Atlantic Salmon/Nova Scotia
Greetings fellow lovers of salmo salar!
Heard someone talking about fishing salmon in Cape Breton which is where I spend most of my time fishing and guiding for Atlantic Salmon.
If I can be of any assistance regarding information, ststus reports etc. just pull my chain. However, for those that have not already read it, below is a story about a day's salmon fishing in Cape Breton a few years ago.
Walk with me...........
I really don't know how to convey the experiences of fishing Atlantic
Salmon. It is impossible to communicate in words, but I want to share it with all
of you. I want you to feel the same things I feel, to know how addicting
this feeling is and to feel the peace, wonder and amazement that is
part of this incredible experience. If I could, I would take each one of
you to my favorite salmon rivers and share the experience with you. But since
logistics make this impossible, let me share with you a few hours on the
river with me.
Monday, August 5, 1996
Last night, George, Tom and I were staying at George's camp, speculating on the
next day's fishing. Tom is the President of the Nova Scotia Mainland Trout Unlimited Chapter and was anxious to explore a new trout river. George has one in mind and the decision is made for George and Tom to fish McNeil's Brook early the next morning and I will return to the river that haunts me to fish for Atlantic Salmon. We have to leave early the next day for home, so I agree to drop them off at McNeil's at 5:00 A.M. and pick them up at 12:00 Noon. The river that haunts me is a 45 minute drive from McNeil's.
I drop them off the next morning and we wish each other the best of luck. I
drive in the dark to the river. At 6:00 A.M. I decide to wet wade and put on my cold wet socks and wading boots. No one else is there!
I have limited time to fish so, should I go to the top of the river via the
hiking trail (45 minutes brisk walk) and fish the upper pools or, should I
go directly to the river below and fish my way up river to the top pools? I
decide to go for the aggressive fish and work my way up river fishing only
to most aggressive salmon with one or two passes through the best pools.
The lower pools are unproductive as I fish my favorite pattern for this
river once over each pool. No fish moved or spotted. I cross the river and
head up the gorge section hoping for better luck always aware of my time
constraints for meeting George and Tom. I spot 2 salmon in a difficult lie
at the next pool and swim 2 flies past them. The pool is at the bottom of a
40 to 50 ft. cavern and there is no room for a back cast as you are up
against the cliff. A 45 ft. roll cast with a large upstream mend swims the
fly past just right. Both fish are 14 lb. salmon but neither move as much as
a fin to my offering. Time to move on.
I look for salmon in each pool as I pass. Familiar lies are vacant. I arrive
at a consistent holding pool. There are approximately 30 salmon in the pool
that are visible. Despite the attractiveness of this pool, it is not good
taking water. You have to work to get the fish to take but occasionally, the first
fly over the pool takes a fish. I put my favorite pattern on and tradition
holds true, a grilse takes the fly. I aggressively play the fish and release
him. The pool is now disturbed and it will be difficult to rise another fish
with conventional methods. I have leaned over time that presenting a fly in
a different manner under these circumstances will produce a fish. Three
flies later, presentation with a sinking tip line results in another salmon
which is lost during the fight.
Now I must decide to stay and fish the pool hard for the remaining time or
continue quickly upriver to find aggressive salmon. I decide to "explore the
Three pools up looks promising but I cannot see fish. I decide to put a dry
fly through the pool. Two thirds of the way through the pool a grilse rises
to the fly aggressively but does not take the fly. Although a strong
indication of interest, a second fly does not raise the fish so I move on.
The sun is bright and on the pools now as it rises above the mountains on
either side of the valley that shelters and provides life to the river. The
next pool is some distance and I walk quickly through the forest to get
there. I arrive and again no one is there.
Use your imagination and walk with me............
