Trip Report Nova Scotia Atlantic Salmon-Cape Breton Island

I went with a group hosted by Kiene’s Fly Shop from Sacramento, $1995 for six days, seven nights, lodging, guides and dinner included. Atlantic’s have always been on my bucket list and I thought the price was more than fair, considering the cost of more well known waters.
We stayed at the Normaway Inn featured in the video link at the end of this report. Cabins were more than expected with a large screen porch, good beds, sofa bed, wood stove and electric heat, modern plumbing. As a single I had one to myself for no extra cost. The food was good. I had lobster chowder or as a main dish every night. Salads and vegetables came from the garden on grounds. The music in the barn was great. There is a strong tradition of Scots-Irish and Acadian music on Cape Breton, traditionally held in people’s homes. The Normay Inn has weekly Ceilidhs (kaylee) held in a barn on the property. I didn’t see a single bar other than in a restaurant, when I asked about that and the high number of churches, my guide said most drinking occurs at people’s homes, volunteer fire departments or ceilighs. These can go on to early mornings or later when held in people’s homes. It was nice to see all ages from babies to geezers participating. The step dancing was very lively, some of those geezers can really cut a rug.

We fished 0600 to 14 or 1500 hrs every day, usually taking lunch at an excellent local cafe/bakery. Some of us fished evenings, regulations are 0600-2200 hrs, unweighted flies, barbless hooks and catch and release for the Salmon. During the early run from June through August it’s 80% dry flies. When my partner suggested using a tip the guide was not receptive to the idea. He said he never fishes a tip until the fall run beginning mid September and rarely a wet fly. I saw some prime skating water but got the strong impression it wouldn’t be well received; when in Rome.....
Dry flies are fished dead drift, almost always a Bomber pattern, wet flies swung just like we do for Steelhead with the difference being the flies in early season are extremely sparse.
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The two lower right flies and the bomber were typical. The other flies were for use in higher water. Interesting in that the bombers are pretty large, the one pictured is on the small end, but the wets are sparse.
Most locals use single hand 9-10’ rods in 8 or 9 weight, spey or switch rods in 6-8 sizes will work. I used an eight weight Loomis IMX in 8 for dries, an 11’7” Meiser with 420 grain head for wet work.
All waters in Nova Scotia are public, guides are not required and almost all landowners are more than friendly. Some put benches and chairs riverside for anglers and one even built a “Boothie”; a small hut to get in out of weather based on common practice on the Scottish rivers. We parked in front of people’s houses and in a couple instances walked along and across lawns to access the river. Twice the property owner came out to greet us and asked how the fishing was or remarked so and so took one this morning, etc. so friendly. I saw no trash on river or in parking areas.
The river is just lovely to fish, classic long (mostly) runs in lower twenty miles, more rocks and ledges in the upper 20 that remind me of the North Umpqua. Very easy wading for the most part, at least in lower river. I didn’t even use a staff.
Lower River
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Upper River
IMG_1427.JPG150 years of tradition is strong, anglers respect each other’s space and if they don’t others are quick to remind. We pulled into a parking lot for the Forks Pool, very popular with 2 pools below and 3 or more, depending on how far you’re willing to walk upstream. There were several cars there and our guide, Robert, saw an old timer he knows in the parking lot suiting up. Stopped and chatted with him and while doing so a car with Maine plates pulled up, driver jumped out ready to go and hurried past us to the trailhead. A brusque “ ‘morning” and he was on his way. The old guy responded with “Don’t know why you’re in such a rush, you’re behind us”. The kid proceeded to take a path that put him on the river at a prime lie but opposite side of where one fishes from. He started to wade in and was immediately yelled at by several anglers on other side and beat a hasty retreat.
Wish I could say the fishing was good, well it was but the catching wasn’t. I got one, lost one the guide agreed would push 20#, saw a 25# caught. Caught several Brookies, called Specs by the locals; very bright 12-14”, likely sea-runs. Tremendous run in fall, guide’s personal best was 7#, one in our group got a 4#. Very similar to SRC’s in habit. Very much a “spate river”, ten days before we arrived a rising river brought up a push of fish tah were in the sanctuary by the time we got there July 2; next couple days saw temperatures hit low 90’s, very hot for there. Settled back into typical mid 60-70’s next few days, 5th day saw a bit of rain overnight with a corresponding push but it arrived when my group was leaving. I stayed over two extra days with the intention of sightseeing but spent one evening fishing which is when it came together.
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These fish are hot and sea lice present. Their nickname is “the leaper” and I see why; my big one lost came clear of the water 3 times.
Doesn’t matter, I had a great time and would do it again next year but for the length and hassle of air travel; 13 hrs in air, add 2 hrs airport wait, screening, delayed luggage (one day but guide had rod, reel and waders), and somewhere in the trip a bottle of good bourbon and a pocket knife with a 3” blade were taken from my luggage. Really shouldn’t complain, next to bourbon was a reel case with 4 premium reels and various lines that could have been taken.
This could easily be done cheaper, as I rented a nice one bedroom cottage with full kitchen, modern bath, cable, gas bbq and onsite laundromat for equivalent of $75/night my last two nights. Guides are very reasonable, as little as $250 USD/day, pools are well marked and accessible. The island is mostly hardwoods and the fall colors are supposed to be among the best, local crafts include weaving beautiful tartans and assorted woolens and pottery.
The attached link to a video is a good summary of the entire experience. The host and the featured guide are two of the four guides my group of eight used in six days. Very knowledgeable and genuinely pleasant and interesting people; Robert teaches at a French school in an Acadian community and Ray writes for various magazines and is active in the Atlantic Salmon Federation.
Other guides and everyone were just excellent people, so polite, friendly and accommodating. Forum member Alosa is from Nova Scotia and he called Cape Breton people the salt of the earth; I have to agree.
https://www.dryflysalmon.com/videos
 

