Rist, noted Claverack fly-tier, faces theft charge

There was a lot of talk at the Inter­national Fly Tying Symposium in New Jersey over the weekend abo
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There was a lot of talk at the Inter­national Fly Tying Symposium in New Jersey over the weekend about a fly-tier from the Hudson Valley accused of robbing a museum of rare feathers.

The man is Edwin Rist, a gifted 22-year-old musician from Claverack, who, along with his younger brother, Anton, is well-known for tying extraordinary full-dress salmon flies. Last week, Edwin was charged by British police with breaking into a nat­ural history museum in England in June 2009 and stealing 299 pelts of rare birds.

Police said most of the skins had been returned. Rist is due in court Friday in Hertfordshire, England.

Most fly-fishers, myself included, know little about the insular world of salmon fly- tying. It has virtually nothing to do with catching fish. It’s an exercise in craftsmanship and attention to detail. The flies take hours to create, and collectors will buy them for hundreds of dollars apiece.

Rist is widely considered a fly-tying prodigy. His alleged break-in at the Natural History Museum in Tring, England — familiar to some in the salmon-fly world due to its collection of more than 700,000 rare bird pelts — shocked attendees at the fly-tying expo.

“Our club members are reeling,” said Rockwell Hammond of the Northwest Salmon Fly Tyers Guild, who had come all the way from Seattle for the symposium. Rist had twice visited the group.

The salmon fly patterns in question date back to the late 19th century. Exotic birds with bright plumage, imported from col­onies around the world, were common in Victorian British society. Many of those birds are endangered or protected today. Still, some modern salmon fly-tiers are obsessed with using the authentic feathers called for in the original patterns, and while they can often be obtained legally, there exists a black market for the feathers of such species as the blue chatterer or the kori bustard. The pelt of one rare bird can command more than $3,000, experts said.

“I remember one [fly-fishing] show I was at, this guy followed me into the men’s room. He had one of those aluminum

attaché cases,” said Dick Talleur, the fly-tying and fly-fishing author and longtime Clifton Park resident who now lives in New Hampshire. “It was like a coke deal. He opened it up and it was full of jungle cock skins. I saw two guys get arrested at a show in Massachusetts.”

The Tring Museum caper has provoked worries that salmon fly-tiers will come under new scrutiny.

“We haven’t had any problems with the legal people in some time,” Talleur said. “I’m afraid that good people who are trying to do it properly are going to be under the gun.”

At least one dealer in exotic tying mat­erials, FeathersMc in Michigan, has been selling commonly available feathers, dyed to the right colors, as substitutes for the exotics. Proprietor John McLain has also been a partner with a number of zoos in a program that collects and distributes, free of charge, feathers that simply fall off the zoos’ kori bustards.

Rist hardly fits the profile of a burglar. Home-schooled along with his brother, he graduated from Columbia-Greene Community College at 17 with an associate degree in fine arts. He is in London as a student at the Royal Academy of Music. (Anton is at Juilliard). In September 2006, the Rist brothers’ work was showcased in an exhibit called “Fly on the Wall: A Celebration of Exotic Salmon Flies” at the Blue Hills Gallery at Columbia-Greene.

“In addition to tying, I have become interested in retailing flytying materials, a venture that started as an attempt to help fund a new flute purchase, but soon turned into a larger, more extensive hobby,” Rist said in a bio on his website, www.edwinrist.com, which was closed within the past week.

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