Exploring the Margaree
The Margaree River in Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton is such a rich, intriguing river – not just because of its Atlantic salmon runs but also for its heritage, and not least for the great, steep-sided cliffs that climb in green splendour from the river.
Waterfalls echo in the valley bottom, giving this the feel of an Atlantic salmon world separate from the rest of the planet.
In the midst of this idyllic valley, well upstream where the valley walls narrow, is the Big Intervale Fishing Lodge, owned by Hermann and Ruth Schneeberger. They are a transplanted Swiss couple who have been developing a niche in the Margaree system for the past 16 years.
“Live release is important to the runs of the Atlantic salmon in the Margaree,” says Hermann. “We need to protect these fish for our next generation.”
The Big Intervale Fishing Lodge has seen the idea of live release flourishing in the Margaree. “Most who come here don’t even think about wanting to kill one,” says Hermann, “We try to offer different opportunities. We wish there was a one-day live release salmon license. We have a very reasonable introductory fly fishing weekend package, and find we are getting many younger people, and children as well. It is good to see a younger generation taking an interest. But a one-day license for salmon would complement this, bringing an interest in salmon to youngsters and adults alike.”
Big Intervale Fishing Lodge is a member of ASF’s Live Release
Throughout the Margaree Valley there are continuing signs of the great flood of Dec. 15, 2010.
Sean Neery, manager of the Margaree Hatchery, which is now run by the Province, showed me how high the water was. The stream that flows through the middle of the hatchery facility was completely overflowing.
“For the adult salmon we had, the water level was more than even with the top of the tanks. All that kept them in was the netting we erect around the edges to stop them from leaping out.”
Like everyone else I talked with in the valley, he wondered if we would find a drastic drop in the number of salmon a few years from now due to the tremendous flood, that rearranged the river, and even some of the pools. All wonder if many redds were scoured out.
Sean pointed to the tanks with the fry from this past year. Perhaps these are very special fry, and perhaps special care needs to be taken with them. But so far they are doing very, very well. Most will be grown out to parr, and some to smolt stage. After they leave, it will be interesting to see what the return is for that year class.
This hatchery, incidentally, is the second oldest in the Maritimes.
John Hart, president of the Margaree Salmon Association, also has been thinking of the impact of this flood on the future of these salmon. “Perhaps these salmon fry really are special,” he says.
John Hart has a deep appreciation for Atlantic salmon in general, in Nova Scotia, and especially for the Margaree. He takes the future of this Atlantic salmon population seriously, and personally. Like many, he sees the natural conditions as being complex, especially with dramatic events added such as the flood of 2010.
Margaree Salmon Museum
No pilgrimage to the Margaree Valley would be complete without a visit to the Margaree Salmon Museum, so ably run by Frances Hart. The collection is devoted mostly to the angling history of the valley, with a few displays varying towards the fossils, and even a model of one of the Margaree Communities, and a 3D map of the valley.
Frances takes great pride in introducing visitors to the Margaree’s special qualities, and is just as enthusiastic in giving details about the extensive collections of reels, rods and flies. She points out the flies tied personally by Lee Wulff and by baseball great Ted Williams.
Many well known flies were first developed in the Margaree Valley, including the Cosseboom and the Black Bomber. The Margaree has a rich history, well worth exploring through books – but better in person.
This has been a wet spring, so the river is running on the high side, with rain continuing.