Jim Ficklin

Genuine Montana Fossil
Wow! Great report, Robert -big fish, friendly folks, pretty surroundings, no litter . . . kind of like fishing in some kind of Heaven. Thanks for sharing!
 

Buzzy

Active Member
How come you’re smiling while holding that beautiful Atlantic salmon? Great report - thanks for sharing.


That’s one beautiful fish!
 

Bruce Baker

Active Member
Thanks for sharing and providing the link. I cannot believe how inexpensive your trip was.

I do miss watching The New Fly Fisher.
 
Thanks for sharing and providing the link. I cannot believe how inexpensive your trip was.

I do miss watching The New Fly Fisher.
The shop that put the trip together said it’s cheap because of the current exchange rate. Also, it’s an area that is economically dependent on resource extraction; fishing, lumbering and tourism. Housing is unbelievably cheap.
 
I really want to return, thinking one could do 10 days there very cheaply without a guide, airfare being the most expensive. About $1000-1100 from west Coast.
Rental car was cheap through Costco, $250 for 10 days. Nice cabins with kitchens under $100/night for two, $70 for single. license is $65 CAD for 7 days.
I think $2K for 10 days is possible, especially so if split in two for lodging and car.
Anybody interested?
 

Yard Sale

Huge Member
Killer report Robert, thanks! Thanks for the intel as well, sounds like a solid way to get a first Atlantic. Only way I could keep from skating a muddler through there would be to leave them at home! Seems weird that swinging a wet fly is OK but skating a dry isn't.
 

cabezon

Sculpin Enterprises
Excellent report, Robert. When I lived in Old Town, Maine, my girlfriend (now wife) and I drove over to Nova Scotia and New Brunswich. Cape Breton was the highlight. I fished the Margaree River on Cape Breton over 20 years ago and found the same friendly attitude among the locals. I managed to catch my first saltwater Atlantic salmon, a grilse, on a bomber during a day of fishing.
Cape Breton has diverse cultures. Individual villages tend to have a specific cultural history. There are Acadian (French), Scottish, and English villages, each representing their origin more extremely than the homeland.
Thanks for bringing back those fond memories.
Steve
 

BaldBob

Retired- Navy Captain,Forester,Forestry Consultant
I really want to return, thinking one could do 10 days there very cheaply without a guide, airfare being the most expensive. About $1000-1100 from west Coast.
Rental car was cheap through Costco, $250 for 10 days. Nice cabins with kitchens under $100/night for two, $70 for single. license is $65 CAD for 7 days.
I think $2K for 10 days is possible, especially so if split in two for lodging and car.
Anybody interested?
I'd be interested.
 

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