Michigan Trout Opener Reading List – 13 Selections Sure to Satiate
Updated: Feb 12
The last Saturday in April always holds special promise here in Michigan – the celebrated opening of trout season.
From the first American introduction of brown trout into the Baldwin River (a tributary of the Pere Marquette) in 1884, to Windemere, the summer home of Ernest Hemingway on Walloon Lake in the early 1900's which provided the inspiration for the beloved character Nick Adams, to the birth of Trout Unlimited on the storied banks of the Au Sable River over 60 years ago, Michigan's trout-fishing traditions run deep.
As we count down the days 'til opener, I've assembled a short reading list of Michigan authors as both preparation and a means to pass the last few days of anticipation a little more quickly. The selections are a mixture of both lyrical and informative prose all spawned from the rivers we call home.
1. Trout Madness, by Robert Traver. Born in 1903 in Ishpeming Michigan, Traver (John D. Voleker) was an attorney, prosecutor, and Michigan State Supreme Court Justice. While to many he may be best known as the author of the 1958 novel Anatomy of a Murder, among angling crowds it's his writing about fishing we remember most fondly:
“I fish because I love to. Because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly. Because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape. Because in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing what they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion. Because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed, or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility, and endless patience. Because I suspect that men are going this way for the last time and I for one don't want to waste the trip. Because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters. Because in the woods I can find solitude without loneliness. ... And finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important, but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant and not nearly so much fun.”
First published in 1960, Trout Madness is a collection of twenty-one stories gleaned from a lifetime of glorious fishing - as true as can be expected of a fisherman. They cover the whole range of the trout fishing season, from the first day to the last. There are hilarious stories that make one laugh out loud and stories that have an undercurrent of deep emotion. Each one carries that special kind of oblique humor and canniness that were John D. Voelker's special mark. You can purchase it here.
2. Fourteen years later, Traver published Trout Magic, an equally delightful read. Trout Magic is a warm, joyous, and maverick look at trout fishing and its attendant tall tales, strange happenings, and all-around fishing lore. Filled with wit, wisdom, and anecdotes sure to resonate everyone who enjoys a master storyteller writing about the wonderful world of trout fishing. You can find Trout Magic here.
3. The Nick Adams Stories, by Ernest Hemingway is a volume of short stories published in 1972, a decade after the author's death. In the volume, all the stories featuring Nick Adams, published in various collections during Hemingway's lifetime, are compiled in a single collection. The Nick Adams Stories includes 24 stories and sketches, eight of which were previously unpublished. Some of Hemingway's earliest work, such as "Indian Camp," as well as some of his best known stories, such as "Big Two-Hearted River," are represented. You can purchase The Nick Adams Stories here.
4. A Place on the Water, by Jerry Dennis. Jerry Dennis has lived most of his life in northern Michigan and has earned his living as an independent writer since 1986. His essays, poems, and short fiction have appeared in more than 100 publications. A place on the Water is a series of reflective essays about growing up fishing, canoeing, and exploring the outdoors in northern Michigan and elsewhere. Illustrated by Glenn Wolff. You can purchase it here.
5. The River Home, is another Jerry Dennis work. Ranging from northern Michigan to Iceland, Chile, and the fabled rivers of the American West, this collection of award-winning essays and short fiction celebrates the complexities and delights of family life, the sacredness of secret places, water in all its forms, quirky fishing companions, and the occasional naked angler. Buy it here.
6. The Longest Silence, by Thomas McGuane. McGuane was born in Wyandotte Michigan and Graduated from Michigan State University. His work includes ten novels, short fiction and screenplays, as well as three collections of essays devoted to his life in the outdoors. The thirty-three essays in The Longest Silence take us from the tarpon of Florida to the salmon of Iceland, from the bonefish of Mexico to the trout of Montana. They bring us characters as varied as a highly literate Canadian frontiersman and a devoutly Mormon river guide and address issues ranging from the esoteric art of tying flies to the enduring philosophy of a seventeenth-century angler. Infused with a deep experience of wildlife and the outdoors, both reverent and hilarious by turns, The Longest Silence demonstrates what dedication to sport reveals about life. Find it here.
