It was Friday, the first afternoon of the annual summer fishing camp and the weather was beautiful. The sun was shining, there was a nice breeze, and not a cloud in the sky. It was a sheer pleasure to be on the water in my battered old cedar strip canoe, casting a fly line for the first time this year, a few chums looking on from the camp deck. And then ‘WHAM’, “fish on.” The heavy tug told me that this was a serious fish and the way that it stayed deep meant that it was my target species, a rainbow trout, rather than a pesky six-inch bass. The rod bent in a beautiful arc, the tip jagging up and down as the fish ran again and again. Eventually, I got a look at the trout and it was indeed big, too big for my net but in my first-fish-fever (a bit like buck fever only less furry) I lunged at it anyway and the trout went in and out of the net in a split second, neatly spitting the hook on its exit. Said hook tangled in the net as it fell overboard and I had to scramble to rescue my tackle while cursing the loss of a really nice fish.
I tackled up again but then sat back to collect myself. No need to rush I thought, there will be plenty more where that one came from. It wasn’t until soaked to the skin after fishing all morning in the pouring rain on Saturday that I realized that there were not plenty more.
My mood turned kind of melancholy. Not because I couldn’t catch a silly trout but because my annual fishing trip was one that until this year I had always attended with the barber and now, as I looked around the camp at all these great guys that he’d introduced me to, the barber was no longer with us.
Taken recently to the hunting ground in the sky, his absence was apparent at every pause in the conversation. All the usual topics were discussed, from two stroke outboard motors and renovating oil stoves to the colour of lure to catch lake trout and the best dogs for bear hunting but Bruce was not there to give his two cents, and we could all feel that. His name came up often in conversation, whether it was mention of past outdoors indiscretions or the fact that everyone’s hair cuts looked neater (only kidding Bruce) but it was when John, late into the evening, said, “I can just imagine what the barber would have said,” that I had to take leave of the group and go to bed with heavy heart.
Bruce the barber introduced me to every one of the guys that I go fishing with at the camp, and the same folks and more whom I hunt with in Haliburton County. He has been my guide and mentor to all things outdoors in Canada and it is a great shame that he is no longer with us. We raised a glass to him on that Friday evening and we’ll do it again many more times, I’m sure. We miss you Bruce. Forget the fish, you’re the one that got away, too soon, and there are definitely not plenty more like you out there.