Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island

In August 2016, my wife and I took a two-week road trip to Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island. I’m just now getting around to writing about it… 

Big Intervale Fishing Lodge

It was the end of our first week in Nova Scotia and we were about to depart from Big Intervale Fishing Lodge, a lovely place on the banks of the Margaree River on Cape Breton Island. After several days of driving hundreds of miles in multi-hour chunks and not having cast a fly yet, the thought of getting in the car yet again was making us a little cranky. “That’s Nova Scotia,” said Ruth, who owns the lodge with her husband, Hermann. Damn right it was. The driving seemed endless, but the scenery and the fishing made it more than bearable.

The Margaree River

Before we left on the nineteen-hour trip from Virginia, I did not appreciate just how big an area Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island occupy. From approximately Yarmouth on the province’s southwestern tip to the northern end of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia is roughly as long as the distance from Northern Virginia to Boston, about five hundred miles. It’s all dotted with lakes and rivers, and amazingly, nearly all of them are inhabited by native brook trout. Though we were there for two weeks, we could have used another two weeks just to see the entire place, and even that would have been just a superficial glance. Nova Scotia is a big, beautiful, and very wild place.

As we were leaving Big Intervale, Ruth grabbed a map and pointed out tributaries of the Margaree that we might try for brook trout, or “speckled trout” as they are called there. We ended up ignoring her recommendation and winging it, though, and just pulled over at a random stream nearby. It looked like one of the dozens we had already spent days driving by, so we figured we’d give it a shot.

What we found was pretty damn cool. Several salmon parr took our dry flies first. Then we were into small brook trout. We walked further and further upstream, and the fish got larger. The biggest by far were in the smallest runs. My wife landed the largest of the trip and of her life in a stretch about as wide as a king-sized mattress, and maybe a foot deep:

Cape Breton Brook Trout
A rather nice Cape Breton Island speckled trout

So that first stream we found (still don’t know its name) ended up being the first of many that we stumbled upon that were loaded with brook trout.

One of the great things about Nova Scotia is its stream access laws. Residents are allowed to fish on any water, and you can cross private property to get to a stream so long as you’re not causing damage or otherwise being obnoxious. The law is not clear about non-residents like us who have a fishing license, but thankfully we never had to challenge any legal boundaries. We were able to just pull over and start fishing right next to the road on every stream we fished.

From Margaree, we finally got to settle down for a few days near Chéticamp in a place we booked online. It was a small cabin with a stunning view of the Chéticamp River and Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and allowed us to access the park and its collection of small streams loaded with brook trout and small salmon.

I really don’t understand why more is not written about the fishing in Nova Scotia. Aside from several famous salmon fisheries, including those on Cape Breton Island like the Margaree and Chéticamp rivers, you don’t read much about fishing here compared to places such as Maine, for example. Surely some of it is its remoteness, maybe some secrecy, probably some unfavorable comparisons to nearby provinces, but I have to think a lot is just ignorance. It certainly seems like not many people in the U.S. know about this place, but I think a lot of Canadian anglers pass this area over as well.

Aside from a guy from Montreal that we ran into when we camped at Meat Cove who caught a striper at the campground (which prompted me to grab my spinning rod and do the same!), we saw no other people fishing in our two weeks there — not for salmon, not for brook trout, not for anything. Granted, water levels were at record lows, but despite that, brook trout fishing in the small streams we tried was like springtime in the Virginia mountains. In other words, it all fished pretty damn well.

Striper from the beach at our campground.

To sum it all up, we hiked and caught a lot of brook trout, some small salmon, a striper, a mackerel… but we mostly spent our time touring one of the most beautiful coastlines I’ve ever seen. If you get a chance, go! See the end of this post for some useful links.

Some more photos…

First, the darkest brook trout you’ve ever seen, taken about a quarter mile upstream from the ocean on a Cape Breton Island river:

Cape Breton DARK brook trout
Cape Breton DARK brook trout

The killer view from a place we rented overlooking the Chéticamp River and Cape Breton Highlands National Park. We saw some large salmon leaping from the water several times:

Chéticamp River
Chéticamp River

We caught some nice little brook trout in the national park, as well as several small, incidental salmon that we were not targeting, and not expecting:

Cape Breton Highlands brookie
Cape Breton Highlands brookie
Cape Breton Highlands salmon
Cape Breton Highlands salmon

The view from our campsite at the spectacular Meat Cove Campground:

Meat Cove campground
Meat Cove Campground
Meat Cove
Meat Cove
and Meat Cove
and Meat Cove

It could have been a great springtime in Virginia if we didn’t know where we were fishing — tons of decent little brook trout every day:

Another Cape Breton Island brookie
Another Cape Breton Island brookie

We spent one night in Halifax, and happened on a public park set up to simulcast the final concert of The Tragically Hip, aka, “Canada’s Band.” A very moving experience, and a group I knew almost nothing about until that night:

Tragically Hip mural, Halifax
Tragically Hip tribute in chalk, Halifax, NS

Civilization is never far away, even on the northern coast of Cape Breton Island:

Back the fuck up!
Back the fuck up!

This fish was caught near the angry car sign, and would have backed the f*** up had I not been standing behind him:

And... another Cape Breton Island brookie
And… another Cape Breton Island brookie

We sped through New Brunswick, coming as well as going. Though we did spend a few hours at Hopewell Rocks on the Bay of Fundy (a fascinating place), we definitely shortchanged “The Picture Province,” or, “The Drive-Through Province,” if you’re feeling a bit disparaging. We plan to return and see more, it really was a beautiful place and we just hadn’t planned for that. Lots of great fishing there, and some wonderful scenery including the coastline near this lighthouse at Cape Enrage, though the photo doesn’t do the area justice:

Lighthouse, Cape Engrage, NB
Lighthouse, Cape Engrage, NB

We did manage to cover Nova Scotia from stem to stern, though. From the Meat Cove on the northern end of Cape Breton Island to Yarmouth, on the southern tip, we got to see a lot of it. This was the sunset the night we stayed at Ye Olde Argyler Inn, near Yarmouth:

Sunset at Ye Olde Argyler Lodge.
Sunset at Ye Olde Argyler Lodge.

This isn’t even a fraction of the info I have and the pictures we took, but that will have to do. Thanks for reading.

More Links

In addition to the links for fishing, camping, and places to stay above, here are a few more:

Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries – Lots of good info here.

Margaree Salmon Association – One of Canada’s premier salmon river, on Cape Breton Island.

Chéticamp River Salmon Association – Another great salmon river.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park – There are several really good streams loaded with brook trout. My advice: get an annual park fishing license and a good topo map (the park visitor center sells both), pick a stream close to you, rig up a three-weight with a dry fly, and give it a shot.

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