7. Body of Water, by Chris Dombrowski. Dombrowski is a Michigan native, a fly fishing guide, the Assistant Director of the Creative Writing program at the University of Montana, a long-time friend of the late Jim Harrison, and the author of Body of Water: A Sage, A Seeker, and the World’s Most Elusive Fish, as well as three acclaimed collections of poems. While Body of Water is the story of legendary bonefish guide David Pinder in the Bahamas, you can sense the Michigan roots that drew Chris to both guiding and writing within the story. You can purchase it here. Dombrowski's newest work, "The River you Touch" is available for preorder here.
8. Trout Water, by Josh Greenberg. Josh Greenberg is the proprietor of Gates Au Sable Lodge in Michigan and loves fly fishing. This book is his fishing journal over the course of a year and opens with the loss of a close friend.
The solace he takes from fishing prompts him to reflect on the impact of the natural world on his life. Over the course of a year, the journal transcends fishing notes to include some beautifully lyrical nature writing, entertaining stories of the big one that got away, cheerful introspection about a love that’s hard to explain, and yes, a tip or two. Through it all, Greenberg comes to help us realize, too, that there’s more to fishing than catching fish. Find Trout Water in fly shops around the state or order here.
9. Rivers of Sand, also by Josh Greenberg, is an exploration of the unique techniques needed to fish the waters of Michigan and the Great Lakes region, and a discussion of (and tribute to) the region itself. You can purchase it here.
10. The View From the Middle Seat, by Jac Ford. Jac began his lifelong fly angling adventure when he was in the third grade near Gladwin. Since that time has has fished and guided around the world, including multiple trips to Quebec, Alberta, New Zealand, Chile and throughout the United States, most particularly Montana. Jack currently guides on the Pere Marquette, Muskegon, and Au Sable Rivers. In The View from the Middle Seat- Lessons Learned From a Lifetime of Guiding, Jac shares tips learned through his many years of experience to help us all become more successful in locating, attracting, and hooking the elusive trophies that draw us to the water. Illustrated by David Ruimveld. Available at many fly shops across the state or order here.
11. Fly Fisher's Guide to Michigan, by Jon Osborn. A must have for any Michigan angler, in fact I have one at home and one that lives in the truck. Flyfisher's Guide to Michigan details Michigan fly fishing opportunities like no other guidebook on the market. Ozzy covers all the hot spots as well as lesser known fisheries with personal experiences, historical overviews, effective techniques for both warmwater and coldwater species and resident and anadromous species, stocking data, appropriate gear and flies, access points, nearby fly shops, approximate float times and much more. You can find it at most Michigan fly shops, or order directly from Jon by emailing him at Ozzy0908@hotmail.com. You can also read my interview with him here.
12. Classic Michigan Flies is another work of Jon Osborn with illustrations by Joe Van Faasen. It features 16 flies, from the Adams to the Zoo Cougar, and legendary tiers like Len Halladay, George Griffith, and Clark Lynn as well as original and modern patterns for each classic fly. You can purchase it directly from Jon at the email listed above.
13. That Wild Country, by Mark Kenyon. Having spent a few outings on the river with Mark, I can attest to his passion for fly fishing. While That Wild Country is not a fly fishing book per se, this abbreviated excerpt from the first chapter, which finds Mark fishing in Yellowstone, paints a picture we can all relate to. "I'd exhausted my entire supply of relevant flies, and all the swear words in my vocabulary...tiny splashes and wave rings broke the surface of the refreshed water in all directions. I tied on a new fly, cast ahead of the feeding trout, and watched as my offering floated unharmed through the middle of the stream-top explosions like a soldier tiptoeing through a minefield." That Wild Country isn't a book about hunting or fishing, it isn't a book about hiking, it isn't a story about friendship or family, it isn't an adventure tale or a travelogue, and it isn't a history lesson but rather, it is the culmination of all of these things thoughtfully crafted around the foundational framework of America's public land. You can purchase it here. And you can read my full review as well as a short interview with Mark here.