Trout Culture

How Fly Fishing Forever Changed the Rocky Mountain West

Jen Corrinne Brown

  • Published: 2015. Paperback February 2017
  • Subject Listing: History / Western History; Sports
  • Bibliographic information: 248 pp., 34 illus., 3 maps, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Emil and Kathleen Sick Book Series in Western History and Biography
  • Contents

From beer labels to literary classics like A River Runs Through It, trout fishing is a beloved feature of the iconography of the American West. But as Jen Brown demonstrates in Trout Culture: How Fly Fishing Forever Changed the Rocky Mountain West, the popular conception of Rocky Mountain trout fishing as a quintessential experience of communion with nature belies the sport's long history of environmental manipulation, engineering, and, ultimately, transformation.

A fly-fishing enthusiast herself, Brown places the rise of recreational trout fishing in a local and global context. Globally, she shows how the European sport of fly-fishing came to be a defining, tourist-attracting feature of the expanding 19th-century American West. Locally, she traces the way that the burgeoning fly-fishing tourist industry shaped the environmental, economic, and social development of the Western United States: introducing and stocking favored fish species, eradicating the less favored native "trash fish," changing the courses of waterways, and leading to conflicts with Native Americans' fishing and territorial rights. Through this analysis, Brown demonstrates that the majestic trout streams often considered a timeless feature of the American West are in fact the product of countless human interventions adding up to a profound manipulation of the Rocky Mountain environment.
Jen Corrinne Brown is professional assistant professor of history at Texas AandM University, Corpus Christi.

"In wonderfully approachable prose Jen Corrinne Brown guides readers through the many environmental manipulations that were needed to create the mountain states' renowned trout fisheries. In the process, she ties fly-fishing into the wider history of outdoor recreation and environmental change in the West, giving anyone who loves the region or the sport much food for thought."
-William Philpott, author of Vacationland: Tourism and Environment in the Colorado High Country

"A truly intriguing argument that reshapes our understanding of the region, its environment, and culture. Features a wealth of original research."
-Michael W. Childers, author of Colorado Powder Keg: Ski Resorts and the Environmental Movement

"Jen Corrine Brown's timely and well-researched Trout Culture should become a key feature of the national conversation over the ecological, economic, and recreational future of western rivers. Whether we knew it or not, we have been waiting for this book."
-Paul Schullery, author of Cowboy Trout and If Fish Could Scream

"A welcome and clear-eyed history of Rocky Mountain fly fishing, Trout Culture links the growth of the sport and its passionate following to western tourism, and, most importantly, to a history of fish management and environmental change that reveals the significant and often troubling results of our fascination with trout. Fishing enthusiasts and western historians alike should read this book; they will never look at a trout stream the same way again."
-Annie Gilbert Coleman, University of Notre Dame


1. Headwaters
2. Trout Empire
3. Trout Culture
4. Trash Fish
5. Lunkers
6. Wild Trout


"This is a well-researched, richly detailed history of trout and trout fishing in the Mountain West that, as the author promises, 'overturns the biggest fish story ever told.'"
-John Gierach, Wall Street Journal

"Engaging, perceptive, interpretive, meticulously researched and documented. . . . This careful delineation and assessment of the evolution of western trout culture will be valuable for those interested in the history of the American West as well as students of science and aquaculture."

"[A] remarkable book. Brown's pithy, beautifully written prose conveys an important message: that anglers and managers need to stop imagining western lakes and rivers as wild places and start thinking about how the human history of Rocky Mountain trout has had a disastrous impact on ecologically significant native species that genteel recreationists too readily deemed 'trash fish.'"
-Miles Powell, Western Historical Quarterly

"Readable and thought-provoking. . . . The author does not sugarcoat the story of trout fishing in the West, and she deserves credit for being a voice for the native fish of all species that existed prior to human attempts to change nature's plan and for documenting how the trout and angling opportunities we have in the Rocky Mountain West came to be."
-James Thull, Montana

"Trout Culture appealingly recounts the complex dance of environmental and social changes that led to the western icon. . . . A valuable, clear, and timely contribution. . . . Trout Culture is an excellent, engaging book that will appeal to scholars and general readers alike"
-Terence Young, Environmental History