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Keeper : A Life Amongst Fishes and Those Who Catch Them

Review by Bill Pridgen | Last Updated: 09.02.2011 |

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by Martin “Donny” Donovan
Cover Illustration by Bob White

Keeper b Martin DonovanKeeper is a collection of tales and stories from Martin “Donny” Donovan, formerly the riverkeeper on the famed Lower Test at Nursling and current keeper on the Whitchurch beat.

 

Each chapter recounts experiences he enjoyed or endured on his journey toward becoming riverkeeper of a chalk stream. The stories, as he says, are the best way to answer the question oft asked of him—“How did you become a riverkeeper?”

 

Martin Donovan traveled the United States for ten years, criss-crossing the country and encountering an array of eccentric characters while plying his trade as a grandfather clock salesman. Maybe this is where he developed his deep patience and appreciation for human nature. Capturing the ridiculousness of this job and describing the people he met, Donny provides some humorous and, at times, cringe-worthy moments for those of us in the States (especially his portrait of his employer, whose crude wisdom and lack of any shred of grace clearly embodies the stereotype of a southern redneck).

 

Upon his return to his home waters where he at last reaches his goal as keeper on the Test, Donny uncovers the buffet of species available to fishers working the River Test. The opportunity to angle for grayling, brown trout, and Atlantic salmon in the same body of water is an exceptional experience, which many aspire to but too few get to enjoy.

 

Donny also recognizes in his stories many of the universal similarities experienced by guides around the world with his colorful accounts of “sports” and bombastic fly fishers that come for the legendary experience of fishing his revered Test and sometimes miss the point entirely. He proves his commitment to the work as he deals diplomatically with some of the most ridiculous people that fly-fishing can produce, regardless of nationality. But Donny is not critical in his stories. He is a shrewd observer of human behavior who appreciates that it takes all kinds to make the world go ’round. His tolerance is inspiring, as I felt I would have throttled some of the people he has encountered, had I been in his position.

 

It is not hard to understand how he developed his respect for his job, his river and his deeply rooted love for this sport through his descriptions of his mentor Ron Holloway or predecessor Vic Foot. Clearly, both men impacted Donny and instilled in him the deep sense of tradition and knowledge you need to become a master riverkeeper.

 

As an individual I am not a fan of your typical fishing story and sometimes while reading this book I caught myself being reminded of that fact. Still Keeper is entertaining and each essay is self-contained, allowing you to take it in, bits at a time. The rich and traditional backdrop of the River Test brought enough variation on the fish tale to keep my interest piqued. Admittedly Donny’s dry humor was sometimes lost on me. More than once I found myself at the end of a chapter looking for a punchline or a more well-formed finish as a tale came to an abrupt end. And in those cases I wondered what this could have been with different editing or development.

 

While the subtle voice of the writing and development may have sometimes gone over my pointy head, don’t let that spook you away. Several times I was halfway into the next chapter when a soft chuckle, formed pages before, would build up in my throat. Should I acquire the means to get there, I would count myself lucky to experience his guidance on the River Test and enjoy a drink with a man that has had enjoyed a wide variety of life experiences

 

Keeper provides some relaxing reading and confirmation to all fishers that we walk the same paths, meet the same people and if we aren’t careful, take a little bit of them with us everywhere we go.

 

 

Keeper by Martin Donovan is on sale now in hardcover from Departure Publishing.

978-0-9833857-0-7 • $26.50