Published Apr 13. 2017 - 7 years ago
Updated or edited Apr 16. 2017

Book review: The Fly Fisher

The Essence and Essentials of Fly Fishing

A large and beautiful book about the concept of fly fishing covering the subject from many angles, lavishly illustrated with amazing photos.

Thorsten Strüben, Jan Blumentritt
Publishing year: 
Euros (or 40 UK£ or 60 US$)
Reviewed by: 

This is a really beautiful and impressing book. Also a little odd, but definitely more impressing and beautiful than odd.

Let me cover the beautiful side first.
A couple of things struck me when I first leafed through it. Firstly it’s really rich in beautiful pictures. Like really! It opens and ends with several full spread photos and all through the book your eyes will wander from one gorgeous picture to the next. The photography is stunning and the photos get all the space they deserve and are supplemented by some even more stunning paintings of fish.
The second thing I noticed was the paper. Books in this league, the classic, photo laden coffee table books, are usually printed on smooth, glaringly white, glossy paper, which makes the images stand out. This book is printed on a matte, almost rough slightly off white paper. You might think that this could have a negative impact on the photos, but it actually doesn’t. They do present themselves slightly grainy and saturated in the colors, but it match the subject perfectly, and the paper quality also gives the book kind of an earthy and organic tone, which suits it well.

A couple of pages
A couple of pages

I know you’re waiting for the odd part, but let me continue with the impressing side. A substantial part of the book is chapters on people, locations and experiences. It brings you around the world telling about a large variety of fishing with all kinds of people. Some of the places and some of the persons will be recognized by many readers, but quite a few are not from the usual map of places to fish or the usual roster of fly fishing A list celebrities - mainly American and mainly middle aged men. A number of women appear, a number of adventurers, photographers, film makers and authors, quite a few European based. All accomplished fly anglers with a great story to tell, and all told in the form of interesting and well written interviews, supported by the aforementioned excellent photos.
The authors for these chapters are almost all different. The book editors have done a terrific job of gathering and connecting a long row of separate articles into what comprises the book. In this sense the book reminds me quite a bit about a magazine which typically also contains a number of diverse articles, but still manages to get them to work in a good flow.

And this brings me to the odd part, because like a magazine, the book contains a really wide variation of subjects, and in this case, levels of experience. While the interviews and reports will be highly appreciated by people with a certain fly fishing experience, there are sections, which are so aimed at beginners that I really have to wonder what they are doing in this book. No offense, but rigging a fly rod, casting basics (clock face and all) and an explanation of what a vise, a bobbin holder and a whip finisher does, doesn't seem quite on level with most other parts of the book.
I think I can see the motivation to add them to the book, which is probably to make it an all encompassing book about fly fishing, not only conveying the great experience of our pastime, but also enabling the beginner to learn about the gear, casting and other aspects. But my problem is that these chapters stick up as odd bumps on the otherwise very smooth and travel-worthy road, and aren't really sufficient anyway. You won't learn to tie flies or cast from this book. That requires a fly casting or fly tying book, dedicated to the subject. Make sure to read the addendum below for an explanation from the editors.

I have this issue with many books, and have mentioned it many times before in my reviews: when writing a book, I prefer a well defined target group, and that all content is directed at this group. In Fly Fishing most of the content will work well for the angler with a certain experience, who will appreciate the characters portrayed, the places visited, the stories told and the sometimes philosophical meanderings. But having some experience will probably mean that you will skip many pages with explanations and drawings of casts, simple and very entry level explanations of the gear needed and basically most of the sections aimed at beginners. Don’t get me wrong, these sections are well made and well illustrated, but I just feel that the audience who will appreciate these sections might not quite have the same warm feelings for the opinions and storytelling in the rest of the book, which both is told by and talks to people with some years in the field.

Beautiful photography
Beautiful photography

Sure I can skip like I would in a magazine, but in an expensive book like this, I’d personally prefer a more well defined scope and homogeneous content. That doesn’t mean identical, monotonous or boring, but just put together in a way that makes every page equally interesting to the main target group.

No matter what, I did enjoy the book - the layout photography and interviews in particular - and the variety of content might be seen as an advantage by many potential readers.

