Eye of the Guide

The Essential Kelson : Atlantic Salmon Flies

Satoshi Yamamoto - Jun 6, 2016

The Essential Kelson – A Fly-Tyer's Compendium by Terry Griffith (2011)

Mr. Kelson:

"I believe if one pursues his/her enthusiasm in Atlantic Salmon Flies, one should naturally be interested in history. Another highly respected and frequently mentioned name, as Dr. T.E. Pryce-Tannatt, is George Mortimer Kelson (1835-1920). Among enthusiasts, he is referred as "Mr. Kelson" with the highest regards so I'd like to follow that manner. All the information and stories I can have are hearsay (like in this book) but I immediately developed an immense respect and admiration to this great individual. Indeed Dr. Pryce-Tannatt (Review 5) must have been one of his apprentices. To make a long list of his legacy summarized, "what George Mortimer Kelson did with all of his written work was to rationalize the salmon fly and present it in all its glory" (direct quote from page 19).

At the same time, I kind of chuckle to hear Mr. Kelson was "a formidable angler" and "dogmatic in his instruction" (for fishing and tying, I suppose). He is even referred as "opinionated, arrogant, and certainly not a modest man" (Salmon Flyer Volume 7 No. 1, Winter, 1995). My imagination would expand: he was sitting in a hut/lodge, situated along his favorite river, with fellow anglers. Then he was giving lectures about catching Atlantic salmon efficiently and tying effective flies to his audience. It sounds to me he was avoided by some as much as he was respected by many. Yet nobody could argue with him as he was formidably the best, coming back with the biggest bag full of salmon.

An angler to the core with exceptional dressing skills; all of his flies that we now treat as artistic objects were created and thrown into the river to catch the most athletic species among salmonoids. Respect!!

Master and Apprentice:

Through the course, I realized Atlantic Salmon Flies are indeed an old-school subject. It's the tradition and the historical legacy, which has been loved and transferred generation by generation. Teacher and Student or Master and Apprentice, that style of relationship has been naturally formed. Fortunately I met one of greatest contemporary masters of Atlantic Salmon Flies, Marvin Nolte. He was the gentleman I met at DePuy's Spring Creek. His chapter in Judith Dunham's book (Review 3) was what struck me in awe (again the book was published over 20 years ago). I haven't mentioned his name up until this chapter because I don't want the public to think I'm trading on his name. Soon I came to learn of his reputation: The Grainger Collection, Buz Buszek Award, the list goes on.

Mr. Nolte has been highly respected among Atlantic Salmon Fly enthusiasts. I believe every craft of his deserve public lights with applauses.
Photos were taken at International Federation of Fly Fisher (www.fedflyfishers.com) headquarter/museum in Livingston, MT, which is located two blocks away from my houseJ

Although he made great contributions to this book by reproducing Mr. Kelson's recipes (discussed below), his personality is a polar-opposite of Mr. Kelson's: modesty. With his great personality he kindly and enthusiastically answered to "my level" questions. Indeed he guided me through this artistic yet challenging subject. I owe huge & many THANK YOU to him. So much obliged, Marvin!!

Over all, I will forever be the apprentice of Atlantic Salmon Flies……..


This book (Coch-y-Bonddu Books ISBN: 978-1-904-784-31-9) is the compilation of fly-dressing chapters from Mr. Kelson's three publications: "The Salmon Fly (1895)", "Tips (1901)", and "The Land & Water Salmon Flies" (a series of cards with dressing recipes in the journal The Land & Water from 1886 to 1902). So if you would look for each publication, like "How to Dress Salmon Flies" by Dr. Pryce-Tannatt, you may be able to find modern reprint versions in moderate prices. Or check out at the digital libraries that have been mentioned before (Review 5). I have already downloaded them. When time allows, I intend to print them out and read through.

This is from a Welsh publication. So you can check at British websites such as The Flyfisher's Classic Library (www.ffcl.com) and Coch-Y-Bonddu Books (www.anglebooks.com). The Deluxe edition is ornamented with one of actual flies dressed by Marvin!

As far as I know, this book contains the most dressings by Master Nolte all in one publication. He wrote all the annotations regarding technical aspects in modern interpretation. Indeed his dressings are, as the editor credits, "his combined technical and aesthetic judgment... a thing of beauty, a joy forever" and "I cannot imagine G.M.K. would have any misgivings or complaints about these superb interpretations of his work" (page 20).

As a fly-dressing textbook, as a historical review, as a gallery of salmon flies, whichever one's wish is, this book should be inducted to every Salmon Fly enthusiast's collection.


Left: Page 241. Jock Scott, one of my most favorite and most challenging dressings, by G.M.K and my mentor.

Below: My best homage to my predecessors.

Last but not the least; I'd like express my homage to my mentor again for what he had done to me. A Dusty Miller based on Francis Francis, as featured in Judith Dunham's book (Review 3) page 116.

Satoshi Yamamoto, www.leftyanglerandflies.com, is a guide and a fly-dresser in Livingston, MT.

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