Cast From the Past: The Kelson Land and Water Salmon Fly Cards

One of the rarest and most intriguing set of fly fishing collectibles is the series of salmon fly cards that George Kelson commissioned for the “Land and Water” journal beginning in 1886.

George Mortimer Kelson is considered one of the giants of the salmon fly world, having written the iconic tome “The Salmon Fly: How to Dress It and How to Use It” in 1895. A shameless self-promoter, Kelson is credited with assembling one of the earliest and largest collections of salmon fly patterns.

Prior to the publication of his book, Kelson wrote regularly for “Land and Water” and arranged for beautiful chromolithograph printed cards to appear, tipped into copies of the weekly journal for British gentlemen.

The salmon fly cards are stunning in their diversity and detail. A total of 85 cards were printed and delivered in the publication from 1886 to 1902.

If you were to find a full set of the cards, you would have a real treasure on your hands. Only a few complete sets have ever been assembled and the Kelson Land and Water cards have been subject to intense bidding by collectors over the years.

There was even an entire book written about the series in 1993: “The Land and Water Salmon Flies” by Ron J. Coleby for the Fly Fishers Classic Library.

A number of collectors in the U.S. have shown an interest in the cards as well. A. Nelson Cheney, the co-author of “Fishing With the Fly” with Charles Orvis in 1883, assembled quite a collection of the cards and put them in a special bound volume (pictured here).

Sort of like rare baseball cards for salmon fly fishers, with prices to match.

Steve Woit is the author of “Fly Fishing Treasures: The World of Fly Fishers and Collecting”, a book featuring profiles of 30 experts and collectors and over 800 photographs of rare and collectible fly rods, reels, flies, books, and ephemera.

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