Book review: 50 Best Tailwaters To Fly Fish

So one day in October I got an email from Robert D. Clouse, Publisher at Stonefly Press. He wanted to know if I would review Terry and Wendy Gunn’s new book, 50 Best Tailwaters to Fly Fish, what with currentseams being a website Stonefly follows and enjoys. Well, heck, Robb, flattery will get you everywhere. Besides, it’s good for writers to make nice with editors and publishers.

After I thought about it, I said sure. On one condition: it would have to be a totally honest review. Happily, we can all breathe easy now, because I really liked this book.


Despite its name, there are 56 tailwaters within its covers. Bonus rivers, if you like. Cool! In case you didn’t know, tailwaters are rivers that flow out of dams. The dam regulates the flow, and the benefit is a consistent year-round supply of trout-friendly water. The authors divvied up the country into four geographic regions: West, Rockies, South, and East. Very logical. Most rivers get four pages of attention, starting with an easy-to-read full-page map of the river with turnouts and access points. There’s a basic overview of the fishery, followed by hatches, regulations, and tackle. Each chapter concludes with a handy listing of where-tos, like fly shops, outfitters/guides, campgrounds, hotels, and superlatives like “Best place to get a cold, stiff drink.”

How could the authors possibly know enough about all these rivers to write intelligently about them? Well, they couldn’t. So they’ve wisely called upon local guides and outfitters to present a topline view of their home waters. (I’m still getting over the sting of not being asked to write the Farmington River section, but since my good friend Grady Allen, owner of UpCountry Sportfishing, did the honors, it eases the pain a bit. Although – ouch – I also didn’t get a mention as a local guide. All good-natured kidding aside, Robb, perhaps in the second edition?) Naturally, with so many authors, the writing is a bit of a mixed bag. But this isn’t high literature. It’s how-to/where-to reference. Most everyone brings something to the party with their writing, and there are plenty of insightful tidbits sprinkled throughout:

“A good rule of thumb: If it looks like you are going to die climbing down to the river, that is likely a good spot to fish!” (Deschutes River)

“If you give the river permission to intimidate you, it will.” (Upper Delaware River)

“Here are two helpful hints: Pick one section of the river and get to know it. Bring a reasonable expectation.” (Madison River)

There are the requisite ooh-ahh streamscape photos, enchanting those of us who’ve never been to River X. Among the many shots that captivated me is one of the Madison wending through a golden valley. Threatening clouds loom overhead, and mountains majesty stand watch from a safe distance. I am so there in my head right now. Truth be told, I’m a homebody, and I don’t do a lot of traveling to fish. But some of these chapters have gotten the ramblin’ fishing dudes in my brain working overtime. Western road trip, anyone?

A few quibbles. Too many chapters are dependent on fish porn for visual support. I get it, everyone wants to catch a big trout. But several pages into the book, I’m already overloaded by grin-and-grab lunker imagery. What’s more, each chapter ends with a quarter page devoted to the guide who wrote it, often accompanied by a photo of them brandishing a big fish. Too much for this reader. While I recognize that perhaps this was the price of admission for the contribution, might that real estate have been used to give us a few more words on the fishery?

In the end, though, 50 Best Tailwaters To Fly Fish proves to be a tremendous resource for the traveling angler. (Or the dreaming-of-traveling-angler, for those of us with kids.) Its greatest strength is that it gives you enough information about a river to whet your appetite – then leaves you wanting more. Or at least, wanting to make a pilgrimage there.

That’s a good destination fishing book by anyone’s standards.

Here’s the url to the promo video: