A coming-of-age story narrated by Gus Orviston, a high school graduate and the oldest son in a fishing-crazed family. Frustrated with life in Portland, Oregon, and the constant bickering of his bait fishing mother (Ma) and tweed-wearing, fly-fishing father (H2O) over the proper way to fish, Gus moves to a small cabin in the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range. Once there he begins to follow an "ideal schedule" that has him doing nothing but eating, sleeping, and fishing. In the course of doing nothing but what he loves to do, he begins to notice the scars that humanity has inflicted on the river and forests he loves. Gus also goes through the traumatic event when he is fishing and finds and must transport a dead fisherman to shore, and through this experience he is able to realize how wrong his "ideal schedule" really is. As he wrestles with what to do, he begins to relate with the people in his neighborhood. He starts to regain his passion for life through his intense passion of the outdoors and fishing, but also through human contact. He also meets his new friend, though while rather eccentric, is also a brilliant thinker, helping Gus see the meaning in his life. Gus continues to grow and mature, mirroring the path to adulthood many experience, until he meets a young fisherwoman, Eddy. Although their relationship is unique, it is also a very true form of love that not only helps Gus to continue to grow into a man, but also teaches him to truly appreciate every aspect of his life. Gus is put to the test when Eddy hooks him a salmon, making him fight it all night up the river. Gus ultimately chooses her and the new life he has started to create for himself by releasing the fish when he finally catches it, mirroring man's quest for success, to only discover that true success is the happiness experienced by the abandonment of preconceived notions of success that are not applicable anymore to a growing life, entering into adulthood. The book ends with Gus completely growing up by confronting his parents with Eddy and forgiving them.