The Ultimate Sub-Genre: Flyfishing Mystery Novels Swim Downstream

The mystery has long been heralded as the pathway to literary escapism for many American readers. Over the years, as more have flocked to its passionate shores, mysteries have grown in popularity and become a genre in which some remarkably good writers flourish. While the bread and butter of the genre is popularized by those who win mystery writing awards, there exist various sub-genres that are often overlooked.

For the avid fly fisherman who longs for the warm rays of sun on tumbling water, there is a growing group of writers who can help take the cold ache out of winter and add some substance to their daydreams of hours on the water. In my own pursuit of placating the winter doldrums, here are some fly fishing mystery writers who have wiled away the hours for me. In no particular order at all, for all you fly fishing gumshoes, here are some of my favorites.

William B. Tapply
Tapply was an amazingly prolific writer who passed last year at the age of 69 from Leukemia. While I started out reading his personal experiences of fly fishing adventures, such as Goin’ Fishing, and A Fishing Life, he maybe is most known for his fishing mysteries. He penned an amazing 30 mysteries, 11-plus non-fiction books and countless articles for Field and Stream Magazine. He has been writing mysteries for so long many of his books are out of print—although still available at internet book sites as used copies and your favorite used bookstores—and well worth the time invested in locating them. They have complex plots, the characters struggle both internally and externally, and his topics tend to shed some light on the white underbelly of humanity. His protagonist Brady Coyne is my hero. Brady is an independent attorney with a soft spot for persons trapped in legal quagmires that reek of impropriety. A lover on the outside and loner on the inside, his favorite pastime is fly fishing. Unfortunately, he talks more about fly fishing than actually fly fishing and it is served up more as a description of Brady’s character. On the rare occasions he does wet a fly in the local waters of his books, he tends to simplify the art and leaves out much detail. Nonetheless, fly fishing is a background veil and for some, that is enough to maintain the long winter vigil of longing to fish.

Tapply’s Coyne novels, which began in 1984 and ended in 2008, are as follows: Death at Charity’s Point, The Dutch Blue Error, Follow the Sharks, The Marine Corpse, Dead Meat, The Vulgar Boatman, A Void in Hearts, Dead Winter, Client Privilege, The Spotted Cats, Tight Lines, The Snake Eater, The Seventh Enemy, Close to the Bone, Cutters Run, Muscle Memory, Scar Tissue, Past Tense, A Fine Line, Shadow of Death, Nervous Water, Out Cold, One Way Ticket and Hell Bent. Tapply has a second series, this time with the protagonist Stoney Calhoun, three books I have yet to explore. His Stoney Calhoun Novels are: Bitch Creek, Gray Ghost and Dark Tiger. He started a third series, co-authored with J.W. Jackson that I have not read, either.

Victoria Houston
This woman has spun a mystery series of lovable, warm characters who live in Wisconsin and fish (fly and Muskie predominately) while dealing with the unexpected demise of persons somehow tied to their tiny, backwoods community. The protagonists are Llewellyn Ferris (Lew); a strong capable woman in her 50s who serves as the town’s sheriff. A devout fly fishing enthusiast, she has taken under her wing the town’s former dentist—who also doubles as a forensic specialist when deputized—teaching him the wiles of her fly fishing trade. There is a romantic spark between them that softly develops over time and circumstance making reading the series in order a pleasure. The other predominate character, and my favorite, is Ray Pradt, a loose, charismatic adventurer who has slyly opted to sit on the sidelines of life—but secretly has the life we all dream of—who is a guide, tracker, grave digger, dependable friend and stalwart trustee to all who need his help. His skill in gathering crime scene data always proves invaluable, despite a host of accompanying vanities.

Houston’s books which are refreshingly non-violent with a homespun bent, in order are: Dead Angler, Dead Creek, Dead Water, Dead Frenzy, Dead Hot Mama, Dead Jitterbug, Dead Boogie, Dead Madonna, Dead Hot Shot and Dead Renegade, published in November 2009.

David Leitz
This is a creative series about Maxx Adams, a businessman whose fast paced lifestyle eroded his marriage and he found himself re-discovering his life as the owner of a Vermont Fishing Lodge. He revolves his mysteries around a fly fishing theme, never straying far. Someone is always turning up dead in his private stream, lake or is singled out for attack at his Lodge. He frequently is tying flies, teaching someone how to fly fish (and has good tips for the reader) talks about equipment, describes exciting landings of Brown and Brook Trout. It’s the real deal. Of all the books, his are probably the fishiest—meaning they deal more with fly fishing than the others. However his plots are a bit more predictable, the characters more stereotyped and the twists and turns less dramatic. Still, if you are a fly fishing mystery lover, there is enough entertainment and fly fishing banter to help wile away the cold weather fishing doldrums. He has written: Fly Fishing Corpse, Casting in Dead Water, Fly Fishing Can Be Fatal and Dying to Fish.

John Galligan
This guy is my favorite. He is kooky and loveable. How can you not adore a protagonist who calls himself “Dog,” lives in a dilapidated motor home, rarely bathes other than frisky splashes in cold streams and cruises across America fly fishing every famous river heralded by the trout zealot? His favorite drink and guide to nutritious health—Tang and Vodka with the occasional ice cube. A former owner of his own security business that he abandoned due to a tragic past, he is running from life as fast as he can. Along the way he meets a chorus of peculiar folks from the woodsy back burgs of America, all broken and looking for a way home. A dupe for fellow lost souls, he is compelled to assist in his rather dubious, floundering way in most instances being just a bit more of a help than a hindrance. His books, in order, are The Nail Knot, The Blood Knot, and his most recent, The Cinch Knot (catchy titles, huh?). Galligan can turn a phrase and his books are fanciful reads with interesting plots introducing you to a side of Americana that can only broaden your perspective of diversity.

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