Best fishing book ever written: Don’t eat farmed salmon

Over the past couple weeks I flew through David James Dunan’s classic fishing novel, The River Why. Being fairly immersed in both fishing and books, why am I coming to this work now, 25 years after the fact? Probably because I have an unwarranted bias against River-Runs-Through-It-Big-Two-Hearted-River, old timey trout chasing tales. I haven’t read them, and didn’t want to. Gierach and Lyons make me piss my waders laughing, but the fly fishing novel was not for me.

Then this book changed everything. In fact, it’s in my top five books, period.

FYI: The other four: The Omnivore’s Dilemma, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, A Prayer for Owen Meany and Drop City  in no particular order.

This book combines the lower 48’s best fishing with the spiritual depth and humor of the best John Irving. It’s one of a handful of books I would read over and over again.

Duncan wrote an afterward in the 20th anniversary edition, explaining that a sequel to this novel would be to dark to write today and went on to decry the destruction of the Pacific Northwest ecosystem that framed his novel. And his most bitter disgust is saved for farmed Atlantic Salmon:

I never forsaw a day coming when the provincial government of British Columbia would fire its fisheries biologists, as it did in 2001, let corporate ignoramuses call the biological shots, and set loose upon the oceans, the rivers, and the world’s supper tables a “farmed Atlantic salmon” that is in fact a genetic mutant shot full of antibiotics to counteract the fact that it’s grown in pens saturated with its own excrement and raised on a diet consisting largely of slaughterhouse offal.

I’ve been eating wild salmon for a while thanks to the Trout Unlimited Why Wild effort to boycott farmed salmon and give wild salmon economic value (hence protection as a resource). It costs a bit more — nearly twice the price in a lot of cases — but I’m never going back. Most of us don’t have any concept of the true costs of the food we eat (See Omnivore’s Dilema).  Duncan’s brief rant on the “anti-salmon” has reconfirmed this, and I’ve decided to boycott fishing trips to British Columbia in the forseeable future — the Babine and Kispiox will have to wait.


About mstansberry

Matt Stansberry currently lives in Eugene, Oregon with his wife and son.
This entry was posted in books, Conservation, Oregon Fishing, salmon. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Best fishing book ever written: Don’t eat farmed salmon

  1. Jack says:

    Hey try Pale Morning Done by Jeff Hull. Great book and the fishing is not the core of the novel but you sure want to go fish a spring creek real fast.

    I’ve enjoyed your blog and the old one too. Much success

  2. Guy says:

    Let’s not forget Brautigan’s, “Trout Fishing in America.”

  3. Moldy Chum says:


    You should try some of DJD’s collections of short stories. “My Story as Told By Water” and “River Teeth” are both excellent.

  4. Hey Matt
    Wait one year. Then read The Brothers K. It takes that long to get over The River Why.

    Also read A River Runs Through It. Easily one of the finest pieces of American creative nonfiction regardless of the topic. It won’t change your life like Why did, but it might change your writing.


  5. Mark and Bea says:

    If “Drop City” is one of your favorites, you should probably read “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer if you haven’t already. Good stuff.

  6. Derek R. says:

    “Trout Bum” of course as well

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