Nova Scotia Dreamin' - St Mary's Riverside Lots
Ever dreamed of owning your own fishing lodge on the banks of a beautiful salmon river? Phil Robinson did and he found his ideal spot on the St Mary's River in Nova Scotia, Canada. Read on inside as Phil tells us his story of how his dream has turned into reality and how it could happen to you too!
Watch out for more information too over the coming year as we watch the seasons change with riverside reports from the St Mary's.
by Phil Robinson
A couple of years ago on the 18th of May I waded into the Broum Bridge pool on the LaHave River near Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. At this time of year the river is always high but reasonably clear with the worst of the spring runoff already gone through. This morning I decided to fish a small, classic Jock Scott. Wading here is tricky with big submerged boulders (kinda like walking on Volkswagens) so it's slow going. Once I got my feet where they needed to be to fish the pool properly it wasn't long before the Jock attracted attention.
By the size of the swirl behind the fly I knew this was no grilse. The spring run in the Lahave River is legendary for its big Atlantic salmon. In recent years only a few hundred come into the river and I knew by the size and power of the swirl, one of these monsters was right in front of me. I shortened my line a few feet and with great excitement I cast again. Nothing! I let out a couple of feet of line and sent the Jock back to work. Bam!
When a twenty pound, fresh Atlantic salmon strikes your fly in heavy spring water in Nova Scotia you are in for fight. The take is always aggressive, the ensuing aerial show incredible and the experience… addictive. I admit it… I'm addicted. This affliction has caused me to spend much time and effort fishing many rivers in Nova Scotia. To live a full life I need a fly in the water from May through October. This is not a daily addiction but it needs feeding for a few days each month or I develop unfortunate symptoms including crankiness. Not good.
In the spring and early summer things are easy. Lots of water in the rivers for the early and strawberry salmon runs sustains me until early July. After that I need to become more focussed. I become dependent on rain. The salmon know when to enter a river. If it's too low, they wait it out in the estuary. When rain increases the outflow sufficiently they move up and they do so quickly. In most Nova Scotia salmon rivers there will be a week of good fly fishing in July and August. These will often be different weeks depending on the timing of the rain and where it falls, certain rivers will fish and others will not.
I live in Central Nova Scotia so all the fishable salmon rivers are within 2-4 hours driving distance. To pass the time in the car and while eating Tim Horton's my thoughts find me enjoying the deck of my own fishing lodge. I dream about bacon sizzling on the wood stove, early morning mist hovering over the river, that wonderful wilderness silence broken from time to time by the crowing of a pheasant or an eagles' cry and the splash of big fish breaking in the pool below the camp. As the years passed this dream evolved and started to include thoughts of the setting. Given the choice where would I want this lodge to be?
I spent considerable time thinking about this subject. As discussed, in Nova Scotia a "fishing central" location is critical. I wanted a wilderness setting with convenient (paved) year round access. I wanted to be on a great river but I wanted the river to stay outside. Riverside building in Nova Scotia can have a big downside in the spring and fall flood seasons. My wife and I like to travel and we have family and friends that visit so proximity to an international airport is important. We wanted a grocery store and a pharmacy no more than 30 minutes away. These criteria narrowed my options.
We are at the age where grand children are not far away. When I shared the dream with my wife she made it clear that we wanted a safe river that youngsters could enjoy for swimming, canoeing and kayaking. She wanted privacy which meant a few acres of woodland into which we could nestle without disturbing (or seeing) the neighbours. We would use the property as a seasonal residence so we wanted site conditions conducive to economical construction of both roads and buildings. Truth be known, I might not have thought of some of these pre-conditions without my wife's enthusiastic help. I began to wonder if such a property could be found and if it was what chance it would be for sale?
Nova Scotia is the only Province in Canada where you can fish for salmon without a licensed guide. When salmon were plentiful and could be killed these "free for all" conditions caused some serious problems for those of us who fly fish only for sport. On some rivers new salmon conservation measures were well received on others where a few grilse can still be taken the "old ways" continue to be a problem. For me a big part of the salmon fishing experience is meeting and kibitzing with other fly fishers. I look forward to seeing the old regulars and making new acquaintances. I do not intentionally fish rivers where the fishers have no manners, do not rotate through the pools and do not respect the importance of conservation. I would not be comfortable owning a place on a river where a poor fishing attitude prevailed. When I added this to my list of pre-conditions the task of finding the ideal location seemed insurmountable.
Then I discovered the St. Mary's River. For years this river had been virtually closed for salmon fishing. I had fished all the rivers nearby but had never cast a fly in the St. Mary's. Due largely to the efforts of an absolutely dedicated group of volunteers the river has been rejuvenated. Today its salmon fishing is strictly hook and release which suits me just fine. It has awesome sea trout runs and a well established resident brook trout population. The salmon season is short closing in mid-July but trout fish until the end of September.
Last year in mid October I was fishing the East River (New Glasgow, Nova Scotia) about 45 minutes away so I decided to take in the fall colours along the St Mary's. As I crossed the bridge near Caledonia I noticed a lot of people in the river and on the bank. Some were in wet gear with diving tanks most were wearing waders. I pulled off and was pleased to meet some of the most active members of the St Mary's River Association and a scientific crew from the Department of Fisheries. They had just completed seining the salmon pool just below the bridge. I was sworn to secrecy as to precise numbers of fish they indexed but I can say the sweep of the pool produced many large salmon and trout. They were shorthanded and I was thrilled to be invited to help pull the net through Indian Man Pool which was next on their list. This was a fantastic experience.
As luck would have it, a woodsman was working that same afternoon clearing a path along the riverbank. When I inquired why he was doing that he explained the land owner was selling some riverfront acreages and wanted folks to be able to walk the property. When I mentioned I could be interested he told me there was a sign up on the highway with a phone number and a website. The website turned out to be a treat .
The developers of the property are interested in creating a special micro-community for fly fishers. The information on the website includes some great stuff about the colourful history of the St Mary's River. There is one article that features a report from a British Fisheries Officer in 1882, it reads in part, 'The river above the place, for 6 miles, and below it to the lake, is remarkably clean, unpolluted water. The bottom is all that can be desired for salmon spawning grounds, being composed of white sand and fine gravel. I have never, during my inspection through the Province, seen any better. The bed of the lake is of similar formation, and the water so clear the bottom may be seen at the depth of many feet. Read more…
It is remarkable how little the river has changed in the past 100 years.
As to my wish list of conditions the St Mary's River seemed to deliver on all counts. Over the next couple of weeks I took the time to do serious due diligence. I am very pleased to tell you that after many years, my fishing lodge dream is about to come true.
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