By Roderick Haig-Brown
Harbour Publishing, 1948
Softcover, 240 pp., $14.95
You will forgive me if I’m mildly puzzled as to why “Saltwater Summer” is classified as “juvenile fiction.” What we have here is a story about fishing, plain and simple. Nowhere in this book appear any vampires, werewolves, zombies, dragons or sorcerers of any kind, which would seem an immediate disqualification for being labeled as teen fiction, or at least what passes for it these days.
Then again, Harbour Publishing is resurrecting through its Canadian Classic series this tale of a young man’s first summer as a commercial salmon fisherman on the British Columbia coast, which the late Roderick Haig-Brown first penned in 1948.
Does that name sound familiar to you? It should, oh loyal National Fisherman reader. His son, Alan Haig-Brown, is a marine photographer and writer who has contributed plenty of stories and photos to the magazine through the years, and he’s published several books of his own.
But his dad paved the way, earning a reputation as a popular outdoor writer. Born in England, he settled in Campbell River, B.C. in 1931. A dedicated conservationist, he wrote a number of articles and penned 25 books, including books about sport fishing, novels, and stories for young readers. “Saltwater Summer” won the Governor General’s Literary Award.
Don Morgan, the main character in “Saltwater Summer,” has earned enough money trapping on northern Vancouver Island to buy himself a 32-foot West Coast salmon troller, the Mallard. But young Morgan has borrowed money against the boat to help pay for a friend’s operation. That means he has to make enough money this summer fishing to repay the loan by the end of September or he’ll lose the boat.
His friend, fellow fisherman Tubby Miller, volunteers to help Morgan, and the duo set off to catch enough salmon to pay off the loan. Of course, little goes as planned, and Morgan has much to learn about fishing and a lot of growing up to do.
The novel also offers an interesting glimpse into what salmon trolling was like in the mid- to late-1940s in British Columbia. Juvenile fiction or not, the novel is well-written, and I enjoyed reading it over the course of an afternoon. What it lacks in vampires, werewolves and the lot, it more than makes up for with a fast-paced and enjoyable tale of a young fisherman trying to learn the ropes and figure out whether he’s got what it takes to make it.