I just got back from my week in Cape Breton, where I spend most waking hours standing in the Margaree River waving a fly rod. Sometimes I catch and release Atlantic Salmon. Most of the time, however, I enjoy the magic of the moment while making deals with the salmon gods to help me hook a fish!
Any self-respecting angler wears a hat. It protects us from the sun and rain, from the wind that grabs our flies and hits us in the head, and gives us something to hide under when our casting goes to hell-in-a-handbasket. It means that we are usually looking out at the water under its brim. I’ve learned a lot while looking out from under the brim of my fishing hat. Here are some of my recent lessons.
I arrived at Tent Pool on morning and there were 4 women there. I have never seen more than 2 other people there, let alone women. They were 4 of the most delightful, new-to-flyfishing women I’d ever met, who had hired a guide for the day. A guide, ostensibly, should “guide” clients – tie on flies, help them cast, position them in the river and help them fish. This guide stood on the shore, watching his clients flail away, stepping in only when they were so tied up that they needed help to escape their own line!
I spent time with each of them, talking about casting, about where the fish might be lying and tying flies back on. I wasn’t being paid, but it was worth it – I was fishing, guiding and spending time with wonderful new friends. My morning was outstanding. 
Lesson # 1 from Tent Pool: Don’t just do what you have to do. If you can, do more. Your friends/clients will benefit, and so will you.
I spent an afternoon at Swimming Hole Pool, a long pool that’s fun to fish. As I was pausing for a break, two men arrived. One asked if he could get in the pool, and the other, Steve, sat down and we began to chat. That’s one of the wonderful things about fishing – we all share stories. Steve told me all about fishing in Maine where he lived, and how much fun it was being up on the Margaree.
When Steve stood up to get in the river, he lifted a huge net. I mean huge…I could have fit inside it! On the Margaree, we “tail” our fish, meaning we carefully land them with our hands, protecting their gills, and then release them.
Steve shyly looked side to side, then asked me if anyone else uses a net. I said no, I didn’t know anyone who did. He looked a bit sheepish lugging it around, and then I posed the question he was clearly dreading: Why didn’t you ask someone before you came?
His response? “Ask? Well, um, I never thought about it”.
(Note: I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture of the net or I’d put it here!)
Lesson #2 from Swimming Hole Pool: Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions!
The final lesson comes from Redbank Pool. It was windy and cold, but the sun peeked through the clouds now and then and made the water sparkle and shine. I had my hat in lock position to keep it from blowing off my head, and I became quite contemplative as I began to cast. I knew a fellow had hooked a salmon in this pool near the apple tree a few nights ago, and I thought it would be a good place to finish my trip.
He had told me that he knew the fish was there, and he was just persistent and kept presenting flies to the fish until he hooked (and released) it. So, I did the same. I was persistent, and I presented the flies the way I thought would interest me if I were that salmon, lying near that overhanging apple tree.
And suddenly… boom! A salmon grabbed the fly and with a splash, blasted away from me! Heart pounding, after what seemed like hours, I slowly brought the fish in, carefully removed the fly, while trying NOT to a) break my fly rod, b) hurt the salmon or c) fall down.
As I watched him swim away, I realized that all the time I had spent not catching fish had allowed me to distill what it was that I needed to do to catch fish.
Lesson #3 from Redbank – Be persistent, whatever you are doing. Stop doing that which doesn’t work, and you’ll eventually land your fish/job/contract (fill in the right word here).
Fishing for Atlantic salmon is a wonderful, frustrating, exciting and humbling experience. It connects me to the Earth, reminding me that I am a part of it, not apart from it. Sometimes I leave the river reeling in the thrill of releasing a fish. And sometimes not. But I always leave it profoundly grateful that there are places like the Margaree River where I can keep learning about wild places, the creatures I share them with, and about myself.
 I also know that the most common characteristic found in successful guides is not their fishing skills, but rather their ability to connect with people. (This guide was dis-connecting!). Pretty sure his tip reflected that disconnect!