Sunday, 28 October 2007

Fall Salmon Fishing in Nova Scotia

Well, I made it out for some good old Nova Scotia fall salmon fishing this week.

I let my fishing partner talk me into getting on the road by 5:30 AM. Not too tough a negotiation because there really aren’t many things I enjoy more than sunrise on a river; especially one that I know holds the promise of multi-sea-winter salmon.

The weather was slightly overcast and shirt-sleeves warm. A good long chat, a couple of Tim Horton’s double doubles and we were pulling into the field beside the river.

It was still dark but the first greenish streaks were starting to show on the horizon. We got geared up and walked down to see what we could of the river before the light fully broke. The water was low and amazingly warm for late October. I thought it over for a few minutes and decided on a change of tactics.

The most success I’ve had in fall salmon fishing has been with sinking-tip lines and large, bright flies. Things like the flashy marabou Cardinals are usually the order of the day. Under the present conditions I decided to fish as I would in the late summer when fish are sluggish takers and usually have been laying in the pools for weeks darkening up, waiting for a freshet to carry them further along their journey.

Brad, my fishing partner, stuck with the traditional fall set up. At sunrise we hit the water. I fished carefully knowing in the past I’d caught fish all along the run. Depending on the height of the water, grilse would lie in certain spots salmon in others. I’d never seen the water so low at this time of year - or so warm.

 Several times I felt the slight hesitation that marks the surprisingly subtle take of a big fish only to set on a floating leaf. On I went, quartering down stream, casting as close to the far bank as I could, letting the fly swing into the deeper water. It becomes almost hypnotic. Intensely concentrating on the cast, placing the fly where it needs to be and watching the drift, imagining the fly under the water, looking for any clue that there is a fish reacting to it.

Then a burst of adrenaline and the intensity of the moment when your line starts to move in a way contrary to the current. Don’t think about it. Don’t wonder if you imagined it. Strike!

The take was undetectable without the visual clues. I was fast into a big salmon. At the moment of contact I flashed back to a trip my brother Warren and I had taken to Labrador and the good advice he had given me. "Always consciously set the hook."

It’s better to lose a fish in the first few seconds than after a long fight. Better for the fish and better for you.

 When I felt the weight of the fish, I very deliberately set the hook again. The first leap turned my legs to water. This was a big salmon by any standard. I’d tied on a lighter leader in the semi-darkness of dawn after seeing how low the water was and immediately started doubting - first my intelligence, then my knots.

The initial run had me into my backing. Another big jump and I was running down the bank trying to get back into contact with my fly line. And so it went, until the runs became shorter and the jumps became slashes on the surface.

Brad offered to tail the fish for me and waded out into position. Usually this is the riskiest part of the whole event. As soon as I could lift the salmon’s head I got the fish parallel to the bank and let her down beside Brad.

With a move worthy of Mikhail Baryshnikov he slipped his hand behind the fish and grasped the wrist of the tail. I don’t really know how big the fish was. It was a female and I didn’t want to handle her too much before the release.

One fish like that could re-populate this whole system. If you can figure it out by looking at the pictures let me know what you think.

My heart had barely stopped pounding from that great fish when Brad’s reel started to scream. The fish that leaped at the end of his line was almost unbelievable. Bigger by far than the beautiful fish I’d just landed.

 Six leaps and several spool draining runs later, just as it looked like he was getting the fish under control, his line went slack. That big buck just swam away.

Moments later he was into another. And so the day went, I had the pleasure of tailing a really big fish for him and was able to use the lesson he had given me in the art earlier that day to make it look easy. The truth is I was petrified that I’d loose his big salmon by missing the grab when the opportunity presented.
If you’ve never tailed a big salmon trust me when I tell you: like every other aspect of the sport, sometimes you can do no wrong; other times you can.

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Sunday, 21 October 2007

Left Handedness is Important...Maybe

I've been reading an interesting study done by Ian Christopher McManus of the University College London and his colleagues.

According to McManus,"Left-handedness is important because more than 10 percent of people have their brains organized in a qualitatively different way to other people.That has to be interesting.

 When the rate of a [variable trait] changes, then there have to be causes, and they are interesting as well."

Well, probably more interesting to someone who is left handed than others but here is the bit that caught my attention.

 About 11% percent of the population right now is left handed. In 1900 only 3% of the people born were left handed. To investigate the decline in left handedness during the Victorian period the research team looked at a series of news reel type films made between 1897 and 1913 by early filmmakers Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon.

They counted the number of arm-wavers and then compared the number of left hand wavers to right hand wavers in these early films to a modern control group. They got the control group by searching for "waving" with Google Images. What a hoot! It is so simple and clever.