I come off the trail at the back end of the pool. On each side are forested
mountains of mixed softwoods and hardwoods. The sun is bright on the pool
and even with Polaroids it is difficult to see into it. The pool is 40 feet
wide and 120 feet long. At the head is a riffle that pours into the pool as
the river bends slightly to the left. The pool is approx. 3 to 4 feet deep
through 3/4 of it's length and shallows out at the tail. At the end of the
pool the water passes over a four foot drop and continues on in a series of
shallow riffles. A classic holding pool. The bottom of the pool is made up
of stones from 2 to 6 inches with several large boulders throughout. The
right side of the pool is a low wooded bank one foot above the water that
arches it way up the mountain. The side I emerge on and fish from is a
shingle ( a 20 feet wide section of exposed stones the entire length of the
pool). The stones are various shades of pastel, blues, reds, yellows, greens
etc. The main current flows through the center of the pool but the pool is
primarily flat or smooth water.
I emerge from the forest on this scene and I can sense the anticipation
immediately. Experience has taught me that a special moment is about to
happen. The conditions are perfect for dry fly presentation.......crystal
clear water, the right depth, speed, surface pattern, light conditions,
bottom characteristics and temperature. The recognition is instantaneous, not calculated. So is the anticipation.
I choose a dry fly I tied up two nights before, a natural deer hair body,
two dark coachman brown hackles palmered through, and a yellow tail tied on a number two Partridge hook, a pattern we call a Brown Bug Yellow Tail. I start
fishing from the back of the pool towards the front where the salmon are
most likely laying. I do not want to spook the fish. I spot three salmon
resting about five feet from shore, 1/3 of the way up the pool. This also
tells me there are more salmon in the pool as this lie would not be the most
favored. The larger, more aggressive fish will have the favored lies. I cast
ten ft. above these fish and allow my fly to swim in a drag free drift over
them. I watch intently for any reaction. Nothing. Once more and still, not
even the slightest movement. Two more casts and I decide to move up the pool.
Out of the corner of my eye I spot a fish rising to the surface and just
breaking water another ten yards up the pool. The lie appears to be a
preferred lie and the small glimpse I catch suggests it is a larger salmon.
The characteristics of the rise tells me that he is a taking fish. My
anticipation begins to run wild. I am driven to rush immediately to the fish
and present my fly. However I still have excellent water to fish over.
I continue to work my way up the pool covering all the water despite not
having confirmed sightings of fish. Approximately 15 more feet up the pool a
salmon rises to my fly as it drifts past. I did not see the fish before he
showed but now I know where he is. His rise was aggressive but he
missed the fly. I did not move my line or disturb the water. A reaction that
takes some time to master as your instinct and natural reaction is to set
the hook, especially when you are focused and concentrating. Doing this
however may spook the fish. It is better to allow the fly to continue the
drift and pick it out of the water well behind the rising fish and then recast.
I cast again 10 feet above the salmon and as the fly drifts over him the
water explodes and the hook is set as instinct takes over again. It is a two
sea winter salmon of approximately 12 lbs. that cartwheels and fires himself
through the air with abandon. His runs are short but strong as I try to play
him to the lower end of the pool to avoid disturbing the fish I have yet to
tempt. I move down the pool and place my rod on its side to turn him to the
back end of the pool to continue the battle. Finally, I hand tail the
salmon, remove the fly and hold the fish in the current while it fully
revives. It is a beautiful male which has probably been in the river two
weeks judging from the color. I release the salmon and watch it as it
returns to a holding lie and settles in. I still have other salmon to fish
over. The fly I remove from the salmon is now too wet to float properly so I
tie on an exact duplicate.
I continue up the pool, covering all the water until I reach the area where
I saw the salmon rise. The lie is 15 feet into the pool and there is holding
water as well, closer to me, near the shingle. I decide to fish the closer
water first. On the first cast a salmon rises to my fly but not with the
clear intention of taking. A second drift produces the same result. He rises
from the bottom as the fly nears, comes to within 2 inches of the fly
without his mouth open and then returns to his lie. The third and fourth
drift produce no reaction. I would normally change my fly to a different
pattern at this point and work the fish. It is likely he will take. But I
decide to fish over the salmon out further in the pool first.
