Published Jan 5. 2019 - 5 years ago
Updated or edited Jan 5. 2019

Book review: Top Saltwater Flies

Bonefish, Tarpon, Permit

An impressing three volume collection of patterns for the most sought after fish in warm saltwater

Drew Chicone
Wild River Press
Publishing year: 
978-0-98952-368-4 + 978-0-99930-930-8 + 978-0-98952-369-1
296 + 300 + 260
US$ (or 100 US$ each)
Reviewed by: 

Is it fair to say that a book is too nice? Too well made? Too gorgeous?
Not really...

I for one applaud publishers who go the extra mile to turn their titles into something spectacular, and I love large and beautiful books. That's a thing that books have over web sites and even magazines: that physical feeling of quality: paper, weight, print, binding... texture.
And I do salute the publisher Wild River Press and its manager Tom R. Pero for making these three volumes on saltwater flies something beyond the ordinary. Wild River Press is a company that holds very high standards when it comes to book quality, and they typically publish large and thick books, well laid out, full of world class photos and printed on prime quality paper, exquisitely bound and often in slipcases, which isn't a common thing for books these days.

The 39 flies

  1. Adams's Big Ugly, Bonefish
  2. Anderson's McCrab, Permit
  3. Avalon Shrimp, Permit
  4. Bailey's Snapping Shrimp, Bonefish
  5. Basic Black and Purple, Tarpon
  6. Bauer Crab, Permit
  7. Baum's Biscayne Bubble Gum, Permit
  8. Brown's Rocket Man and Strip Tease, Bonefish
  9. Chicone's Bone Appétit, Bonefish
  10. Chicone's Calypso Coyote, Tarpon
  11. Chicone's Contraband Crab, Permit
  12. Chicone's Detonator Crab, Tarpon
  13. Chicone's Double-Barrel Tarpon Popper, Tarpon
  14. Chicone's Drama Queen Shrimp, Bonefish
  15. Chicone's Five-Minute Finger Mullet, Tarpon
  16. Chicone's Kung FuBlue Crab, Permit
  17. Chicone's Mayhem Mole Crab, Permit
  18. Chicone's McFly Crab, Permit
  19. Chicone's Micro Mangrove Cannibal, Tarpon
  20. Chicone's Peyote Palolo Worm, Tarpon
  21. Chicone's Punisher Series: Peppermint Punisher, Tarpon
  22. Chicone's Swamp Cabbage Shrimp, Permit
  23. Chicone's Tide Slave, Permit
  24. Chicone's Tranqu-Hill-izer Shrimp, Bonefish
  25. Chicone's Tuscan Bunny, Tarpon
  26. Classic Cockroach, Tarpon
  27. Coyote Ugly Series: Chicone's Coyote Ugly, Bonefish
  28. Coyote Ugly Spawning Shrimp, Bonefish
  29. Flack's Cocaine Crustacean, Bonefish
  30. Helm's Jessie Special, Bonefish
  31. Hennessey's Jedi Crab, Bonefish
  32. Key Lime Punisher, Tarpon
  33. Mill's Marabou Shrimp, Tarpon
  34. Modified Everglades Special, Tarpon
  35. Modified Meko Special, Bonefish
  36. Simonson's SimRam, Bonefish
  37. Skok's Strong Arm Merkin, Permit
  38. Trodella's Ghost, Bonefish
  39. Turbo-Tied Tarpon Toad, Tarpon

These three Drew Chicone books are large in format, full of fantastic photos, very well written and edited, and quite complete when it comes to showing how to tie a selection of flies for bonefish, tarpon and permit.
They are indeed nice, well made and even gorgeous.
The problem is that nice, well made and gorgeous comes at a price… literally.
If you want all three volumes, you are looking at a 250 US$ bill. If you, like me, live outside the US and don't have a local dealer, you can add about half of that in postage, and if the books bump into your local customs authorities while in transit, fees and taxes might come on top of that. You can buy each volume separately, but then the price is US$ 100.- per book.
So these books aren't exactly cheap!
All that's very fine, because they are gorgeous, and indeed well produced.
They are huge in format, 8.5 by 11 inches, also known as US Letter format, which is close to A4. The books are spiral bound, which is a binding preferred by many tyers because the books can be laid down open flat on a table while you tie.

The books are pattern books, tying instruction books essentially, each volume focusing on patterns for its title fish: bonefish, tarpon and permit. 14 patterns each for bonefish and tarpon and 11 patterns for permit. So you can imagine the details, size of images and generous use of space. 39 fly patterns taking up 756 pages in a large format means that each pattern has all the pages it needs... and then some.
Apart from the patterns, the book contains a wealth of really beautiful photos. Tropical water and scenery does make for some great fillers, and going through the pages must make even the most cold hearted hater of warm weather want to be on a skiff on a flat in the mangrove somewhere in the Caribbean.
But of course it's the flies that get the most paper real estate. These are after all pattern books.

With all due respect, these flies aren't exactly complex. A somewhat seasoned tyer could probably tie most of them from a single picture and a materials list, and a good tyer, well versed in saltwater flies, could most likely do it from a picture alone. It doesn't hurt having a step-by-step with 10-15 large pictures of each fly, but in most cases it's basically overkill.
Some of the flies are well known patterns, some are less famous while quite few are Chicone's own patterns, most carrying his name. Close to half, 17 out of the 39 patterns, are called Chicone's so-and-so.

You won't find a Crazy Charlie, a Bonefish Bitters, a Gotcha or any of a number of other very popular patterns, so these books aren't handbooks of saltwater flies as such, but a selection of flies designed by or chosen by Chicone. That's absolutely OK. The books are his, and the choice is his of course. The arguments for selecting each pattern are in place, and the patterns are all accompanied by long texts, some of them with extensive interviews with the originator or at least a profile or a section of text written by the originator, and altogether you get a colossal amount of detailed info on each fly.
So you truly get your money's worth in these books.

My problem is that you might not need quite that much... It depends on what you want. If you simply want tying instructions, materials lists and a few hints on tying these patterns, parting with 250 US$ for the instructions to 39 patterns is probably beyond most people's budgets.
If you on the other hand want some really beautiful books to leaf through and enjoy on a cold winter's day, or to have casually laying on your coffee table for your visiting fishing friends to admire, these three volumes are kind of an odd contender for that role. While they are beautiful and impressing, they are also a hybrid between the classic coffee table book and the instruction manual. Other Wild River Press books like "A Passion for Tarpon", "Atlantic Salmon Magic" or "Wild Steelhead" are easier to categorize. They smell far away of luxury coffee table books. Even the steelhead pattern book by Dec Hogan and Marty Howard, "Tying Steelhead Flies with Style", has more coffee table aura, still basically being a pattern book.

I realize that large format, spiral binding and thick paper costs, but I wonder if the books wouldn't be able to reach a larger audience if they had been slightly less ambitious in scope?
I feel really sorry to say so, because as I said: I love large and gaudy books, but Chicone's saltwater pattern books would probably have been better off in a smaller and humbler packaging and set at a lower price point.

But of course, if you love books, love saltwater fishing and flies, and have the wallet for it, "Top Saltwater Flies" are books for you.

The books have their own web site.


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