Montana State University

MSU acquires records of legendary fly fishing publisher

March 10, 2006 -- By Tracy Ellig, MSU News Service


One of the most famous publishers of fly fishing books in America, Nick Lyons, holds a trout caught in the Madison River valley near Ennis. Montana State University's Renne Library in Bozeman has acquired the records, letters and papers of Lyons' publishing career. Photo courtesy of Craig Mathews.   High-Res Available

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
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Bozeman - In the past 30 years, any reader of fly fishing books has likely turned the pages of something published by Nick Lyons.

Lyons, who sought the best writing on angling and put it into print, is regarded as one of the most important forces in the publication of fly fishing books in America.

Now, a small part of Lyons' legacy will reside at Montana State University in its Trout and Salmonid Collection in the MSU Libraries. The records of Lyons' publishing and writing career were acquired from his son, Tony, in 2005. Cataloging was recently completed of the 5,000 letters, records and other miscellanea.

"Nobody in the American history of fly fishing has had as positive an influence on the literature of fly fishing as he has," said Paul Schullery, author of "American Fly Fishing: A History."

"Nick published new authors and he reprinted classics. He had created the best publishing list in the world by the time he retired," said Schullery, author, co-author and editor of more than 30 books, several of which were published by Lyons.

It's not a bad bit of work for a guy born in Brooklyn and who spent most of his professional career living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He claims not to have picked up a fly rod until he was 21.

Lyons added roughly 150 books to the fly fishing genre. Some of his personal favorites include "Selective Trout," by Doug Swisher and Carl Richards -- which sold more than 100,000 copies -- and "The Habit of Rivers," by Ted Leeson, which Lyons regards as an important literary work.

Books began to carry Lyons' name as publisher in 1977. Twenty years later, Lyons' son, Tony, took over the press and ran it successfully until its sale to Globe Pequot Press of Guilford, Conn., in 2001. During its final full year of production under family ownership in 2000, Lyons Press published 190 titles and had estimated sales of more than $7 million. Globe Pequot Press continues to use the Lyons name.

Now retired, Lyons, 73, and his wife, Mari, split their time between Manhattan and upstate New York. In addition to publishing, Lyons taught English for 25 years at Hunter College of the City University of New York. He holds a doctorate in literature.

Lyons was a persistent writer himself. He labored 10 years before his first article got into print. It was on fishing; it ran in Field & Stream. He now has more than 400 articles and 20 books to his name.

"Writing about fishing promptly multiplied the pleasure I'd always taken from fishing," he wrote.

His last book, "Full Creel: A Nick Lyons Reader" was published by Atlantic Monthly Press in 2000. In 1992, he wrote "Spring Creek" a love-song of sorts to one of his favorite fishing spots--Montana. For more than 20 years he wrote "The Seasonable Angler," a last-page column for Fly Fisherman magazine.

"He wrote charming, funny, humble stories about fishing," Schullery said. "He often wrote about falling down or letting one get away. He was the fly fisherman's everyman. He was very accessible to the average guy."

As a publisher, his interests ranged far beyond fly fishing. He published Bozeman writer David Quammen's first non-fiction collection of essays, "Natural Acts," in 1985.

Lyons also published "The New Wolves" by Rick Bass; "Indian Creek Chronicles: A Winter in the Bitteroot Wilderness" by Pete Fromm; "Some Horses" by Thomas McGuane and "Doc," by Dr. R.E. Losee.

But it is Lyons' publishing of fly fishing literature for which he will be remembered.

"In a number of cases he brought back books that had sold just a few thousand copies when they first came out," Schullery said. "But Nick knew enough about what needed to be out there that he'd find it and bring it back."

A famous example is "Streamside Guide to Naturals and Imitations," by Art Flick. The pocket-sized book sold roughly 7,500 copies when it came out in 1947. Since Lyons revived it, the guide has become one of the bibles of fly fishing, with hundreds of thousands of copies sold.

"Nick had a loyalty to books like that," Schullery said. "He did all of us who love books, and who love fishing, a great favor."


A finding aid for the The Nick Lyons Ephemera Collection can be found on the web at: http://www.lib.montana.edu/collect/spcoll/findaid/2475.html

The home page for The Trout and Salmonid Collection at Montana State University is at: http://www.lib.montana.edu/trout/index.html

Contact: Bruce Morton, dean of MSU libraries at bmorton@montana.edu or (406) 994-6518.