All great fishing stories are never about just fishing. This is certainly true for Maximilian Werner’s “Black River Dreams,” a collection of essays on fishing, primarily fly-fishing. It is more memoir than a mere collection of pieces.

It begins and ends with stories set in Maine, the first when Werner was a boy of 11 and was graced with the gift of a fishing rod by a wise-beyond-her-years younger friend on the eve of his departure for the West, when his parents split up.

The preface and the first story flow like water itself, with ripples that sparkle and dark pools that draw you in, carrying you masterfully into the heart of the book.

And then, like the heart of all good fishing stories — which is what you get in abundance here — it is the journey out and back as much as time on the river that shapes the telling. The stories tumble forth over varied terrain, reflecting light and shadows, peace and disquiet, with meaning that floats on the surface and also lies deep. Werner casts your eye here and there on the landscape, each river unique. He sends you fore and aft in time, like a perfect cast — equal parts forward and back, but always setting the line where it can drift naturally on the current of the tale.

The opening lines of “Black River Dreams” put all of what is to follow in proper context: “Assuming we give our lives to what we love, fly-fishing clearly ranks near the top of my list. In a good year, I probably spend 150 days on the water.”

Although it begins on his first “home water,” Caribou Stream in Caribou, it is primarily about rivers and lakes of the West, especially Utah and Arizona, which have been home to him since he left Maine as a child.

Werner treats us to journeys to and from and upon his new “home waters,” including the Black, Green, Provo, Weber, Duchesne and Strawberry rivers, among others. He writes that in the Strawberry, not “much wider than a country road — a fifteen-pound brown is as rare as it is beautiful. And except for death, nothing is more serious than beauty.”

We get to see — no, sense — these rivers at sunrise and dusk, even deep in the night, in the falling snow, with edges rimmed in ice. He shares the delight of rising in the harsh cold of pre-dawn, crawling from the tent to build a fire so that his wife can awake to the joy of hot coffee and the warmth of a crackling blaze.

It is a book about friendship. About Judy, his 9-year-old friend, who gave him his first fishing outfit. She was “a full-blooded Micmac Indian — poor as dust, and though she had nothing, she would have given it to me if I had needed it.” About his wife’s younger brother, “lazy as smoke” but a welcome fishing companion.

It is a book about reading — and misreading — rivers and people. He writes about his lifelong friend Nole, who stumbled in guiding their drift boat in a rough stretch on the Green River, almost getting them killed. Driving back to the cabin, feeling badly for his friend sealed in silence, “I could see his face whenever the moon broke through the clouds. Unless they belong to us, we tend to ignore the silences in our lives, of which there are millions, each with its own meaning, its own voice, and, if we do not learn to listen, its own consequences. But for the man who’s silent after being tested by a river: Better put an arm around him.”

He writes about his own misreading of the Upper Provo and getting swept under. Surviving, he imagines what could have been: a couple of search-and-rescue guys pulling his body from the river. He has one observe “the white band of skin on my ring finger. ‘Ring’s gone,’ he says. I think it will be hours before they know who I am.”

He cites other fishing stories, Norman Maclean’s memoir “A River Runs Through It” and Ernest Hemingway’s writing. But in addition to these genres, his book also fits in the sub-genre of travel writing — great road adventures. “Black River Dreams” shares a kinship with John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley,” William Least Heat Moon’s “Blue Highways,” and Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”

Like Steinbeck, “Black River Dreams” is partially about traveling with favorite companions. Like Moon, it takes you over back roads, paved and unpaved, providing views of America you might have forgotten that are still worth seeking. And like Pirsig, it is, in its own fashion — more spare and less dense — an exploration of quality.

You’ll hear echoes of these other writers’ works, but Werner writes in his own distinct voice in “Black River Dreams.” Slim at 158 pages, the book contains stories that are like favorite, short stretches of river you would share only with your best friend. They draw you back again and again, if only in moments of quiet reverie. 

Frank O. Smith is a Maine writer whose novel, “Dream Singer,” was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize.