Each year, as spring slowly releases it’s grip and gives way to warmer temperatures and a variety of shades of lush green foliage, Atlantic Salmon begin their fresh water migration from their feeding grounds in Greenland into several different Nova Scotian rivers.
Historically, these rivers stemmed from as far south as the Tusket, the Medway and the Mersey. Unfortunately, due to acid rain, industrial development and poor resource management, many of these once prolific runs have been either rendered extinct or have dwindled to remnant if not unsustainable populations.
Other rivers in the southern upland stretch of Nova Soctia still maintain a reasonable run of fish – in the LaHave, Gold, Sackville, Musquodoboit, St.Mary’s, West River Sheet Harbour, and Salmon Rivers – but their numbers have become too low to meet minimum escapement levels set by DFO and thus as of 2010 have been closed to recreational salmon angling.
The summer run Atlantic Salmon’s situation is brighter on Cape Breton Island. Several rivers, including Nova Scotia’s only ‘blue ribbon’ heritage stream, the Margaree, are blessed with healthy runs of fish in clear, sweet water.
Angling takes place from June 1st onward, with the traditional ‘summer run’ petering out by mid July. Whenever freshets of rain grace the headwaters of these salmon rivers, it’s a good bet that a new run of fish will enter the rivers and disperse amongst the pools.
Fishing for these ‘silver bullets’ is done only by artificial fly, typically with single handed rods from 7wt – 9wt and floating lines. Tapered leaders of 9ft to 14ft are required, sometimes longer and finer when water conditions are low and clear.
No salmon anglers fly box would be complete without a selection of Blue Charms, Black Bear Green Butts, Undertakers, Green Machines, Cossebooms, Colburn Specials or the Rat Series of Flies. Many local patterns are also used, though typically the consensus is that pattern is less important than size, from #2 - #6 in good or high water conditions, smaller flies from size #8 – #12 as the water drops.
In Nova Scotia, all of the water is public and is shared by the licensed anglers from the province and from abroad. To ensure all anglers are able to share the pools and have equal opportunity to hook a fish of a lifetime, a method of Pool Rotation is strictly enforced. The practice is simple, the first angler in line enters the pool and after each cast takes a full step down stream. That angler is given a berth of roughly a full cast and half before the next angler enters behind him at the head of the pool. The practice of casting and stepping continues until the angler has covered the entire length of the pool, at which point they can return to the waiting area, or if there is no one waiting, back to the head of the pool. If an anglers gets a ‘rise’ from a fish they are typically granted a five minute period (historically, the length of time it takes to smoke a cigarette) to bring that fish back to their fly. During this time, they may switch flies or simply continue casting to that particular spot. If after five minutes the fish has not come back for the fly, the rotation resumes. If an angler is fortunate enough to hook a fish, all other anglers in the pool should reel in their lines and give the angler full room to fight the fish – often the salmon take every inch they are given, and more! Once the fish has been landed and safely released, the successful angler forfeits his position and allows the other anglers a chance at the same exciting event.
If you are new to salmon fishing in Nova Scotia, you are well advised to ask other anglers about the proper etiquette for fishing particular pools – you’re likely to find other anglers will be quick to offer good advice to ensure everyone enjoys the best fishing possible.
The Nova Scotia Salmon Association, along with all of it’s member groups and the hundreds of volunteers are committed to protecting and restoring our runs of Atlantic Salmon – working with all levels of government to ensure these Kings of Sportfish have every opportunity to return to their native rivers in strong, healthy runs to offer good sport to all anglers who choose to test their skill, luck and patience against this incredible species.