I loaded my gear in the canoe and was putting on my lifejacket as I happened to glance into the lake. The water was crystal clear so I could see out for some distance. On the bottom, standing motionless were around a dozen small black salamanders.
The lake was in the Cape Breton Highlands, an area where there is not a lot of forage available for fish in the form of minnows or insects. So, when I was out on the water, I searched through my fly box for something that looked like a salamander. I figured a marabou leech should be close enough, and the trout agreed.
I later checked the stomach contents of the three trout I kept for supper and all three had those small salamanders in them. That experience took place many years ago but it remains with me to this day and it gave me a newfound interest in salamanders, and their role in the diet of fish.
While most Nova Scotia trout anglers don’t think of frogs and salamanders as important food for fish there are occasions when they can be a major part of their diet. Insects only hatch at specific times, usually governed by temperature, so if fish want to eat they must depend on a variety of food items.
Research has indicated that trout get the majority of their diet from food items below the surface so anglers need to pay attention to what food items are available in their favourite lake and river.
Nova Scotia is home to eight species of frogs. They are: leopard, eastern American toad, green, mink, bullfrog, wood, pickerel and grey or tree frog better known as the spring peeper.
I haven’t heard any peepers yet this year but I expect, when the temperature warms up, I will hear their spring chorus. A check of the Nova Scotia Frog Watch site indicated that the earliest they have been reported was in March down in Yarmouth. That was a few years ago, I expect in a year with an early spring.
While adult frogs may not make up a large part of the trout’s diet the juveniles of all the species can be an important part of their diet. Both frogs and toads lay their eggs in May. The transparent jelly like egg masses soon hatch in the warmth of the spring sun and develop into gilled tadpoles of various sizes. These tadpoles, which actively feed on insect nymphs in the shallows, later absorb their gills and tails, develop legs and move onto land. While adult frogs remain in and around wet areas, toads move farther from the water and are less important to fish.
Salamanders, with their long tails, are a common sight in many lakes and ponds, especially early in the season when they mate. Nova Scotia has five species, the blue, and yellow-spotted, red-backed, four-toed and the red-spotted newt.
The salamanders I found in that Cape Breton lake were red-spotted newts. Since that day I have found them in lakes and ponds throughout Nova Scotia.
There is a variety of synthetic baits and lures designed to imitate both salamanders and frogs. Fly tiers can’t go wrong with big leech imitations in brown, green or black when attempting to imitate salamanders. Green deer hair frogs or poppers are a good choice when fished in the weeds. A weed guard can help reduce hookups on the vegetation.
So, keep an eye out around your favourite fishing spot and, if you see salamanders and frogs around, tie on an imitation if the fishing is slow.
Don MacLean is an outdoor writer and biologist who lives in Pictou County.