Man fly fishing in Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia Fly Fishing: 7 Species To Fill Your Dreams

If fly fishing is your thing, or if you are ready to give fly fishing a try, Nova Scotia is a location you need to consider. With several species of highly prized gamefish, Nova Scotia has great fly fishing all season long, from early spring, through the summer, and into the late fall. Nova Scotia has a very high density of lakes, rivers, streams, stillwaters, and estuaries. From literally any location, you are no further than a 10-minute drive to a body of water where you can fly fish for any one, or multiple species of highly prized gamefish. Here are our choices for the top 7 gamefish for Nova Scotia fly fishing:  

  • Eastern Brook Trout
  • Atlantic Salmon
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Brown Trout
  • Chain Pickerel
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Striped Bass

    So let us take a closer look at these gamefish species with a few tips to help you make the most of your fly fishing experience in Nova Scotia.

    The Eastern Brook Trout

    The eastern brook trout is the Provincial fish of Nova Scotia for good reason. You will find these stunningly beautiful salmonids in most freshwater systems throughout the province. The brook trout is native to Nova Scotia and native populations still thrive and reproduce successfully in most rivers and lakes. Additionally, provincial government stocking programs supplement the wild population and enhance the recreational fishery for brook trout. Brook trout with access to the ocean will migrate between freshwater to saltwater and back again. These sea-run brook trout can be caught in salt or freshwater. Sea-run brook trout can be identified by their silvery color, which they change to while living and feeding in the saltwater. The flesh on these fish will turn brilliant orange-red and is exceptionally tasty. Once the sea-run brook trout returns to freshwater, as a healthy, large, fat adult, the traditional darker brook trout colors gradually return.

    Nova Scotia Sea Trout

    sea-run brook trout

    Sea Trout Fillets on open fire

    Sea trout fillets


    Brook trout fishing is hugely popular with Nova Scotia residents with the season starting April 1st and ending Sept 30th. During the month of September, brook trout must be immediately released to protect them for the spawning season which begins in the fall. For local Nova Scotians, the majority of the brook trout fishing takes place in early April (once the ice is gone) through June. Once the summer heat warms up the water, many Nova Scotians stop fishing for brook trout. Good fly fishing for native brook trout in the summer can still be found, however. Your best luck will be in rivers and streams with a good flow of cooler water and well-oxygenated pools. Wet flies such as the Mickey Fin and the Picket Pin are good, season-long choices. If you are fly fishing in the spring, have an assortment of mayfly imitations in your fly box. If you are summer fishing a river or stream, have a few nymph flies on hand for bouncing through deeper, cooler pools. Your leader material should be no heavier than 6lb for streamer fishing and no heavier than 4lb for small dry flies and wet flies. 

    Atlantic Salmon 

    Up to the late 20th century, Nova Scotia was home to several legendary Atlantic salmon rivers. While many of these legendary rivers such as the Saint Mary’s River, the Mersey and the Lahave have been closed to salmon fishing for a while now, some great opportunities to hook Atlantic salmon still exist in Nova Scotia. Excellent fly fishing for Atlantic salmon can still be had in some of the Nova Scotia rivers that flow into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. These rivers include River Philip, the Wallace River, East River and West River Pictou, West River and South River Antigonish, and of course the Margaree River in Cape Breton.

    River Philip in fall
    River Philip in the fall
    Atlantic Salmon

    As is the case with all salmon fishing in Atlantic Canada, salmon fishing is fly fishing with barbless hooks only, or the barbs pinched down. Nova Scotia salmon fishing is catch and release only. With the exception of the Margaree River, fly fishing for Atlantic salmon is a fall fishery with season-opening September 1st and closing October 31st on most rivers. The Margaree River salmon season starts June 1st through October 31st. A separate license is required to fly fish for Atlantic salmon. You should check the regulations before heading out, as periods of low and/or warm water conditions can result in changes to the regulations. Fly patterns and techniques for Atlantic salmon are varied. To view a large assortment of popular and effective flies for Atlantic salmon, visit You can contact me and let me know where and when you plan on fishing for Atlantic salmon and I can offer some suggestions. 

    Smallmouth Bass

    While not a native species to Nova Scotia, smallmouth bass have made themselves at home in many of the lakes, particularly in the southern and western parts of the province. Typically, anglers pursue these hard-fighting fish with “hardware” or bait fishing techniques. However, for those that want to move up the angling hierarchy, fly fishing for smallmouth bass is a natural progression. Smallmouth will readily take a fly of almost any variety. Topwater flies such as the Hairbug and the Mouse Rat provide some of the most exciting action. Smallmouth bass is an excellent species to fish for if you are new to fly fishing and if you want to introduce youth to fly fishing. They are plentiful, easy to catch, and put up a legendary fight with acrobatic leaps when hooked. Also, if you want to keep fly fishing in Nova Scotia after the trout fishing slows down, smallmouth should be your new target. 