 I bet the guy who thought of it was left handed. By the way, about 15 percent of the people in the old films waved with their left hand, compared to 24 percent of left arm wavers in the Google search.

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Thursday, 11 October 2007

The Carnivorous Plants of Nova Scotia

In honour of Halloween, I’m going to tell you about a fascinating part of the natural history of Nova Scotia. We have several varieties of meat-eating plants!

Technically they are insectivorous – they eat bugs but still, think about it. Plants that capture and digest insects are surprisingly common here.

We have a plant called the pitcher plant, three types of Sundew, a killer called the Butterwort and lots of Bladderworts.
The plants hunt in different ways from passive traps to actively luring the victim with the promise of sweets then slamming a door shut behind them.

The pitcher plant looks like a vase with water in it. When an insect falls in, the downward facing hairs lining the pitcher keep the prey from climbing back out.

The liquid in the base of the vase is an enzyme rich soup that breaks the insect down so that its nutrients can be absorbed by the plant.

Slightly more aggressive is the Sundew.
It hunts by using sticky hairs to trap the bug and then gradually folds more of the sticky hairs and its leaves around the victim, trapping and slowly digesting it.

We have three of these hunters here, the Round Leaved, the Narrow Leaved and a very rare Sundew called the Thread Leaved Sundew, which is endangered now but there are still a few in boggy places around Shelburne.

 It’s a tiny plant big ones are only about 10 centimeters tall.

The Butterwort hunts by using a sticky coating on its leaves. It is just like fly paper. An insect lands on it and is unable to escape before the slow enfolding of the leaves traps it.

The name of this plant comes from the Old English word for plant, “wort”. The butter part of the name may refer to the sticky goo on its leaves.

The champion and most active hunter in the group is the Bladderwort.
This is a common submergent plant seen in boggy ponds. There are a lot of varieties.
It has a series of bladder-like structures along its stems. These bladders are really traps. They are hollow with a tiny door at one end surrounded by hairs.
The trap secretes a sweet liquid that acts as bait. When an unsuspecting victim approaches the plant and stimulates the trigger hairs surrounding the bladders- snap!
The door flies open and the insect is sucked inside to be slowly digested.

The thing these plants have in common is that they have all evolved to live in the acidic, low-nutrient bogs and swamps of Nova Scotia. What they can’t get from the water and soil they get by hunting.
To me, that's amazing.

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Thursday, 4 October 2007

A Japanese style of fly-fishing called Tenkara and Dapping

I've been visiting some fishing sites on the www and have found one based in Singapore that is really interesting.

The amazing thing is that even though the fish species and some of the techniques are incredibly exotic to me, the people on the forum are very down to earth.

You hear the same conversations and discussion points you would in a fishing camp on the Margaree. Guess the fraternity of fishermen is pretty well universal.

I think it was Roderick Haig-Brown who said something about," we descend from the first to leave the camp and go fishing when the tribe didn't have need of fish".

I'll search out the real quote for you. That's a good excuse to thumb through some well-enjoyed books by one of my favourite writers.

 I hope to one day be able to fish for Steelhead on the Campbell River of Vancouver Island and try to recognize the landmarks mentioned in his books. As a matter of fact, I learned to fly cast by reading his introduction to the art.

 My poor wife stood there holding the book and comparing my form to the illustrations as I tried to decode the right-handed pictures and instructions to my left handed reality. The forum is called fishingkaki and is at: Make sure you check it out.

One of the really neat things that I read about there recently is a Japanese style of fly-fishing called Tenkara. Tenkara is now accepted as the general term for traditional Japanese Fly-fishing. is a great link to get an overview of contemporary fly-fishing in Japan.

But back to Tankara, it’s a method developed by professional fishermen based on variations of what we call dapping.

Dapping is where you extend your pole from cover with just the leader and an inch or two of fly line exposed. The fly is lowered so it is just touching the surface and is bounced or danced on the surface to imitate an egg laying may fly, a struggling terrestrial or whatever behaviour your pattern of choice suggests.

It is a deadly way to catch fish, not just because of the ability to really work the fly but it is so stealthy that you don't frighten your quarry. It is a good way to fish the small brushy streams so common on the East Coast.

 If it was a question of catch a trout or go hungry, I'd choose dapping as the go to technique. The only negative is that it is so effective that its not much fun for your average fly fisherman.

 In Tankara the technique is expanded to subsurface variations, in essence dapping under water. Having read about it, I'll definitely try some Tankara variations in my down-stream nymphing for trout next spring.

Another great thing on the fishingkaki forum is the section on fly patterns. Some are definitely strange to my eye, others not so much but I've tried a few on local bass with great results and will spend a little time at the tying bench this winter sampling some of the techniques and ideas.

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