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OUTDOOR WORLD: Fishing in the arm of gold

Don MacLean
Don MacLean

Last week I spent four days fishing the Bras d’Or Lakes in Cape Breton. It was the 12th year that I joined a group of friends for our annual fishing trip for brook trout in River Denys basin, which runs into West Bay.

The fishing wasn’t easy. It was cold and windy for almost the entire trip, and we were the only people on the water most days, but the company was great and we all caught a few trout.

As most people know the Bras d’Or Lakes, translated as the Arm of Gold, are a large inland sea located in the centre of Cape Breton Island. The lakes are basically a large enclosed body of brackish water with outlets to the ocean at Great Bras d’Or Channel, Bras d’Or Channel and via the canal at St. Peters. Only the Great Bras d’Or channel at Seal Island provides a major water flow and, as a result, there is not much tidal movement in the lakes. However the lakes are salty enough to support some 22 species of marine fish ranging from lobsters and herring to flounder, dogfish, hake, pollock and codfish. Most anglers however are after brook, brown or rainbow trout and Atlantic salmon.
The lakes cover 1,100 square kilometres in area and have six major rivers draining into them, the Middle, Baddeck, Skye, Black, Washabuck and River Denys. While there is some fall salmon fishing most anglers come to the lakes to fish for trout.

The beginning of fish farming in the 1970s saw the introduction of rainbow trout to the lakes. Today, regular stocking by the provincial fisheries department combined with some limited natural reproduction ensures a population of trout to fish for.

Brook trout also run into most streams and some large brown trout are collected every year mostly on the St. Peters side of the lakes. In recent years striped bass have started to show up more and more frequently. The current Nova Scotia record striper, a 57.9 pound fish, was caught in East Bay by Christian LeVatte in 2008.
Spring fishing for speckled trout is a popular activity and many anglers use bait – either sand shrimp collected from the rockweed with a fine mesh nets or power bait. Some anglers use flies and shrimp imitations or orange streamers also work well.

It is often windy on the lakes so I use a floating, weight-forward line to help get my fly out to where the fish are. With the season for rainbow and brown trout in the lakes now open for 12 months of the year anglers have lots of opportunity to fish for these species.

The seasons for speckled trout and other species are the same as in the rest of the province. The bag and size limits vary, depending on where you fish in the Lakes, so be sure to check the 2018 Summary of Sportfishing Regulations before you head out.

Every year our fishing group awards a trophy for the largest speckled trout caught by a member and this year the winner was a 16.5 inch fish. I was happy to hook a 15.5 incher on a Mickey Finn fly, which was my best fish ever from River Denys and I will be hoping for a bigger one next year. So if you get a chance this season head to the Bras d’Or lakes for some fun on our inland sea.

Don MacLean is an outdoor writer and biologist who lives in Pictou County.

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