In Search of Cape Breton Atlantics

It was October in Cape Breton and the island was bursting with autumnal colour. I was fishing with my fiancé, Derek and two of our good friends, Robert Chiasson and Raymond Plourde. Robert is the top Atlantic Salmon guide in Cape Breton and Ray Plourde, a dedicated conservationist, nature photographer and writer. Derek and I first met these two accomplished anglers the year before and what fun we’d had with them since.

On this particular weekend our quartet was touring around the less populated pools in search of Atlantic Salmon. Exploring the river with three seasoned, fly fishing companions was pure perfection in my books and I was soaking up as much as I could as a novice angler.

It was approaching midday as we made our way to a pool that was new to us. Walking the shaded path in, we took note of the lush growth underfoot. Dappled light illuminated a variety of woodland plants, fungi and mosses. Robert and Ray eagerly shared stories of fish they had hooked here and my excitement grew. I was in disbelief when I reached the rock ledge overlooking the pool we would be fishing, as I could easily see several Atlantic Salmon holding below us. It was a surprise because the waters of Cape Breton and mainland Nova Scotia are more commonly tea-stained; rich with tannins and other organic matter. In stark contrast was this magical place. It was as if we had been transported to a hidden gem, one where the water was chartreuse and clear, allowing for a rare opportunity to sight fish for Atlantics in our home province.

A few fish we noted were much brighter than their fall-coloured companions. Cape Breton recently had rain which resulted in a nice bump in water levels, so fresh fish had moved in from the estuary. Collectively, we set up our rods and opened our fly boxes. The topic of discussion was how we would achieve the best presentation here. A waterfall tumbled into the deep pool, providing an oxygen rich sanctuary for these spectacular fish. The small falls were the sole source of current and it would require getting creative with our casting to ensure that perfect swing. 

I decided to try one of my own blue charm’s as I had just hooked a fresh, 12-pound Atlantic on this classic the month before. As I experimented with a few short, controlled casts, one large fish in the group moved. My heart stopped. But the fish simply took a quick look and then retreated to where it had been holding. The fellas on the river here call those noncommittal fish ‘wigglers’. I cast a few more times and carefully watched as my fly drifted by them but no takers. I then proceeded to tie on a few traditional patterns, varying from wet to dry, large to small. I rested the pool and repeated the process but with no success. 

Raymond Plourde photo

While enjoying a brief break, Ray suggested it would be worth trying a weightless nymph next, if we had one. In Nova Scotia you cannot angle for Atlantic Salmon with a weighted fly and all I had in my boxes were salmon flies. Luckily, Derek travels with every fly he’s ever tied so he ran back to the truck and grabbed his ‘working’ trout boxes. We found a size 14, weightless nymph and Ray nodded in approval. I tied the fly on and fished it like I would if I were high-sticking for trout. Letting the fast, swirling water take my fly down to the depth of the salmon and mending as needed; my fly was now swinging directly in front of the entire group. Unexpectedly, my line tightened and a feisty, amber-hued grilse leapt acrobatically. As the fish cartwheeled throughout the pool, Robert and I climbed down the rock ledge together and he tailed the fish for me. I could not stop smiling as I held this wild creature in my hands and released it. A smile that still crosses my face every time I tie pheasant-tails and look up at  that weightless nymph on the shelf. 

Raymond Plourde photos

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