Roderick L(angmere) Haig-Brown Ed Zern - Essay

Ed Zern

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There is something in angling which provokes a host of its partisans and practitioners to write about it. Most of them write very badly indeed, with enthusiasm running lengths ahead of talent. Only rarely does marked literary skill combine with sound knowledge and rich experience to produce a really good angling book, but Roderick Haig-Brown's "A River Never Sleeps" is just that.

The author writes for his fellow-fishermen, and assumes the reader's sympathy for his piscatory approach to rivers, but there is much in this book to captivate those whose interest in nature is more sedentary. The spectacle of salmon migration, for example, loses none of its eternal and elemental excitement when seen through the eyes of a fisherman—especially when the fisherman is as competent a naturalist as Haig-Brown proved himself in his earlier book, "Return to the River."

Haig-Brown came to the Pacific Northwest after a youth well spent in the chalk-stream country of England, and is therefore able to juxtapose the placid, literature-laden waters of [Izaak] Walton, [Charles] Cotton & Co. and the relatively uncouth and unsung rivers of British Columbia and the Pacific Coast.

Geographically, then, this is a "sectional" book—but only in the sense that [Walton's] "The Compleat Angler" is sectional. For the author's feeling for rivers and the sport and fascination they afford is universally shared by fishermen—and if he dodges a direct grapple with the question of what makes fishermen fish, he goes far toward answering the same question obliquely, by a recital of many angling adventures—some briskly physical, some amiably contemplative, and all refreshingly free of the phony romanticism that mars so many angling volumes.

There are people in this book, as well as salmonoids and other lesser animals. But except for Major Greenhill … they are dim, sketchy people, chiefly useful in helping to keep their respective rivers in scale.

The author concludes with a tribute to his fellow-writers on fish and fishing in as concise and felicitous a summation of angling literature as you're ever likely to find.

Ed Zern, "Rivers—the Sport and Fascination They Afford," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1947 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 9, 1947, p. 38.