I know where the salmon is lying although I cannot see him with my
Polaroids. I cast 10 feet above him and let the fly drift. When it is within
a foot, he comes! The actual event takes only fractions of a second, too short
a period of time for the conscious eye/brain to register but every moment is
etched in the subconscious and I can now reconstruct it as if it took a full
minute in slow motion. The salmon moved with force from the bottom. It rose
at a 45 degree angle and the sun over my shoulder caught its side which made
it look chrome. It opened its mouth approximately 6 inches from the fly and
then broke the water. The head and body were a foot and a half out of the
water before it turned its head to the left. The body curled behind it and I
could see the spots on its side. The water moved as if a boulder two feet in
diameter had been dropped into the water. This was indeed a big fish.
But my fly was not in its mouth. As happens on many occasions, such an
aggressive rise results in the salmon missing the fly. However the salmon
will generally come back after such I rise. I am shaking.
I cast again. The salmon comes again but the rise is half hearted. It breaks
the water but with less authority and either refuses the fly or misses
again. The former is likely the case. The next move is critical. Should I
cast over the fish again and risk putting it down for good? Should I change
flies and try him again? Should I try a different presentation? Should I try
a wet fly over him? All viable options. Again instinct takes over based on
experience. I decide to rest the fish.
I sit on the shingle watching and waiting. I relive the rises in detail. I
keep my eyes intently focused on the fish's position, watching for any
movement. I wait what seems like an eternity but in reality is only five
minutes. At this moment there is no other reality, there is only the salmon.
I position myself and cast again. As the fly comes to within a foot of the
fish he explodes with furry and there will be no mistake. I see him take the
fly in his mouth and turn to return to the bottom. I set the hook and feel
the weight......we are connected!
It would take four more pages to describe the details of the battle that
followed. This was a fresh, 3 sea winter salmon. I would conservatively
estimate the length at over 40 inches and the weight to be 25+ lbs. The
salmon jumped five times during the battle. How does a fish of this size
jump 5 feet in the air out of water that is only four feet deep? There are
photographs in my mind of the fish landing after the jumps. The thick,
heavy, deep, sounds like kids doing cannonball dives in the favorite
swimming hole. The picture of the water separating to allow the salmon to
enter and the resulting spray and froth.
Twice the salmon rolled in the leader and freed himself. For a time he
would lie on the bottom and not move and would catapult out of the water as
I applied pressure. But finally I was able to move him closer to shore and
after a few final runs the salmon was within my grasp. Hand tailing a salmon
this large, by yourself, can be difficult but it was as if the salmon sensed I
meant it no harm and I tailed the fish on the second attempt.
Holding a living fish this large is a truly unique experience. You develop a
new appreciation and respect for the animal. When you look in its eyes there
is a personality, there is knowledge, there is history. I cannot conceive of
killing such a magnificent creature.
Him turned out to be a her. A magnificent female. A perfect specimen. I held
the salmon into the current and did not take my eyes off her. I could feel
the energy coming back through my hand. She went as she had come, in a move
with authority, back into the pool.
I just stood for a moment, not thinking, not moving, just looking, standing
by myself in one of the most magnificent settings I have ever been.
I then realized my obligation to pick up George and Tom at McNeil's at 12:00
noon. It was 10:15 A.M. and it was an hour back down river to the car and 45
minutes to McNeil's. My day was over.
I arrived at McNeil's with 5 minutes to spare. George and Tom related their
experiences. They played 80 to 100, (they lost count), 6 to 10 inch trout on
nymphs and dry fly. There were so many small trout that they were catching
them on the red wool strike indicators which would catch in their teeth
until they were played close to the surface. All the trout were released. It had been a great morning.
Tom and George asked me if I had any fun and my answer was no. Somehow I
could not describe the experience as being fun. The experience I had today
and the times I spend fishing for salmon or just being on the river are not
fun. They mean more to me. Describing them as fun would be to demean the
These experiences that I am privileged to share are spiritual. They result
in a sense of peace, a centering of my spirit. I am filled with respect and
with feelings that I find difficult to put into words and maybe they can't
be. These feelings haunt me like the river. These feelings are addictive.