Kevin Parr wrote the book that I selected as my favourite of 2014, The Twitch – that one was a black comedy, though very funny, I thought, about a murderous twitcher. This book is very different, and is about Parr’s greater love – fishing.
And it’s not a laddish tale of bonking, drinking and murder but a contemplative tale about fishing, nature and love of the countryside. Now I am no fisherman, having last caught anything with a rod and line about 45 years ago, but I very much enjoyed this book. If all fishermen (and they mostly are men) were like Kevin Parr then there would be more chance for fisherfolk and birding folk to work together to address the problems of the aquatic environment (and yes, it would take more of ‘us’ to be like Kevin Parr too).
This book has a lot of sitting by water bodies wondering about the fish that are under the water; and that meniscus is what separates us from fishermen to some extent. The angler has to sit on the edge of the water (mostly) and read the water and guess where the fish are and act accordingly to catch them – although there is a lot more to it than guessing. Reading this book I would gladly acknowledge that many anglers are pretty good ecologists, and are much closer to real hunters than the Pheasant-blasters of lowland Britain. Reading a river, an ever-changing river, and understanding what the different species of fish need and therefore where they will be and what type of bait will catch them, does, I can see, grab the imagination and sounds quite fun. You could say it is a greater skill than birding – you could.
And also, Parr is very convincing that it is not the catching of fish which is the be-all and end-all of fishing – in a way that no grouse shooter has even come close with me when trying to explain the thrill of driven grouse shooting.
It helps a bit, for me, that there are birds liberally scattered through the pages of this book, but that is partly the point: it is a believable tale of how enjoying a day’s fishing is about enjoying the river, with all its wildlife, as well as yanking some fish out of the water.
I learned quite a lot about fish from these pages but it is also an engaging story of fishing at different ages and in different places and at different stages of one’s private life – and how fishing can be a solace and great fun at different times. And the author comes across as a thoughtful and very nice man who thinks about things and is easy to like. And that is how he is in reality too, on the basis of me having met him just the once.
I recommend this book to you whether you have no interest in fishing or even if you dislike the idea of catching creatures with a hook in their mouths, because you will find the book thoughtful and interesting and you won’t be able to dislike its author. He might even get you hooked.
Rivers Run: an angler’s journey from source to sea by Kevin Parr is published by Penguin Random House.