Book Review: Keeper – A Life Amongst Fishes and Those Who Catch Them

The KeeperTo the outsider, fly-fishing must seem inordinately complex. There’s a rod and reel, fly selection, and line and leader for a seemingly infinite number of occasions. And don’t forget to add boxes, packs, waders, and footwear. We haven’t yet touched the vast array of knots, some tied on line as thin as a human hair, let alone the mechanics of casting, which require more than a rudimentary understanding of the laws of physics. It is no wonder the yarns we you fishing folks spin are so outrageous – there are too many details to keep track of!

Martin Donovan’s Keeper, a first person narrative of life as a riverkeeper, both mirrors the countless nuances of fly-fishing life and offers up its antithesis. Set primarily on the Nursling beat of the River Test, Donovan tends to both fish and family, patron and poacher, all the while building bridges between the overzealous sportsman and the eccentric tourist. Endless pontification on why people cast the feather this book is not. Instead, Donovan explains why some of his clients prefer a nap on one of his many meticulously constructed riverside benches, or look forward to a fine single malt at days end even more than a fine Atlantic Salmon at the day’s beginning. As instructor and accomplice, he shares the experience with both candor and wit…

Early on, I learned that the anglers who arrive looking like fly-fishing catalogue models are very seldom as experienced as they look. Many times I have watched impeccably turned-out fishermen thrash the water into a frenzied lather and not only scare most of the fish in the Test, but a good deal of them in the Itchen, as well.

Donovan’s dry humor is littered throughout, and you won’t need an encyclopedic understanding of fly fishing for the chuckle either…

Surprisingly, I do drink quite a lot of wine in the fishing lodge, but only to be sociable and because I’d be rude to refuse. I’ve often thought that’s probably the typical opening line used at most Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. “No, I haven’t got a drink problem, my Mum always told me to be polite and outgoing.”

While you might have difficulty imagining a more idyllic setting than a classic English chalkstream, the author has since moved on to what he describes as the even quieter pastures of the Whitchurch beat. It’s a clue to future page turners that the fly-fishing life Donovan describes is anything but boring, yet the tale comes off absolutely simple and genuine. A thoroughly immersing read, it’ll leave you wanting nothing more than being there with the author.

The only disappointment for me was that I wasn’t.

Keeper – A Life Amongst Fishes and Those Who Catch Them, by Martin Donovan, is available for pre-ordering via Departure Publishing.

MG signing off (to figure out how to get some time on the Test)


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Nate says:

The fact that “Atlas Shrugged” is featured on your bookshelf makes me smile.

Now if the Ayn Rand Foundation would just release an electronic version, I wouldn’t have this crick in my neck from that thick book always being stuffed under my pillow.

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