An old friend and fishing buddy, this is Big Bruce.
A fellow angler from my days in Moose Factory, Bruce was first photographed in 2002 off the Mighty Moose River of James Bay, a few miles up the North French below First Rapids. That premier appearance was pre-digital for me although, two years later come 2004, a late September returning home from upriver on the Moose, this picture above was captured on a 3MP Kodak camera. For me it was quite a momentous wildlife opportunity, snapping this quick shot before Bruce hurried off the beach into the river. Bruce would often be that way.
Each and every year Bruce would come around at some point during the summer and stay into fall. He and I became buds. More often than not he could be found sunbathing at the tip of Bushy Island or off the east side of Pakitahogan, but some days he’d maybe hang around near the public docks, or over on Fossil Island. Bruce was easy to recognize by his size, a scar on his side and a little black mustache. A brute of a seal yet pretty laid back most of the time, Bruce was a rather curious but cautious sort, though there were moments when he could bust one wicked temper. Wake Big Bruce from an afternoon nap or steal a meal while he’s fishing alongside, and he would hiss and hiss at ya while circling your boat.
One early evening while fishing the mouth of South Bluff Creek I hooked into a good eater sized walleye. While reeling it in, out of nowhere popped Bruce heading straight for that fish and me. I got the prize just in time, before Bruce splashed some fifteen feet from the side of the WarCanoe making waves, and finally turning away and waiting for me to try fishing again. After only a few casts it was evident Bruce was simply swimming around hoping to let me do the work while he sought out the chance at another steal… Not having planned to stay much longer, I quickly fired up the motor to head down river home for supper anyways… and if you’d believe it, Bruce followed me the 12 kilometers at 28km/hr all the way back to the town docks. I was thinking he still wanted that walleye some bad.
I watched Bruce grow older. All blubber all the time, as the years passed he went from firm fat all over to rolly-wrinkled around the neck. His shiny bright silver fur darkened a little more blue grey, and his energy seemed not what it used to be. By 2009 he wasn’t around as often, he might have got grumpy and anti-social with his age or, maybe he didn’t like having new company… Charlie showed up in 2007.
Bruce, Red & Charlie.
Charlie was always swimming and fishing. If planning a late summer’s day to fish the tidemark at the tip of Bushy, if Charlie was to be found in the fish pools there, ya might as well have just turned around and driven the half hour back home. There wasn’t a better fisherman on the Moose River than Charlie. Not as big as Bruce by any means, the younger Charlie was agile and always active. Getting anywhere near Charlie while he was resting on the beach was a real chore. For one, he was hardly ever resting, and for two, if he was and saw you coming, he could belly-flop forward into the drink faster than any seal I’d ever seen. There was only one day when Charlie allowed me his company on the beach. I pulled the freighter canoe onto the sand, stepped out and squatted near to him for a photoshoot, and he posed proudly for the camera. Charlie was one cool customer and always on the go.
After I had moved home south someone had posted a video on You-Tube of Charlie. Some local doods in their big freighter canoe were coming downriver through the rapids above Bushy and when they reached the deeper channel they throttled up for speed. Charlie was half on the shore half in the water (could have maybe been Bruce though) when the boaters rammed him with the bow of their boat. The seal flopped into the river and appeared to swim away. Hopefully Charlie was okay.
Red & Charlie
Cutie Red showed up in 2008. She was a tiny seal, maybe half that of Bruce and still quite smaller than Charlie. Red was absolutely gorgeous and she appeared to love showing off her looks. When I’d be fishing nearby or just traveling past on the river, at the tip of Bushy Red was always modelling on the beach. In fact, I can’t ever remember seeing her in the water unless I scared her there from off the shore. Maybe Charlie was looking after her, afterall, I did catch them laying around together now and again.
Red was Miss Photogenic too. She’d pose pretty and instead of hissing she’d only occasionally grunt or snort her concerns. Red was so gentle and accommodating that twice in our history she actually let me close enough to touch her. She was nervous, I was nervous too, and although I was quicker, she still likely had 500 pounds or more on me, and much sharper teeth. Truth about Red is, I might have actually loved her. I mean, when heading out fishing on the river and arriving round the tip of Bushy at the sandbars, my palms would sweat while holding my breath, hoping to maybe catch a glimpse of her there. She was a beauty that Red.
Over the years I’ve fished with some pretty solid anglers in some rather incredible places but Bruce, Red and Charlie were three of the best. There would be no out-fishing them ever And no, they didn’t at all practice catch and release either. It’s cool to think too, that there are so few places in Ontario; let alone Canada, where one can fish freshwater tidal flows and pools for walleye, pike, whiteys, fallfish or even trout, and do this alongside seals fishing as well. Fish swimming off the sea on an incoming tide to the tidemark, and there waiting to catch them were me and my fishing friends, the Seal Anglers of Bushy.