Sportfishing in Atlantic Canada

Sportfishing in Atlantic Canada is legendary, especially for Atlantic salmon in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Cape Breton Island. Fishing guides, tours, lodges (from rustic to luxurious), and packages are available throughout these regions. Expect to pay $250-500 a day for a guide. An all-inclusive week’s package has the highest price and usually includes license fees, lodging, meals, a guide, and, for remote locations, fly-in transportation. Typical is Labrador’s Rifflin’ Hitch Lodge, a 50-minute flight southeast from Goose Bay. Located on the Eagle River, one of the richest Atlantic salmon rivers in North America, the lodge supplies anglers with some of the world’s best fishing and all the comforts of home. Guests enjoy luxuries such as gourmet meals and a hot tub, comfortable private rooms, and fishing from the shore or boats at a ratio of one guide to every two guests.

A fisherman proudly carries a freshly-caught Atlantic Salmon.
Fishing for Atlantic Salmon. Photo © Alexis Bélec/123rf.

Atlantic Salmon

Just one species of salmon is native to the tidal waters of Atlantic Canada—the Atlantic salmon. It is anadromous, spending its time in both freshwater and saltwater. The salmon spend up to three years in local rivers before undergoing massive internal changes that allow them to survive in saltwater. They then spend 2-3 years in the open water, traveling as far as Greenland. After reaching maturity, they begin the epic journey back to their birthplace, to the exact patch of gravel on the same river from where they emerged. It is the returning salmon that are most sought after by anglers, with New Brunswick’s Miramichi watershed the most famed of all river systems. Atlantic salmon grow to 36 kilograms, although their landlocked relatives rarely exceed 10 kilograms.

Other Saltwater Species

Flounder are caught in shallow waters, where they bury themselves in the sand. Growing to 40 centimeters long, these groundfish are easily caught, and just as easy to lose. Clams and worms are favored baits. Mackerel, living in shallow waters throughout summer, are easy to catch using spinning rods. Mackerel charters departing from North Rustico Harbour (Prince Edward Island) are extremely inexpensive.

Freshwater Fish

Speckled trout (also known as brook trout) are widespread throughout the region and are fun to catch and tasty to eat. They tend to gravitate to cooler water, such as spring-fed streams, and can be caught on spinners or flies. A 3.4-kilogram specimen, one of the largest ever caught, is on display in Halifax’s Museum of Natural History. Introduced in the late 1800s, rainbow trout are in lakes and rivers across Atlantic Canada. Many easily accessible lakes across Atlantic Canada are stocked with trout each spring. Most are rainbows because they are easy to raise and adapt to varying conditions. You can catch them on artificial flies, small spinners, or spoons. Sherbrooke Lake and Dollar Lake, both near Halifax, have healthy populations of lake trout, but the biggest of the species are in Newfoundland and Labrador. Introduced from Europe, brown trout are found in some streams and larger lakes, with the regional record a 13-kilogram fish caught in Newfoundland.

Long and lean, striped bass inhabit rivers and estuaries throughout the region. There is a definite art to catching the species—it is estimated it takes an average of 40-50 hours of fishing to catch one. The regional record is a 28.6-kilogram monster pulled from the lower reaches of the Saint John River (New Brunswick). Smallmouth bass are a popular sport fish introduced to the waterways of New Brunswick and southwestern Nova Scotia from farther west. They live in clear, calm water that usually has a gravelly bottom.

Common throughout North America, whitefish are easily caught in most rivers and lakes, although they rarely exceed 15 centimeters in length. Atlantic whitefish (also called Acadian whitefish) are endemic to southwestern Nova Scotia. The fish is a protected species, so angling for them is prohibited; carry an identification chart if fishing these waters. Yellow perch (also known as lake perch) are identified by wide vertical stripes. Most often caught in shallow rivers and lakes in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, they are fun to catch and tasty.

Fishing Licenses and Regulations

Each province has its own licensing system and regulations with which you should familiarize yourself before casting a line.

Nova Scotia: The recreational fishery is managed by the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture. A freshwater license for nonresidents costs $13 for one day, $34 for seven days, or $64 per year. Residents pay $28 for an annual license.

New Brunswick: A three-day nonresident license to fish for salmon is $38; to fish all other species for three days is $20. A seven-day license is $75 and $26, respectively, and an annual license is $138 and $38. It is illegal for nonresidents to fish for salmon in New Brunswick rivers without a guide, while other waters are set aside as “Crown Reserve”—for the fishing pleasure of residents only. For information, check the government website,

Prince Edward Island: The Department of Communities, Land, and Environment charges $10 per annum plus a $20 Wildlife Conservation Fund fee ($13 for seniors) for a trout fishing season that runs from mid-April to mid-September.

Newfoundland and Labrador: Contact the Department of Environment and Conservation for information on fishing in both fresh and tidal waters. A license for trout angling is $8 per year, while a nonresident salmon license costs $53. An important point to note is that nonresidents are prohibited from fishing farther than 800 meters from a provincial highway without a guide or direct relative resident.

Fishing in national parks requires a separate license, which is available from park offices and some sports shops ($9.80 for a seven-day license, $34.30 for an annual license).

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