Published Jan 9. 2020 - 1 year ago
Updated or edited Jan 24. 2021

Book review: The Atlantic Salmon Fly

The Tyers and Their Art

Why review a 30-year old book? Well, because it's a great book that deserves some attention.


Info
Author: 
Judith Dunham
Publisher: 
Chronicle Books
Publishing year: 
1991
ISBN: 
9780877018001
Pages: 
137
Price: 
39.95
US$ (used from 10-15 US$)
Reviewed by: 

OK, this is not a new book! Actually it’s quite an old book… like published 30 years ago, in 1991. It was one of the first books I bought back when I started buying fly fishing books. I found it a few years after it was published, and my purchase was inspired by Judith Dunham’s previous – and equally fantastic – book, “The Art of the Trout Fly”, which was one of the first books I ever bought and reviewed back in 1995, and which was published already in 1985.

So why review a 30-year old book?
Well, first of all because I haven’t done so before.
Secondly because it’s a great book, and it deserves some attention.
Thirdly because I dug it out of my shelf recently, and leafed through it, read a few chapters and was pleasantly reminded about its existence and excellence.
Then I thought: “other people need to know about this book!”

Then I thought: “other people need to know about this book!”

And there’s one great thing about bringing attention to older books: they are available used, and that often means good prices. If there’s something I like, it’s books at good prices!
In this case you can find copies as low as 10-15 US$, which I will consider a steal. You can also find new copies if you feel more for that. It’s still not an expensive book, but will cost you about 40.- US$ or a bit more. You can also find copies priced at $100 and even $150.-. Most of these are simply overpriced, not special in any way, not signed, not specially bound or anything. No need to go there unless you can find an extra fine copy signed and in a slipcase… and if you are into books in that way of course. Personally I buy books for the content, not as collector’s items, but your approach may differ.

If you decide to acquire this book, you get a really exquisite volume, containing 137 pages of inspiration and lots of great stories about salmon flies and tyers. The concept is simple: the author has collected flies from a number of renowned fly tyers of the period, written down their stories of the fly or flies, their tying, their history or what else was found interesting, and then had the flies photographed by John Clayton. The photography alone is worth the book’s price. We’re back in 1990 here, so it’s film, and I’m almost positive that it’s large format. The result is simply awesome.
The book is printed in a large format (260*315 mm or about 10*12 inches), and the photos have a very prominent place in the book, many tyers being represented by a full page photo and several smaller ones, while others have their flies shown on half pages, but still in excellent quality and detail.

The tyers are listed according to origin: Canada, Europe and Japan, and the Eastern and Western USA. Basically all are well known names from that era, including Warren Duncan, Megan Boyd, Poul Jorgensen, Mike Martinek, Bob Veverka, Marvin Nolte, Wayne Luallen, Steve Fernandez and many more – 23 altogether, all renowned fly tyers. Each has one or more flies shown, and the first full page picture you meet in the book is a box full of Canadian Warren Duncan’s extremely fishy looking flies. From there it goes on and on, with some flies extremely stylish and artsy – like Steve Fernandez’ abstract and unconventional creations – to the very down-to-earth workhorses tied by the legendary Scottish Megan Boyd.
You will find simple hair wing flies as well as full dressed creations – and then some. There are flies that present the whole specter of salmon flies. Just don’t expect to see any tube flies or intruders. This is 1990, and such contraptions might have been known, but was probably not considered “art” within the scope of this book. You will find streamers and double hooks, though, but since these tyers have had their upbringing maybe 50 years ago, fads like shanks and tubes were not yet vogue when this book was published.

All these beautiful flies shown in lavish photos are accompanied by a text written by the tyer. Of course the photos will steal all the attention at first, but as it’s often the case, the real gold lies hidden in these stories, where each tyer tells about his or her approach to tying, their history and their relation to the Atlantic salmon flies. There’s a lot of wisdom and entertainment found in these texts.
The book starts out with an interesting introduction by the author, covering the history and culture of tying these flies, and it ends with a full pattern listing, including materials lists for all the flies. Yup! Should you want to tie a Fernandez fly, the list of needed materials can be found here – including one pattern using a hook made from bent and filed piano wire painted matte white.

You will, in other words, find plenty of inspiration. Some of it will be directly useful in tying these flies, while other parts will be more entertaining in character. Still very inspirational, but maybe not directly useful in the day-to-day tying of most tyers.
I don’t tie Atlantic salmon flies, but still find lots of ideas in a book such as this, and I have found myself reading through it many times in the decades that I have owned it.

And if you need something to put on the table to entertain guests while you are off making a pot of coffee or mixing a Gin&Tonic for them, this is a great book. People not tying flies or even fishing will go “ooh” and “aah” when leafing through it while waiting for their coffee, drink or dinner – exactly what true coffee table book can do, no matter the subject.

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