The Founding Fish

John McPhee

We don't see how anyone who enjoys the fishing parts of Ransome's books could resist this one! The "Founding Fish" is the American Shad, and it makes you wish that Ransome could have read it. McPhee tells about his lifetime affair with the shad, the country's off-and-on passion for the shad, and it's full of fishing stories, McPhee's and other shad fishermen's stories. There's only one place you're likely to bring in a shad in California now (oh, yes, he tells the story of the man who brought shad to the West, too), and much of what we learned about the epic of the shad was new to us.

McPhee writes almost as well as Ransome sometimes, and he packs an incredible amount of shadology into his pages and keeps you coming for more. Did the shad save our troops at Valley Forge? Maybe – as an anti-historiologist Molly especially enjoyed the many tales of the shad and Washington's troops. Sam, the ichthyologist, especially enjoyed the stories of the lives and times of the shad rivers and the shad fisheries. A bit of sport, a lot of history, an amazing amount of shad science – and at the last, McPhee's own shad cookery with contributions from friends and – again – history. (It just happened that as we got to the mouth-watering appendix of recipes, we got our hands on a shad's worth of shad roe – instant success, and we've been trying to cook shad roe for years. Susan would have loved the McPhee method of slow steaming over a bed of bacon. We think it might work on eels or catfish, too.)

Any bookstore or library should have this one. Our trade (oversize) paperback cost about $14.

Published by Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 2002

Reviewed by Sam and Molly McGinnis, August, 2004

This article is ©2004 by Molly McGinnis and Sam McGinnis, and posted on All Things Ransome with permission.

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