J.W. Dunne's Sunshine and the Dry Fly is one of the great classics of fly-fishing. First published in 1924, it was written as much to engage and enthuse as to inform, and it succeeded. Its author has gone down in history as “one of the prophets of old.”
The larger part of the book describes the art of dry-fly fishing for trout, the flies they eat and his efforts to develop artificial copies, with the remainder a primer on how to make these copies for yourself.
This extended third edition is published in its 100th year. It includes a number of lost and hard-to-find treasures, not least two short but lyrical essays aimed at the beginner, recipes for four more dry flies which he had intended for the second edition but mislaid, more complete detail on his fly-dressing materials and three unique archive images.
Author: Born in 1875, J.W. Dunne was of mixed English and Irish descent. He became a soldier and pioneer aeronaut, before retiring through ill health and taking to dry-fly fishing. He is best known for his later book on pre-cognitive dreams, time and consciousness, An Experiment with Time. He died in 1949, shortly before the Second Edition of Sunshine and the Dry Fly was published.
Editor: Guy Inchbald has for some years been working on a biography of Dunne. The opportunity to produce this expanded edition of his seminal book for its centenary was just too good to miss.
2024 is the centenary of Dunne's seminal work Sunshine and the Dry Fly. He wrote it as much to engage and inspire as to inform. It became a classic work and he has gone down in history as “one of the prophets of old.”
A second edition was under way at the time of his death in 1949. Over the years he had collected several changes he wanted to make but, now old and infirm, as his energies failed him so too did the whereabouts of the various notes. Only a couple made it in, before it was published the next year.
My searches through his archives have unearthed much that was lost or is hard to find.
Various intended changes recovered from his archive include the acknowledgement of more predecessors in the quest for a transparent fly, the date of Skues & McCaskie's discovery of the Blue-Winged Pale Watery, and the main American distributor for Cellulite and his other dressing materials. The most significant loss was the description of four new flies, variations on the mayfly known as “uprights.” The meat of this edition thus represents Dunne’s original intentions for his Second Edition.
Two short, lyrical articles of his on dry-fly fishiing also survive. They are aimed at the beginner, consequently they form a useful introduction to the main book. The May-Fly is Hatching is an undated typescript found among Dunne’s papers. As far as I know it is reproduced here for the first time. Note the arch remark at the end about pioneer aircraft, at which he was an old hand. The Fly on the Water was first published in W.A. Hunter’s anthology Fisherman’s Pie (A. & C. Black, 1926). Hunter reprinted it a few years later, as a clip-in booklet for the C. Farlow & Co. catalogue, fulfilling a promise which Dunne had made to them.
A deliberate omission from the original was full information on the various dressing materials. Dunne had secretly agreed their specifications with Messeena’s, and gave only their product codes so that the supplier would have a monopoly. But the secrecy slipped over the years and various snippets became public. The specifications changed a little too, as one raw material or another became harder to find, or demand for some new colour arose. I have done my best to include this information.
There is one other addition. Two years after publication, Dunne wrote a letter clarifying various aspects of his flies to R.M. Marston, who published it in the Fishing Gazette. I have worked this information too into the appendices.
A few new illustrations are also present; a unique photograph of him in his angling gear, a cartoon he drew bringing together both his fishing and his writings on precognitive dreams, and a page of sketch maps showing some rivers he fished. The cover (reproduced below) depicts a large trout which he caught and is still extant.
Preparing a draft is one thing, interesting a publisher quite another. Having a very clear idea of how I wanted it to look, I decided to publish it myself. Nowadays this is quite easy, via print-on-demand services such as Lulu.com. Ensuring a volume of adequate quality is less easy. I have done my best and, despite the relatively high cost, it will be available as a cloth-bound hardback complete with dust cover. Unfortunately I have not been able to combine this with a stitched spine, so it will be what they call "perfect bound", with individual glued pages in the mass-market style. Quality control may not always be quite what one wishes, but if you return a flawed copy it will be replaced free of charge.
Updated 1 January 2023