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Chris Santella, Author of 50 Places to Fly Fish Before You Die, Passes Away at 61

He wrote several books on fly fishing, including Fifty More Places to Fly Fish Before You Die, Fifty Favorite Fly-Fishing Tales, Why I Fly Fish, and The Tug is the Drug.

Chris Santella, Author of 50 Places to Fly Fish Before You Die, Passes Away at 61

Fly angler Chris Santella, the widely esteemed Oregon author who spawned a book series and a World Fishing Network television show with his much acclaimed 50 Places to Fly Fish Before You Die, passed away on Thursday, May 23 at the age of 61.

The news was posted to the Trout Unlimited website on June 5 by Kirk Deeter, the vice president and editor-in-chief of Trout Media, the communications wing of Trout Unlimited.

"The fly-fishing world is a little bit less ‘adventurous,’ and a quite a bit less ‘literary’ now, because we recently lost one of the purest, most inspiring writing voices the sport has ever known," wrote Deeter in an online tribute to his friend.

"Chris Santella gracefully succumbed to cancer at the age of 61 on May 23. I chose those words carefully, because Santella never 'lost' anything—he fought… he won… he taught… he inspired… and most important, he was a role model, a great friend and one of the most genuinely caring people I’ve ever had the honor of knowing and working with. I know many others who feel just the same way."

Many did indeed feel that way because of the iconic fly-fishing book Fifty Places to Fly Fish Before You Die, which Santella published in 2004, a book that chronicled the bucket list places and experiences that a number of fly fishing experts shared concerning some of the world's greatest fly rod destinations. That book served as the catalyst for a 19 book series that had the same literary DNA and covered fly fishing, playing golf, running, hiking, paddling, sailing, camping, diving, skiing, surfing and more. 

Santella would write several books on fly fishing, including Fifty More Places to Fly Fish Before You Die, Fifty Favorite Fly Fishing Tales, Why I Fly Fish, and The Tug is the Drug, the latter being a 30 essay volume that featured some of Santella's column writing for the New York Times and other publications.

The late author will also have another fly-fishing book released posthumously in August, a fictional release published by Lyons Press and entitled Belgian Flats, a 178-page volume that details the story of an angler named Cody, a fly-fishing guide whose career has hit a dead end and gets a reboot at a prestigious Atlantic salmon lodge in northwestern Russia.

In The Tug is the Drug, Santella expertly covered a wide range of fly fishing topics with his own prose, something noted by Fly Fisherman editor Ross Purnell in his review of the book.

"Topics range from leaping makos near the fairways of Torrey Pines, to midnight Atlantic salmon fishing on the fabled Ponoi, to encounters with friendly mujeres on the streets of Havana," noted Purnell. "Did you know Bob Dylan had an obsession with fishing in the 1970s? I didn't either, but Santella covers that as well."

Cover image of Chris Santella's book, The Tug is the Drug.

Santella covered such topics well because he was a naturally gifted writer, had an observant eye that could detect a great story, and had his skills polished by his educational pathway.

Having studied at Middlebury College and Yale according to his friend Deeter, Santella spent nearly two decades in the advertising and marketing business fields, moving on to become a Portland, Ore. based freelance writer and marketing consultant. As he did so, he was soon a widely known author, with bylines appearing in such places as the New York Times, the Washington Post, Forbes.com, The New Yorker, Golf, Travel & Leisure, and more.

Reportedly meeting Deeter on a steelhead fly fishing trip to Kodiak Alaska in 2010, there was another well-known fly angler on that same adventurous trip who would go on to carry Santella's "Fifty Places" fly-fishing concept to the television screen.

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That happened when Conway Bowman, a renowned fishing guide known for his mako shark fly rod exploits in the Pacific Ocean near his San Diego home and the former host of Fly Fishing the World on Sportsman Channel and My Outdoor TV (MOTV), went on to become the host of the Fifty Places to Fly Fish Before You Die show on World Fishing Network (WFN) in 2015.

When that happened, Santella's unique concept was introduced not only to readers, but also to television viewers under the umbrella of WFN’s fishing program lineup, also becoming a part of the Outdoor Sportsman Group family in the process. 

Fly Fisherman’s digital editor Josh Bergan also noted that one of the stories in Santella’s Fifty Favorite Fly-Fishing Tales, which Purnell is featured in along with many other Fly Fisherman contributors, inspired a dream adventure that has driven a passion to see out new places. Ralph Cutter’s “Fly Fishing 3,000 Feet under the Earth,” which is about targeting blind catfish with hoppers in the caves of Borneo as part of a research project, set the bar high for what adventure fly fishing means. 

Deeter noted in his online TU tribute to his friend this week that Santella’s passing took place sometime after he had gone on a fishing trip to Alaska. When he returned home several months ago, he did so with blurred vision in one eye. A subsequent visit to the doctor in Portland brought grim news and a sobering prognosis after a cancerous tumor was discovered.

Deeter praised his friends talent and then mourned his loss, delivering what might be the ultimate tribute to Santella. That came when he noted that when he got the news of Santella’s passing a few days ago, he was sitting along the famed River Test in England.

"It occurred to me, right then, that I probably wouldn’t have been at that place, at that time, were it not for the adventure spirit my friend had inspired in the first place," noted Deeter. "And within minutes… the most amazing mayfly hatch I’d ever witnessed ensued. I shed a few tears, and then smiled, and I fished. It affirmed a belief that everything happens for a reason, and I hoped—actually, I honestly felt—that Santella had found peace."

As Santella’s life and legacy is considered, it seems obvious that it’s all far more than a series of books on fly fishing and other subjects. Because whenever Santella met someone, it often left a friendship cemented on the water with a fly rod in hand.

Santella certainly recognized that down through the years, and said as much.

"I've had the good fortune over the last thirty years to make many fine fishing friends who have furthered my horizons, both in terms of angling experiences and a greater appreciation of life," wrote Santella in the Acknowledgements section for his 2014 book, The Tug is the Drug.

But to listen to Deeter and others, it was probably the other way around for those same people. Because after they had posed for a selfie with Santella or asked him to autograph a book, they were the ones often blessed by a friendship with a man who inspired so many to chase their fly fishing dreams before they died.

Santella not only wrote about that concept quite well, but he also lived it well too. Hopefully he was able to fish all 50 places. Rest in peace Chris Santella, you will be sorely missed.




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