The art of Salmon Fly tying, as outlined by Victorian-era influencer George Mortimer Kelson, involved the most colorful and rare of feathers to capture this esteemed fish. "To tie like Kelson, his readers would need a silver monkey, a gray squirrel, pig's wool, silk from the Orient, fur from the Arctic, a hare's face, and a goat's beard...Kelson rattled throug his current invetory of bird skins: the Banded Chatterer (now endangered), the Great American Cock, the Nankeen Night Heron, the South American Bittern, and the Ecuadorian Cock of the Rock. But there was one skin that Kelson prized above all; 'The greatest find that has fallen to my lot is the Golden Bird of Paradise. May this luck be your luck, brother Fishermen, as it has been mine! It will only cost you £10!"
These birds were rare and valuable more than a hundred years ago. Now, protected by international legislation, and many greatly endangered, they are even more so.
The book then cuts to the modern-day story of Edwin Rist, an incredibly precocious young man who passionately studied flute - and then fly tying. Admitted to community college at age 13 to study fine arts, Edwin discovered fly tying at the age of 11. Challenging himself to tie increasingly complex flies, Edwin found himself flummoxed by lack of access to rare feathers that were used in Victorian-era Salmon flies that were seen as the paragons of the art form.
In 2006 after graduating college at age 16, Edwin was accepted to the Royal Academy of Music in London to continue his flute studies - and that's where he was introduced to the idea of the British Natural History Museum at Tring.
The Tring's vast collections, many of which were compiled before the British National Museum was even formally incorporated, included Alfred Russel Wallace's priceless bird specimens.
What follows is a fascinating glimpse into the world of crime, obsession, and underground feather sales, along with a heartbreaking and sobering underscoring of the importance of scientific research as these priceless specimens are lost. I don't want to spoil the twists and turns of the story, but suffice it to say that it's definitely worth a read.