Published Jun 13. 2011 - 11 years ago
Updated or edited Sep 13. 2015

Book review: The Essential Kelson

A Fly Tyer's Compendium

If you are into classical salmon flies, great writing and excellent fly photography this is a very good reason to set yourself back £35.- or about $57.- US plus handling.

Terry Griffiths
Coch-y-Bonddu Books
Publishing year: 
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If you are into classical salmon flies, great writing and excellent fly photography you are looking at a very good reason to set yourself back £35.- or about $57.- US.
For this (very reasonable) amount you will earn yourself a copy of the just released "The Essential Kelson" by Terry Griffiths. This book is a beautiful, very complete and well researched compilation of George M. Kelson's writings and pattern descriptions. It contains selections of Kelson's own writings ad verbatim, but also additions by Griffiths as well as renown salmon fly tyer Marvin Nolte.
The book is gorgeously illustrated with superb photos of Kelson's and other Victorian time fly tyer's patterns from a number of sources: tied specifically for the book by master tyer Marvin Nolte, and stemming from collections of vintage and antique flies from commercial tyers and flyshops.
Renown British salmon fly tyer Paul Little also contributed some flies as well as the foreword to the book.
As a supplement there is a large number of reprints of the color illustrations and B/W drawings from Kelson's original books.

The layout also deserves a remark. Done by Griffiths himself (he is at least credited for the "design"), it's a case study of elegance, style and discretion. A fairly simple two-column layout, but with some subtle touches that makes it stand out as more than just "a layout". Very pleasing to the eye, but still very respectful to the illustrations and the rest of the material. It's modern, but carefully avoiding modern fads such as fancy text flows or numerous small frames with separate content. The photographs are shown as full page "color plates" and the smaller illustrations are placed in the text in harmony with the columns. All this is very much in line with what you would find at Kelson's time, but just updated to current time and technology.

The illustrations alone makes the book an absolute gem, but if you're a salmon fly tyer (or a fly tyer at all for that matter), you will slowly come to appreciate the text too. Once you have run through the images a couple of times, ooh'ing and aah'ing over the splendor of these flies and the quality of the pictures, you will start reading, and realize that the text is at least as valuable as the pictures.
Terry Griffiths has done a very good job of compiling the best of Kelson's writings on fly tying, and brought it into a contemporary context with the help of editing and illustrations. Mind you, the original text is left as Kelson wrote it, but each section has been carefully selected from the different sources and annotated by Marvin Nolte with comments on tools, materials and methods as well as small remarks of why Kelson did as he did and why that in general was so brilliant.

This book is of course aimed at classical salmon fly tyers first, who will feast on both text, images and original pattern descriptions. Most will very likely have Kelson's writings in some form already, but the added value of the illustrations and the editing makes this book a must anyway.
The rest of us can just enjoy the overwhelming beauty of the flies of the Victorian era and the fantastic work done by Griffiths and Nolte. This is a book whose beauty will be appreciated by everybody, even non-fly-tyers.

The price of the book is 35£ or just short of 60$ US. Add postage to that, and the book will cost about 75$ US air mailed from Coch-Y-Bonddu. You will also be able to buy the book in the US, but it seems that the price will be somewhat higher - about 95$.

If you want something even more impressing, there's a limited edition of the book available, bound in goat-skin and with a genuine Marvin Nolte fly included. This rare item is £575 or close to 950 US dollars and will be available from The Flyfisher's Classic Library.


Stunning. With Nolte...

Stunning. With Nolte on it, it could not fail. But one suspects that the full text of Kelson's great book is not present and that it has been fragmented by Griffiths. We must always remember that as Woody Allen put it: being edited is like being beaten to death with a duck.


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