John A. McPhee - The Founding Fish

from the publisher:
The Founding Fish, John McPhee's twenty-sixth book, is a braid of personal history, natural history, and American history, in descending order of volume. McPhee is a shad fisherman. He waits all year for the short spring season when delicious American shad -- Alosa sapidissima -- leave the ocean in hundreds of thousands and run up rivers heroic distances to spawn. He approaches them with a catch-and-eat philosophy. After all, their specific name means "most savory."

McPhee presents his obsession in bold and spirited prose, laced with humor. His research illuminates the sometimes surprising relevance of this fish in seventeenth -- and eighteenth -- century America, and its unique appeal to imaginative historians. George Washington was a commercial shad fisherman-in 1771, he caught 7,760 American shad. The fish had a cameo role in the lives of Henry David Thoreau and John Wilkes Booth. Planked shad (shad nailed to a board and broiled before an open fire) was invented by the Colony in Schuylkill, a Philadelphia fishing club founded in 1732, which now considers itself the fourteenth of the fifty-one United States.

McPhee fishes with and visits the laboratories of various ichthyologists, including a fish behaviorist and an anatomist of fishes, he takes instruction in the making of shad darts from a master of the art; and he cooks shad and shad roe in a variety of ways, delectably explained at the end of the book. Mostly, though, he goes fishing for shad in various North American rivers -- in Florida, in Maritime Canada, but especially in the Delaware River, nearest his home, where he stands for hours in stocking waders and cleated boots, or seeks pools below riffles and rapids in a canoe. His adventures in pursuit of shad occasion the kind of writing -- expert and ardent -- at which he has no equal.

John McPhee is a staff writer for The New Yorker. His previous book, Annals of the Former World, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 1999.