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.
94D69D42-3A3B-42B5-83A3-6CBDC2DD34C3.jpeg
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
92A428F4-EDC3-463C-A4FF-2DD06743C3A1.jpeg
IMG_1414.JPG

Upper River
IMG_1427.JPG 150 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.
9FDD8B46-64F6-44CF-851D-B55FD3E922ED.jpeg
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
 

Olive bugger

Active Member
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.
View attachment 209318
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
View attachment 209328
View attachment 209334

Upper River
View attachment 209332 150 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.
View attachment 209333
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
Thank you for your excellent report.
 
Thank you for a very interesting and well written report. I am over in the U.K. and fish for Atlantic salmon here on small spate rivers. It was nice to see those traditional Scottish patterns in your box. The Dry flies were a new thing to me. Over here we never really fish dries for salmon and don’t usual dead drift flies, though we do both at night for sea trout (sea run browns).
 

Robert Engleheart

Robert
WFF Supporter
Thank you for a very interesting and well written report. I am over in the U.K. and fish for Atlantic salmon here on small spate rivers. It was nice to see those traditional Scottish patterns in your box. The Dry flies were a new thing to me. Over here we never really fish dries for salmon and don’t usual dead drift flies, though we do both at night for sea trout (sea run browns).

Hi Peter,
The local fly shop is owned by a Scot, Alex Breckinridge. He ties some lovely patterns which I’m sure you’ll recognize.
I was surprised at how sparse they were considering the river has a slight tannic color. My traditional hair wings that I use for summer fish on the west coast were considered overdressed for summer conditions.
I made reservations to return October 2021 but as we get closer my optimism is beginning to fade that the border will reopen.
When I do return I will definitely be skating some waters that look made for it.
 
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cdnred

Active Member
Just finished reading your trip report (kinda late), it must've been a great trip from the pics that you posted. I'd love to do that trip. From your pics, it didn't seem to show that it was heavily fished but that could been due to the time of year and location. I've heard of some famous rivers where anglers were seen fishing shoulder to shoulder but that could be due to the proximity to populated areas..
 

Robert Engleheart

Robert
WFF Supporter
Just finished reading your trip report (kinda late), it must've been a great trip from the pics that you posted. I'd love to do that trip. From your pics, it didn't seem to show that it was heavily fished but that could been due to the time of year and location. I've heard of some famous rivers where anglers were seen fishing shoulder to shoulder but that could be due to the proximity to populated areas..
Quite the opposite, space and courtesy rule. Some of the more popular spots have anglers waiting, usually chatting on a bench someone carried across the river where needed. I estimate at least 100’ between anglers, likely more; where the river was wider and a longer cast was needed anglers spaced out so no one was swinging into the fellow below. As Moon1284 said, I believe you’re thinking of the Great Lakes. There are so many good spots that if there were too many cars in parking area we’d just drive on. Most anglers I saw in one spot were about six, fishing a pool that was divided into upper and lower, about 300-400 yards total.
 
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Charles Sullivan

Active Member
There are some river in Newfoundland that can get crowded. The Humber is one that I can think of. Lot's of Grilse there. Courtesy and everyone fishing the same way helps alleviate issues generally.

Go Sox,
cds
 

kmudgn

Active Member
From where I live in NH it is a 12-14 hour drive depending on the river fished and/or going to NF, or NB. I don't go every year, but every few years I feel the urge to chase 30lb fish, but am happy with just the Blacks if that is all I get.
 

Robert Engleheart

Robert
WFF Supporter
From where I live in NH it is a 12-14 hour drive depending on the river fished and/or going to NF, or NB. I don't go every year, but every few years I feel the urge to chase 30lb fish, but am happy with just the Blacks if that is all I get.
What is a Black?
 

kmudgn

Active Member
Here is the best description of black that I have seen, but basically they are smaller Atlantics making their primary trip. They tend to be much smaller than the sea runs


First thing’s first, black salmon, spring salmon, kelts or slinks are all the same species of fish. “Salmo Salar” is their latin name but they are most commonly known as Atlantic salmon. These fish return to their native rivers in summer & fall to spawn. Some of them descend the river once their biological obligation to spawn has been fulfilled, while others remain in the river over winter to return to the ocean the following spring. These over-wintering fish are the ones that become known as Black Salmon. In appearance they have a slightly darker back extending down their sides about a 1/3 of the way and look skinnier or slinkier (hence the term ‘slink’) than fish fresh in from the ocean. It doesn’t take long for them to begin to regain their more silvery colour and rounder shape once they begin to feed on the smelt that enter our rivers in April & May.
 
Blacks are similar to a black (dark) steelhead. Post spawn and been in freshwater for a long time.
In the UK, including Scotland these fish are known as ‘Kelts’. Most Atlantic salmon will at least attempt to return to the salt after spawning. And these kelts or black fish are falling down the river post-spawn rather than running up pre-spawn. Here in the UK anglers are advised to avoid catching kelts if they can. The theory is that the fish are weak after spawning and catching them further reduces their stamina needed to get back to sea, and, of course, when most salmon fishing was a catch and kill sport rather than a catch and release one, kelts were said not to be good to eat. In fact, in England and Scotland a hundred years ago kelts were only bought on fish markets by poor city people needing the protein.
 

moon1284

Active Member
Yes, they are not good to eat and are generally considered a lesser catch in the Maritimes as well. Similar to dark steelhead.
 

Robert Engleheart

Robert
WFF Supporter
Common west coast name for a post-spawn steelhead is down runner. They can be aggressive feeders and turn brighter as they approach the salt.
 

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