PS: There’s also an odd thing about the price… it’s 40 Euros, which is absolutely reasonable considering the size and quality. It’s set at the 40 UK£ in Britain, which makes it more expensive there. But in the US the book will cost 60 US$, which is significantly more and makes the book change from a reasonable book to one that is actually pretty expensive. American book buyers are used to things being the other way round, and a 60 dollar book is a pricey book in the US. I guess it makes sense considering that the book is published in Germany and has to be shipped abroad, but it still might make many American buyers hesitate.

An addendum

Since I could sense that this book was a huge project for the publisher and the two editors in particular, and my review of the book might be seen as slightly insensible, I decided to do something that I very rarely do (I honestly don't remember ever doing it): let Jan and Thorsten read the review before it was published. I didn't want to be unfair, and there could be something that I hadn't grasped...
Here's their reply (edited a bit by me, approved by them), and below you will find a small comment by me:

I did read your review again and I have to say - sorry for that - that your verdict sounds just a little bit unfair. But that is not your fault because you did not know, what the aim of this book is. So I would love to take the time to explain that. This will be a bit long, sorry…

At first you have to know a bit about the publisher Gestalten Verlag:
The Gestalten Verlag used to be a design bureau back in the days (10 or 15 years ago). They started publishing their own books about logo design, photography, graphic design, architecture, art, typography and so on. They closed the design bureau due to the immense success of their books and started to publish books only.
2 or 3 years ago they opened up their portfolio to lifestyle books. But lifestyle in a manner of designers, architects, trendsetters - “hipsters” in lack of a better word - early adopters and people who are generally interested in the outdoors and in beautiful things.
So the target group of the Gestalten Verlag are STILL those people. And that's why the distribution and marketing strategy of the Gestalten Verlag is still the same: You can buy their books in little design stores, art book stores, hipster boutiques, craft shops and so on.
So this book is primarily a book for people who like nice designed things (including books) and haven’t had contact to fly fishing until now. This book doesn’t claim to be a nonfiction book. It’s a book, which should fancy fly fishing. That’s why the book looks as it looks and is written as it’s written. And from this point of view, it makes totally sense to add things like rigging a fly rod, casting basics and an explanation of what a vise is and what a whip finisher does. And it’s not right, that those parts of the book are not on the level like the other parts of the book. Because there is no level. There are only nice designed stories in this book.

Yes, you are right, you can’t learn fly casting or -tying with this book. But that was not the goal. The goal was to cover fly fishing with all things which makes it so special and that we love. Don’t look at the book as a fly fisher. Look at the book as someone who haven’t contact to fly fishing at all but is interested in outdoors and lovely designed things. And I am quite sure, that you will see the book in a different view like you did.
We wanted to make a beautifully designed book. And I think we reached that target quite well. The response from all people we talked to is, that this is the most beautiful book about fly fishing, which they’ve ever seen. That makes us proud and humble. Old colleagues of mine - men as well as women - who don’t know nothing about (fly) fishing bought this book. Only because it’s a nice looking book. How nice is that! We talked with many fly fishers at the EWF (A German fly fishing show) this year about the book. And no one said, that there are odd parts in the book. Well - maybe you are right - for a fly fisher there MIGHT be odd parts. But hey - you don’t have to read them when you’re not interested. There are still a lot of other parts like history, portraits and destinations which are very interesting!

So, all in all The Fly Fisher is for those, who are interested in lovely designed things and the outdoors and maybe with this book they will become fly fishermen. And this book is for the fly fishermen who like to have a nicely designed book with interesting portraits, dream destinations and stunning photography.
Martin, once again a huge Thanks for your review. I hope that you understand my point of view and I really hope that my point doesn’t sound unfair or rude to you.

Tight Lines,
Jan (and Thorsten)

My reply

Jan (and Thorsten),

You write “Don’t look at the book as a fly fisher”... well, a fly fisher is what I am and fly fishing is what I do. And people who come here to read book reviews are like me: fly fishers and fly tyers, and most of them probably pretty seasoned too. So my outset for any review is that, and my judgment of any product is made with that as a background.
That also means that while I certainly understand your motivation for including what you did in the book, I will have to maintain my verdict and say that seen from the point of view of a fly fisher like myself and the average GFF reader, the book does go a little left and a little right and a little in between when it comes to content As a book for fly fishermen and not designer happy hipsters, it is a little heterogeneous when it comes to content.

It's still a very recommendable and stunningly beautiful book, and I'll certainly leave it on my coffee table in the certain expectation that a lot of my guests – fishing as well as non-fishing – will look in it and love it.



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