Sixty pages of non-fiction can take you to strange places. When I first read The Spawning Run, it was in armchair comfort, coolly anticipating the prospect of a literary march across sweet spring meadows to the secret, private banks of a quietly flowing stream. A place where currents concealing the best and sleekest of fish riffle, pool and glide. A place requiring rod, reel and fly as sole equipment for a quintessential day’s sport.
I’m no fisherman, although mentally I’d been hatching this trip for a while. My fantasies, endlessly fertilized by books on man’s relationship with nature, had as their iconic activity the human struggle to locate, hook and land a creature of previously unrecorded dimensions. I wanted to locate the source of our motivation to hunt, to find deep within myself that classic dialogue between man and mythic, unseen quarry. But the slim, modestly illustrated volume in my hands had other plans:
The Itchen, the Test, the Frome, the fabled chalk streams of South England where Dame Juliana Berners and Isaak Walton fished – here I am in the middle of them, it’s Spring, the season has opened, and I might as well be in the Sahara Desert.
That’s fishing for you. And thus The Spawning Run begins, instantly setting up a babbling rhythm onomatopoeic with the places it describes, deftly delivering a punch line as drily surprising as the end it foreshadows. And thus it continues, tracking in diary form the incomparable journey (Homeric, final, fatal) of that most majestic of fish, the salmon, as it returns to its native river to spawn.
Here comes the sex. With unerring precision, the author casts the protagonists and villains of an annual riverine drama: the cock salmon, bullish, travel-weary, sighting the end of a lifetime mission to release long pent-up seed from colossal internal gonads; the hen, a coquette, ready to ‘gape’ at the appropriate moment above her carefully dug nest
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