    Hairbug topwater fly for bass and pickerel

    Smallmouth Bass caught on a fly

    Smallmouth Bass

    Brown Trout

    The brown trout is not native to any system in North America. Nova Scotia introduced the brown trout in 1923 from European stock. Brown trout have become the dominant trout species in several river systems without crowding out the brook trout entirely. Sea-run brown trout cruise the river estuaries and coastal ocean waters. Like the sea-run brook trout, browns turn fat and silvery while in the saltwater and revert to their dark colors when they return to their river to spawn.

    Sea Run Brown Trout

    Sea-Run Brown Trout

    Some popular locations to find good fly fishing for brown trout include the same rivers previously mentioned for Atlantic salmon, with the exception of the Margaree. A few other rivers worth mentioning for big browns include the Cornwallis River in the Annapolis Valley, the Middle River near Baddeck in Cape Breton, and Salmon River Guysborough County. These rivers with brown trout provide some of the most diverse and exciting fly fishing in Nova Scotia. A productive and joyful day on any of these rivers could fill your journal with stories of hooking sea-run brown trout, a fat brook trout, and an Atlantic Salmon, all on the same day. Browns will take any of the same flies you would use for trout and salmon. One of our favorite flies for browns is the green machine, which is also wickedly effective for brook trout and salmon. 

    Chain Pickerel

    Another non-native species providing opportunities for Nova Scotia fly fishing is the chain pickerel. The chain pickerel’s presence in Nova Scotia is a more recent condition. Originally introduced into Yarmouth County in the mid-1940s, it can now be found in several systems in the southern and western parts of the province. Chain pickerel will take any of the same flies you would use for smallmouth bass. You are going to want to use a heavier leader for these demons due to their long sharp teeth. I would suggest an 8lb leader. Chain pickerel fly fishing heats up in the summer into the fall. 

    Chain Pickerel

    Chain pickerel

    Rainbow Trout

    Native to western North America, the rainbow trout is stocked in many municipal lakes in Nova Scotia to provide recreational fishing opportunities for residents. So, if you find yourself stuck in the city without the time or means to escape, you can get your fix of fly fishing for trout by heading to one of these “urban” lakes. In a previous era, while living in Manor Park in Dartmouth, I often was able to find relief from the daily grind by wading into one of Dartmouth’s city lakes, namely Penhorn and Oathill Lakes. The rainbow trout fishery is mostly a “put and take” fishery for Nova Scotians with a noteworthy exception. The Bras d’Or Lakes in Cape Breton provides a very popular recreational fishery for rainbow trout. When traveling along the Trans Canada Highway from the causeway to Baddeck you will notice circular pens in the Bras d’Or Lakes. These pens are for commercial aquaculture of rainbow trout. Escapees from these operations along with the previous stocking of rainbows provide some exciting fly fishing opportunities. You can also find rainbows in many of the rivers that flow into the Bras d’Or Lakes. Spawning populations of escapees and stocked fish exist in these rivers. The Middle River near Baddeck, previously mentioned for browns can also produce some exciting fly fishing for rainbow trout, brook trout, and salmon (October only for salmon). The Bra d’Or Shrimp fly is a local favorite fly for the Bras d’Or Lakes rainbow trout and would also be an excellent pattern for Atlantic salmon.

    Rainbow trout

    Bras d'Or Shrimp fly

    Bras d'Or Shrimp fly

     Striped Bass

    Most locals do not fly fish for striped bass, however… they should. Healthy populations of this large sea bass encircle the province, moving freely between ocean waters and freshwater with each and every tide. You will find them in the estuaries, the rivers, and in a few lakes. Some of the most popular systems include the Stewiacke River, the Shubenacadie River, the Cornwallis River, The Gaspereau River, the Annapolis River, Porters Lake, Grand Lake and the Bras d’Or Lakes. 

    Striped Bass

    Striped Bass

    Nova Scotia Fly Fishing Summary

    Nova Scotia fly fishers are blessed with an abundance of fly fishing opportunities for multiple species, in every area of the province, from early spring through the fall. From the most experienced fly fisher to the first timer who is just beginning, Nova Scotia has much to offer. Guides are not required for non-residents, however, we recommend hiring the services of a licensed guide if you are new to the area, at least for the first outing or two. We have only covered a few of the key fishing regulations in the broadest of views and these change from time to time. You will need to purchase a license and follow the rules and regulations which can be obtained when purchasing your license through a local retailer or online.




    Highland River Flies,, will provide you with any of the patterns you will need to make the most of your time on, or in, the water. We cater specifically to the Atlantic Canadian fly fisher.

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    1 comment

    web site awesome, Great information & links. Hope to move NS soon

    Bob Loosemore

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