The Essential Kelson

Terry Griffiths (ed) - The Essential Kelson: A Fly-tyer’s Compendium

Coch-y-bonddu Books £575.00 leather £35.00 cloth
ISBN 978 1 904 784 319

George Kelson was the most amazing character, a great horseman, shot, pigeon-racer and a well-known cricketer (he played with W.G. Grace in 1866, the year the Gentlemen beat the Players) and, almost as an afterthought, he wrote extensively on salmon fishing. Kelson’s brash style didn’t suit everyone, but his book The Salmon Fly, published in 1895, remains one of the most influential works on the subject, even a century after it rolled off the presses. Strangely, the book, despite its present fame, didn’t sell as well as you might imagine and Kelson was still sitting on an uncomfortably large pile of stock half a dozen years later, when he published a smaller volume, called Tips. Part of the reason why The Salmon Fly didn’t fly out of the door was that between 1886 and 1902, many of the patterns had appeared in a series of colourful cards slipped between the pages of Land & Water magazine. The market was saturated – but although Kelson probably didn’t make much money as he would have liked out of the venture, he needn’t have worried, because in the long run it didn’t stop The Salmon Fly becoming a classic.

The problem for modern fly tiers is that the Land & Water cards have literally vanished off the face of the planet; The Salmon Fly is expensive, even as a reprint, largely because it is a great big shaggy dog of a book; and a first edition of the almost athletically slim Tips, which only has half a dozen “new” patterns in it, will set you back several hundred squids. Justin Knowles very farsightedly published Ron Coleby’s book The “Land and Water Salmon” Flies back in 1993, but this has become almost as much of a collector’s item as first editions of Kelson’s own books and it has never been reprinted.

Which is where The Essential Kelson comes in. There are plenty of other lists of salmon flies – Dunne, Fitzgibbon, Francis, Hale, Hardy, Maxwell, Pryce-Tannatt – but Kelson illustrated more of the patterns than all of his rivals put together and has attracted a much-deserved fan club because of it. Here, for the first time, is Kelson without the boring bits, boiled down to the hard core of information that fly dressers need to tie the patterns he chose; illustrations of 78 flies tied by Marvin Nolte; and of a slew of period dressings, many of them from Peter Cresswell’s very fine collection; and that is not to mention scans of the many colour plates from The Salmon Fly and The “Land and Water Salmon” Flies. Counting the foreword by Paul Little, the index and the introduction by Terry Griffiths, the whole thing maxes out at just over 300 large format pages.

If you are a salmon fly tier, then you want this (I didn’t say you need it, but you do want it). Just about the only criticism I could possibly make is that I wouldn’t personally have chosen pink to highlight Marvin Nolte’s very helpful comments on Kelson’s instructions.

This really is going to be an extremely popular book and our thanks are due to the team that produced it. The 75 leather copies are unique as each one has a different salmon fly tied by Marvin Nolte bound in - if you want to tie Kelson, look no further.