By Charles W. Waring III

I lost any potential “cool points” because I was three months too early to see the total eclipse of the sun. Nonetheless, when we had the opportunity as a family to bid on renting a house in Nova Scotia, I heard all I needed to know — plenty of nearby trout fishing, extraordinary natural beauty, abundant wildlife, friendly locals, comfortable accommodations, historic towns and villages of cultural interest and — best of all — seriously cool temperatures. Remote and relaxation roll together with vigor when I am seeking a spring/summer family trip.

We arrived in the Halifax airport in time to rent a large SUV to suit three adults, two children and plenty of luggage, fishing gear and groceries and later a giant stuffed toy beaver and several other had-to-buy creatures and items … but we are getting ahead of ourselves. From the middle of the province, we began our nearly three-hour ride and headed via the northern and shortest route to our destination, a Victorian cottage on the West St. Mary’s River in the community of Waternish — just outside of the quaint village of Sherbrooke, where the town grocer had minimal staples. However, the supermarket in New Glasgow and a nearby Canadian version of the ABC shop had provisions and we stocked up for a week.

Sherbooke Village

The historic Sherbrooke Village was near where we were staying and situated on a lower stretch of the St. Mary’s River. This designated area is for walking tours only and mixed with private homes, but mainly it hosts restored buildings that are pretty close to what they were in the 1860s and 70s. This region was once thriving with trade related to a gold rush but had a longer run with timber and shipbuilding before it focused on fishing and then landed on tourism. The historic village buildings are only open from early June until late September. Other places open earlier and closer later, but they run close to late spring to early fall.

An old schoolroom, courthouse, temperance hall and dry goods store were just some of the spots we visited. Other places had weavers and sheepherders. Historic interpreters were in period attire and the woodworking shop gentleman, Jeff Jordan, was more than just talented in his craft — he was also full of intelligence about the best flies for local trout fishing. In the world of obscure, the dry goods store had a contraption that was a dog-powered butter churn; you let your pooch walk on the belt that turns and butter comes before long. At the end of the tour, you may visit the Company Store and buy anything from a giant stuffed beaver to fridge magnets to hand-woven tea towels and wooden spoons courtesy of my friend, Mr. Jordan.

‘Stillwater Slim’ and other quests

Each time I spoke with a fellow fisherman, I heard about a master fly tier named “Stillwater Slim,” who lived in the village of Stillwater. He sounded like a character from a Johnny Cash song, but the demands of the trip prevented our reaching the legend. Don’t make the same mistake. We also failed to see a moose and a bear but actually did view porcupines, a lynx, a ruffed grouse, tons of colorful warblers, bald eagles and a whole bunch of creatures on a tour designed to seeing many shorebirds and seals.

Cape Breton

Cape Breton is a long way from Waternish, but it is where you want to head to view the beautiful and dramatic coast plus those legendary puffins and seals. Sister Laura did her homework and found Bird Island Boat Tours of Big Bras d’Or. We stopped for a picnic with the first dose of black flies and hurried on up to this remote fishing village where it was 47 degrees at 2:30 in the afternoon with the wind gusting to 25. Kind of chilly, eh?

The boat had comfortable seating with a heater, so we were fine on our adventure to the two bird islands. This family-friendly operation strikes a balance between getting you near the birds and the seals and staying a respectful distance away. Different types of cormorants, terns and gulls abound. The black guillemot was a nice surprise; it looks like a penguin when standing on rocks but it is closer in character to a puffin and also dives deep to feed.

The Atlantic puffin is a character of the shorebird world, colorful in habits and in the literal notion amid its head. When one dives, the others follow. The puffins have short wings and look a little ridiculous flying but those wings are really adapted for deep diving.

Gray and harp seals were having a rest on the rocks of one of the islands, and we learned that they have increased in number to the point where their average weight has dropped. Moreover, environmentalists and fishermen agree that the seals are impacting the salmon stocks, as they eat the salmon smolts in large numbers. Brigitte Bardot and other crusaders have slowed or stopped the seal harvest and the orcas or killer whales have long been rare in these parts, so the seals have few predators.

