in Valley Forge, PA. I was so intrigued by the book I asked the author to come to the Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp to be the keynote speaker. Dr. Tom not only came to the camp, he became a part of it. This book, now out of print and hard to find, is an easy read that describes in detail what makes a fish a fish and how all of its systems work. If you have questions about how fish see, hear and sense their environment and respond to it (and don’t want to spend the time and money on acquiring a Ph.D.) this book will explain it. 

In the east, we have a fascination with Salvelinus fontinalis – the Brook Trout. It is the state fish of Pennsylvania as well as some other states and Trout Unlimited, state agencies, other angling organizations, and individuals are working hard to preserve, protect and defend this colorful char. That’s right, it is a char and not a trout. Nick Karas’ book, Brook Trout: A Thorough Look at North America’s Great Native Trout – Its History, Biology and Angling Possibilities, is the book that details the fish in an easy to read, non-preachy way that most anglers and those who love S. fontinalis will appreciate. 

An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World, is to rainbow trout, what Karas’ book is to brook trout. Anders Halverson does a fantastic job in this book taking the reader from wild places where the trout originated to places where maybe trout shouldn’t be living at all – but they do.  


Next on my list is Peterson Field Guides Freshwater Fishes by Lawrence M. Page and Brooks M. Burr. Have you ever been fishing and had a fish take your fly or bait, and when you got it in you wondered what it was? This happens, especially with the minnow family. This well-written, comprehensive book with full color illustrations and maps showing ranges and dispersal should be in every angler’s library. My well-worn copy has settled more than a few arguments. 

Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, by Mark Kurlansky is an intense look at how a fish of the cold Atlantic Ocean changed the world. One may find that hard to believe but once you have read the book I am sure you will be amazed. Again, this is an easy read that does not require a doctorate in fisheries biology, macroeconomics, or history to understand. 

The last book on the list, though certainly not the least is one of my favorites. Trout and Salmon of North America by Robert J. Behnke is the definitive look at all of the members of the family Salmonidae on this continent. I am proud to say I personally knew Dr. Behnke. I came to know of his writing through his regular column in Trout magazine back in the 90s’. He was the world’s foremost authority on trout and salmon. He was a professor at Colorado State University and in each issue of the magazine he would write about a particular salmonid. As we began planning for the 1997 edition of the Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp we needed a keynote speaker. I made the offhand comment that it would be great to get somebody like Dr. Behnke. Inky Moore, then the camp’s Director of Operations, knew Dr. Behnke and he called him and asked if he would like to teach at the camp.  Bob – as we came to know him- jumped at the opportunity and became a star attraction at the camp. During that time the book came out and every student who attended camp received a copy. Bob was an engaging speaker and his writing will engage the reader as well.  I am privileged to have known Bob and I am thankful for the time he spent educating not only the students of the camp but the thousands of young men and women who passed through his classroom. Bob passed away in 2013 but his work lives on in this monumental book as well as his other book, About Trout, which is a compilation of his columns from Trout magazine. 

Are there any others? I am sure there are and I would like to hear suggestions. And by the way the Pennsylvania Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp is now seeking students for the 2017 camp. Go to the link above to learn more about the camp.