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The Feather Thief Book Review

The Feather Thief Book Review

by June 26, 2018 0 comments

While delving ever deeper into the joys of fly tying my thirst for knowledge grows as well. Recently, I listened to an episode of the Orvis Fly Fishing Guide Podcast hosted by Tom Rosenbauer. Tom interviewed Kirk Wallace Johnson, the author of The Feather Thief.

What is The Feather Thief?

Procrastinator Salmon Fly

The Feather Thief is the story of a young man obsessed with tying Victorian style salmon flies. Sadly, it is about an obsession that can and will at some point break a number of international laws.

Salmon flies are in many ways, much more about the art rather than the act, of catching fish. Traditional salmon fly patterns tied during the Victorian ages used a huge variety of feathers found throughout the world.

Humankind: The Harbinger of Extinction

Bird of Paradise

In a horrible turn of events perpetuated by a need for symbols of status, humankind destroyed a finite resource. That resource were rare birds such as the Bird of Paradise, Cotingas, Resplendent Quetzal. Each bird had lustrous feathers reminiscent of a rainbow.

To create a true salmon fly, it was believed that only particular feathers from specific birds would create the perfect salmon fly. Many birds were hunted to extinction.

What kept the knowledge of many of these species alive were explorers and scientists such as Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace. Their discoveries preserved a huge number of bird species in drawings and extremely well preserved examples of the real thing. With the collection of examples of each species came more than just a name of the individual scientist. In some cases these men were able to identify and name species that had never been identified before.

Genetic and Climatic History In A Dead Bird

Using scientific collection methods and recording, explorers like Darwin and Wallace provided science with a wealth of knowledge even they were not aware of. Over hundreds of years, scientists in the fields of genetics, agriculture, and environmental sciences have studied skins from birds collected by these great men, proving hypotheses that would be unprovable any other way.

Extracting DNA from the skins of birds has lead to an increase in our knowledge of the world as we know it and did not know it. Modern day greed has destroyed a finite resource again.

Greed and Obsession Rears Its Ugly Head

One evening a young man broke into the British Museum and stole an irreplaceable number of rare bird skins simply feed his need to tie Victorian salmon flies. He felt that tying with anything but the real deal was mediocre at best.

Well, the rest is literally history and you would be remiss not to read The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson to learn the rest of the story.

The Feather Thief and My Fly Tying

I learned something about selecting feathers for patterns that I tie every day. Yours truly learned about greed and obsession as well. I will say I am much more aware of where my materials come from. I can only hope that those of you who have not read this book and participate in the act of tying flies will head the warnings found in this most amazing true crime novel.

The Feather Thief is available through Amazon.com by following the links provided in this post.

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