Published Nov 10. 2011 - 10 years ago
Updated or edited Mar 5. 2021

Book review: Fifty more places to fly fish before you die

Another Fifty-places from Santella who seems to be a book factory. I'm not impressed at first glance. Each dream location is covered with a brief text and a few facts, and many even without any images. I wonder how these books can become bestsellers...

Chris Santella
Stewart, Tabori & Chang
Publishing year: 
Reviewed by: 

I have never been really fond of Chris Santella's book "Fifty places to Fly Fish Before You Die", which I bought several years ago. When I saw the second volume announced, I thought I'd get that anyway and make a review of both. Kind of "A Hundred Places to Flyfish Before You Die".

One reason that I didn't really like the first book was that I found that it wasn't thorough. Even though it does list facts and recommendations for each destination, I don't find it good for more than wetting the appetite, and not nearly sufficient for planning a trip.
And even though the destinations are indeed very attractive, I'm not ooh'ing and aah'ing over the many places that I need to go before I have cast my last line. The books simply don't press any buttons in me. The facts are probably correct enough and the destinations indeed attractive, but this presentation doesn't stimulate me.

Each destination has been recommended by a more or less well known fly fisher. You will recognize a lot of names but also be oblivious to who others are. I'm not sure whether they or Santella have written the text, but my guess is that it's mainly Santella's text based on notes, mails interviews or whatnot. The single destination is covered in 2-3 pages. All chapters list facts about the locations and some have a single picture, which is shot by the well known photographer R. Valentine Atkinson.
There's nothing wrong with this approach apart from my feeling of it being slightly "shallow" as already mentioned. I get the sensation of some routine and template-based writing, and I find it to be too much and too little at the same time. I'd rather have seen some really useful details about fewer destinations - and many, many more photos!

This review was sparked by the fact that I found and ordered the second volume - Fifty More Places... - and that set me out on a little research spree. I checked Santella's production and approach to writing, and discovered that he's a veritable factory!
Not only has he authored the two books on fly fishing reviewed here, but he has a catalog of "Fifty Places" titles that is no less than impressing. It started with the first fly-fishing title in 2004, and then goes on:

Fifty Places to Play Golf Before You Die (2005)
Fifty Places to Sail Before You Die (2007)
Fifty Places to Go Birding Before You Die (2007)
Fifty Places to Dive Before You Die (2008)
Fifty More Places to Play Golf Before You Die (2009)
Fifty Places to Hike Before You Die (2010)
Fifty (More) Places to Flyfish Before You Die.(2011) - the one covered in this review

There's also a book called "Fifty Favorite Fly-Fishing Tales" (2006), and one titled "Once in a Lifetime Trips: The World's 50 Most Adventurous, Luxurious, and Memorable Travel Experiences" (2009) which may differ in the title, but are most likely build over the same template.

The publisher quotes the Fifty Places series as bestselling, and mentions that 100,000 copies were printed of the first fly-fishing volume. They also quote a review that says "The photos are sharp, the prose is compelling (Santella is one of the best in this business), the research is supremely thorough..."
The photos are sharp?! What in heaven's name did you expect? Of course the photos are sharp! It's a modern book sold at 25 US$ with pictures taken by one of the world's best fly fishing photographers!
Of course Santella can't be blamed for a lame review, but it takes more than sharp photos to impress this reviewer.

It takes more than sharp photos to impress this reviewer.

That the research is supremely thorough might be the case, but it's no overload of facts, and prices or even price levels aren't mentioned. Of course there are facts, phone numbers, web addresses and gear recommendations, but even I could probably have dug out such information with a bit of work.
The book also won the prize "Best fishing book of 2011" at the International Fly Tackle Dealer show. Well, I may have things completely wrong or there must be something I missed. Or maybe the jury just haven't seen global class books such as Bonefish Fly Patterns, The Blitz or The Essential Kelson?

No, I'm not impressed...

If you really want to stimulate your wet dreams about fantastic places to fish, turn to Fly Waters Near and Far by Gary and Cathy Beck, The Adventurous Flyrod by Niels Kirch Ørtoft or even Distant Waters by R.Valentine Atkinson, the photographer from Santella's books. Or look into more specialized books like Francisco Bedeschi's "The Best Rivers of Patagonia", Ralph Kylloe's "Fly Fishing the Great Western Rivers" not to mention the ultimate mouthwatering and fact-packed "Bonefishing!" By Randall Kaufmann.
These books have at least an equal amount of facts, some have orders of a magnitude more, and all have an overwhelming number of gorgeous pictures and great stories.

Santella's books are not bad. Not at all. But just not nearly as good as I had hoped, and there are numerous titles that I would rather see under my Christmas tree.

You can see much more about Chris Santella and his books on his own web site.


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