This cycle is out of balance and it means that salmon fishing has been banned in Nova Scotia for many years. Rivers once known for angling are off limits to the salmon fishing that once brought Babe Ruth and many famous sportsmen to these parts.

Fishing the West St. Mary’s River

Speaking of fishing, I knew that the trout were plentiful and only 250 yards from where we were staying. My early attempts in the cold weather were pleasant and free of bugs, but I had limited strikes. After I received better fishing intelligence on flies, I found some success on the West St. Mary’s River.

The fishing became fast and furious the afternoon it warmed up to 71 and tempted all of us to put on shorts. I waded into the river and sister Laura and my Susu stood nearby and prepared to have a try at the fishing … until they became too busy swatting black flies. The sky was blue and the breeze was just as pleasant as can be and those fish were striking like crazy! So, a fisherman is going to ignore the flies and keep on fishing.      The ladies toughed it out for a solid 30 minutes or more, but they eventually told me I could have it. Those black flies had my legs running red with blood after 20 more minutes on my own, so I packed it in and tried to focus on how good the speckled and brook trout had been biting. (Most sportsmen are certified unhinged when ducks are flying or fish are biting; full admission.)

Liscomb River

Jack Duffy is a longtime sportsman, having fished and hunted all over Nova Scotia and other parts of Eastern Canada; he is also the caretaker of the cottage where we stayed. He, of the age of great wisdom, kindly took me on an adventure on my last day in Waternish, driving nearly an hour to get to the main Liscomb River. We parked and hiked upriver in a forest that was unlike any I had seen up close and personal. It was full of evergreens, bogs, boulders, thickets, hiding places for small animals in massive root-balls and the sounds of bullfrogs, owls and bird species unknown to my ears. It sounded like the haunted forest in the “Wizard of Oz” and that was great drama to make the hike even more exotic.

We had plenty of strikes and I caught several brook and speckled trout, but Jack was really nailing them. I used lightweight waders on loan from my host and they were just the ticket to avoid the black flies. I found that I needed to do some serious climbing from rocks to islands to rocks to get exactly where they would bite. This is a place where Jack and his son would catch 50 fish in a morning, but you can get that kind of success only by hiking away from the main road and hitting the hatch just right. I had plenty of fishing and could not get enough of the scenery and the cool temperatures. The dramatic terrain is forever etched in my head.

Ports, towns and lobsters

I’ll also never forget the name of nearby town we visited; it is called Antigonish, which is a Mi’kmaq (pronounced MIC-mac) name, meaning the place where the branches of trees are torn from the bears seeking beechnuts. This tribe puts a whole lot of wallop into one word, and it was enough to inspire us to visit. The handsome St. Francis Xavier University is worth seeing and, when it is holding classes, it doubles the town’s population. Though we found no beechnuts therein, the Antigonish Heritage Museum is worth a visit and they had information about Charleston’s black Tories who settled in the area after the American Revolution. The town has some charming stores and the surrounding countryside is worth exploring.

The coast is dotted with little fishing ports, and that is where you want to show up at 2 p.m. to see about buying lobster. If you come much later, all the lobsters will be long gone to market. Every port has a dramatic view, and the one at Port Bickerton was especially nice as it hosted a lighthouse and great walking trail to the rocky beach.

The countryside in general is most attractive, but you have to hunt hard to find picnic areas; however, once you get your spot, you will likely not see anyone else. The province of Nova Scotia has many fishable rivers, and you could spend weeks and weeks just trying new places. If you wish to kayak or canoe, those options are plentiful. If you want to see whales, the best times are from July to mid October.

This part of Canada welcomed us tremendously and our only regret was that we could not see more, including whales and the big tide change at the Bay of Fundy. Get fishing maps online before you go, but the local government has lots of maps and brochures at the airport. You will be prepared for an adventure like no other — just be dern sure to protect yourself against the black flies.

 

 

Mercury newspaper racks are located at the following locations:

The Meeting Street Inn

Clair's Service Station at 334 Folly Rd.

Harris Teeter on Houston-Northcutt Blvd.

The Square Onion in I'On

Mt. Pleasant Library on Mathis Ferry Rd.