Atlantic Salmon Magic
Author: Topher Browne
Reviewed by Bob Petti "Strike!"
My friend Roddy and I were fishing a tumbling river on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia several years ago and I had just made what felt like the hundredth cast over a salmon and a pair of grilse that were holding near a rock well down and across from where I was standing. Roddy was on the cliff spotting - I couldn't see the fish from where I was casting - and he was nearly coming out of his skin with excitement. It was my first ever time salmon fishing, this was my first ever opportunity at a fish, and he wanted me to hook one almost as badly as I did. One of the grilse had risen to take my Yellow Tailed Buck Bug and soon I was experiencing first hand what I had dreamed about for so long. It was 14 years ago that Roddy and I shared a toast of Jack Daniels after I lost the fish, but even now my heartbeat speeds up when I think about how it felt.
Atlantic Salmon have that effect on anglers.
So you can imagine how interested I was when Tom Pero, the publisher at Wild River Press, mentioned that he was going to be releasing a new book on Atlantic Salmon fishing. The other books in the "Masters on the Fly" series have set a very high bar, but the tone of Tom's email got me checking my mailbox every day like Ralphie waiting for his Ovaltine secret decoder ring.
I was not disappointed. "Atlantic Salmon Magic" is a beautiful book - and I mean that in the most literal sense. There is no shortage of artwork and photography to treat the eyes, astonishing images of one of the most glamorous of all game fish and the breathtaking rivers where anglers chase them. The photographs of the flies within the book are equally eye-catching - full page images in some cases. I am particularly drawn to the artwork of Thomas Weiergang. The illustrations support the concepts presented in the text, but the level of artistry goes beyond "a picture is worth a thousand words". As with the other books in the Masters on the Fly series, "Atlantic Salmon Magic" was provided ample real estate to overwhelm the reader's visual senses. Thanks Tom - once again - for letting these guys show off a bit.
It would be a mistake to think that "Atlantic Salmon Magic" is a coffee table picture book. At its core it is a textbook - a graduate study on salmo salar and successful angling techniques used to catch them. I wouldn't blame you if you thought to yourself "people have been writing about salmon fishing for hundreds of years - what is there left to say?" I admit I had the same thoughts. What most impressed me about Mr. Browne's writing was his ability to weave historical references with his own experiences and opinions. Take for instance his discussion of greased-line fishing, where he refers to three classic works on the subject, including the famous "Greased Line Fishing for Salmon" by Jock Scott (Donald Rudd) before offering his own thoughts. I thought that very important - he didn't try to pretend that his was the first book ever written on salmon fishing. These days, that is pretty refreshing.
The book has several technique chapters - the dry fly, the riffling hitch, the wet fly, the sunk fly, etc. Each chapter opens with a story illustrating the points he is going to be making, he sort of takes us fishing with him to setup the points he wants to make further along in the chapter. That technique is always successful - it not only tells us how to do something - but gives us a very strong statement about why we would do something and under what circumstances. The stories are well written, and there is a smooth transfer of knowledge from author to reader.
Of course I couldn't write this review without a closer examination of the chapter on fly tying. Tying salmon flies is almost as much a sport as fishing for salmon. For some - it is the only sport since they don't have access to atlantic salmon rivers - and several of those tiers have elevated the craft to art form. Entire books have been written on the subject, so the author is wise to limit his discussion to theories on fly selection and style, with the flies themselves being a mixed bag of hairwings, deer hair bodied dry flies, and lots of maximum mobility spey flies. You can tell the author keeps abreast of current trends, as many of the flies make use of materials and style that are currently in vogue such as the Grape, a derivative of an Alaskan Popsicle fly using bright marabou, and the liberal use of arctic fox in place of bucktail in many flies, such as Warren Duncan's Undertaker. Speaking of Dunc, the opening section of the tying chapter is one of the better tributes I've seen to one of the best who ever sat at a vise. May he rest in peace.
Ok so if that's not enough, taped to the back cover is a full length DVD exploring the salmon rivers of Russia, some of the last truly wild and remote salmon habitats in the world. It's as beautifully photographed as the book, with sweeping landscapes and plenty of fishing action. It is a great complement to the book - helping to illustrate what still photos and text struggle to describe. With the help and support of the Atlantic Salmon Reserve, hopefully this area will stay wild forever. I wish them well.
Topher Browne has done the salmon justice with his book Atlantic Salmon Magic. He has accomplished what I, and I'm sure many others, thought impossible - adding a fresh perspective on one of the oldest of all angling pursuits. With the help of the publishing staff at Wild River Press, Mr. Browne has captured the beauty and spirit of the salmon and the almost religious fervor of those who are in pursuit, rod and reel at the ready.
Screen caps from the included DVD exploring the wild salmon rivers of Russia.