Fly Fishing in your mind – “The Longest Silence”

Last updated on January 10th, 2024.

Leonard Schoenberger

In a world of fly fishing dominated by flashy pictures, a book like Thomas McGuane’s classic “The Longest Silence” offers a chance to experience fly fishing in a different way.

Some of you have surely heard of Thomas McGuane before. Any fly fisherman who has started collecting books on the sport has certainly come across this master of words. In my case, “The Longest Silence” was one of the first books on the topic I encountered once I started looking into fly fishing literature.


I bought a used copy of it on the internet after having read good reviews about it, referring to the book as one of the classics of fly fishing literature. The quote on the cover page by Jeremy Paxman – “One of the best fishing trips I’ve had this year” sums up the book perfectly.


If you didn’t know that the topic of the book was fly fishing – in its widest sense – you would perceive it as a “normal” novel. The beauty of it is that Thomas McGuane is simply a great author who luckily for us fly fishermen choose the topic of angling as his subject.


When you open up the book that was first published almost 20 years ago, McGuane’s mindset of fly fishing sucks you in immediately as he opens with the following sentence in the preface:


“The sport of angling used to be a genteel business, at least in the world of ideals, a world of ladies and gentlemen. These have been replaced by a new set of paradigms: the bum, the addict, and the maniac. I’m afraid that this says much about the times we live in. The fisherman now is one who defies society, who rips lips, who drains the pool, who takes no prisoners, who is not to be confused with the sissy with the creel and the bamboo rod.”


That was written almost two decades ago. Since then the amount of fishing pictures and videos floating around on the internet has taken on infinite dimensions. Reading a book like “The Longest Silence” grants you an opportunity to experience a different kind of fly fishing. A gentle one where your mind and Thomas McGuane take you places you can only imagine.


In some two dozen chapters, McGuane takes the reader on a wide array of fly fishing trips, ranging from small streams in Michigan, the Henry’s Fork all the way to hunting Tarpon and sea run fish such as Atlantic salmon, steelhead and sea trout.


While the topic of fly fishing is always present in the stories, McGuane plays with the nuances that define the sport beyond catching a fish, for example when he writes about bonefish:


“Yet, when the serious angler insinuates himself into the luminous, subaqueous universe of the bonefish and catches one without the benefit of accident, he has, in effect, visited another world, one whose precise cycles and conditions appear so serene that the addled twentieth-century angler begins to be consoled for all he has done to afford the trip in the first place.”


You can apply his observations to so many things in daily life, far beyond fly fishing. I highly recommend the book to experience a master who depicts the essence of fly fishing in stark contrast to what the sport has become on many levels today.