The Curious Case of the Fly-Fishing Feather Thief

Back in 2009, there was a mysterious heist of 300 rare and “irreplaceable” tropical birds from the Natural History Museum at Tring. The fear at the time of the theft was that the birds were going to be used as fishing lures.


A year later American Edwin Rist a student in London was arrested for the theft. Rist, a salmon fly tier since his mid-teens, was selling the rare pelts to people who tie full-dress Atlantic salmon flies.


Now Rist and his avian heist are the subjects of a new book by Kirk Wallace Johnson titled ‘The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century.”

You can read an excerpt HERE courtesy of Outside Online.

2 thoughts on “The Curious Case of the Fly-Fishing Feather Thief

  1. That rare obsessive bird – a stealer and seller. I saw that wonderful collection of skins at Tring Natural History in Hertfordshire before they unaccountably took wing.

    As a flytyer who once in the late 1970s had a south Indian villager arrive in my one-tent camp beside the Cauvery River one morning with the “couple of chickens” that I had asked him to get for me in the village a few miles away, as a rare culinary treat for me and my girfriend, a change from weeks of campfire-cooked vegetarian curry and rice, I had something of a “Ristian Dilemma” problem when the “chickens”, which arrived in camp hanging off the crossbar of my village man’s beaten-up bicycle, turned out to be a brace of catapult-shot Sonnerat’s Grey Jungle Fowl – male birds too, and so providers of the salmon, sea-trout and steelhead tyers dream material for fly cheeks – “Jungle Cock” .

    We duly ate the birds. And I became some sort of proto-Rist, taking the skinned and sun-dried feathered necks of those birds back to Britain with me a few months later buried deep in a now-stinking, too long on the road, backpack that no airport Customs official would dare to delve into, to a Britain where, in the years that followed, they found their way into a fair few flies and went with me to places like Iceland, Argentina and Chile, legally now and set in pretty little flyboxes.

    As for Reist … Obsession by Calvin Klein – and then some. Incredible.

  2. Dodo, huh?

    Oh, the killer flies I might have tied with them….

    We really didn’t too well on the birds, animals, fish and wild habitat conservation front (and still don’t, if there’s sporting or personal glory or a profit to be made somewhere), I sometimes think…….

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