Atlantic Salmon FAQ - Ethics and Etiquette

Contributed by Bob Boudreau (copyright)


There is a long tradition of behavior that governs the gentle art of Atlantic Salmon angling. Many of these traditions or rules of behavior are localized and are learned by experience while fishing a particular river or area. Below are a number of generally accepted principles that are common to most of the salmon rivers in North America and in many cases are a matter of common courtesy and respect.

Public vs Private Water

Most rivers are open to the public. Angling is permitted by individual that has a license to fish subject to local regulations. The provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec however have sections of some rivers with both public and private fishing rights. The private water fishing rights, (riparian rights), are either owned by private individuals or groups or the rights are leased from the government by private individuals. These areas of public and private water are either posted on the river or are identified by local regulatory authorities. Anglers are required to respect the private fishing rights of others.

Pool Rotation

In order to provide equal access to public water fishing opportunities an informal system of "pool rotation" has been adopted by most anglers. Where a number of anglers wish to fish a particular salmon holding pool, the fisherman first to arrive starts wading at the top of the pool and begins casting according to the presentation methods described previously. After lengthening his cast to the maximum necessary or his maximum comfort level, he then begins to take a step or two down river before each cast. One cast, one step until you reach the end of the pool.

As the first angler works his way down through the pool the second steps into the top of the pool when a reasonable casting distance is reached between the first and the second angler. Each angler steps into the top of the pool as his turn arrives. The size of the pool generally determines how many anglers may be in the pool casting at any one time. The remaining anglers wait on shore until there is room at the top of the pool to enter.

As an angler leaves the bottom of the pool he comes to shore and assumes the last position in the rotation, i.e. anyone on the shore when he leaves the water should have the opportunity to enter the pool next. When in doubt regarding your position in the rotation be courteous and ask. This procedure allows equal access to the pool for all fishermen.

There are some local exceptions to pool rotation. For example, on a particular river, a certain rock at the top of the run provides an excellent fishing platform and position. Local custom may dictate that this position is taken on a first come first serve basis with no expectation of rotating the position until the angler is finished fishing. Despite these local traditions, you should always be courteous and offer to share such opportunities. Although most anglers on the major salmon rivers practice pool rotation there are some smaller rivers where the local fishermen do not. The angling pressure on these rivers is not as heavy and generally, if there is someone fishing a pool, you just move on to the next pool. Talking to local anglers and observation will assist in determining local angling etiquette. When in doubt, let courtesy be your guide.

Should you raise a fish while you are rotating through a pool with other fishermen you may:

Occasionally you will see a fisherman do the "river shuffle" when he is coming to a hot spot. Although his feet move he does not seem to be making progress down river through the pool. If he stalls too long, he may receive a friendly reminder from other anglers in the pool.

Should you hook and release or retain a fish while rotating the pool you should leave the pool and assume a position at the end of the rotation. If you hook the fish but loose him you are able to reenter the pool immediately, at the position where you hooked the fish.

Should another fisherman in the rotation hook a fish, as a matter of curtesy, reel up your line and move out of the way. You may offer assistance to the angler in landing the fish if you feel confident enough. Otherwise wait until the angler has either landed the fish or lost it and then return to the river where you left.

Other Issues

Avoid disturbing the pool or salmon. Do not walk through the water unnecessarily and step back near high banks to avoid being seen by the fish ("spooking" the fish).

Do not wade in spawning areas. Respect the property of others. Do not block driveways or secondary roads and do not walk through cultivated fields. Always ask permission before you cross private property.

Respect the river and the land. Do not leave garbage or start fires.

It is not considered good sportsmanship to fish a sinking line with a large hook in low water or slow current conditions. Large numbers of salmon can be holding in a pool in these circumstances and a fish could be foul hooked.

When the water temperature is over 70 degrees salmon are less likely to take a fly. Hooking and playing a salmon under such conditions causes a great deal of stress and can result in the death of a large fish that must be released. Many salmon fishermen refrain from fishing under these conditions, given the difficulty in hooking salmon and the possible increased mortality rate of released fish.

Assist others by example and advice.

Report all angling violations to the proper authorities.

Rules, Regulations and Licenses:

Fishing for salmon in Atlantic Canada is primarily governed by provincial regulations. Each province, (each state in U.S.A.), has it's own set of regulations and licenses. Certain areas in the province of Quebec have regulations and licensing by river administered by organizations known as Z.E.C's. Special permits or licenses are also required in some Federal and Provincial parks.

Not only do the rules and regulations vary be province but they may also vary by river. Licenses issued by provinces/states come with a copy of the regulations. Read them carefully. These regulations may also change throughout the year with changes in fishing conditions or numbers of returning fish etc. It is extremely important to check with local authorities on the current regulations for the area in question. Most provinces/states require a separate and distinct license to fish for salmon. Failure to abide by the regulations can lead to significant fines, loss of vehicle, equipment and jail terms in some areas.

Highlights of the 1995 regulations in the province of Nova Scotia, Canada include:

All provinces in Atlantic Canada, other than Nova Scotia and P.E.I., require non- resident anglers to hire a licensed guide.

In Nova Scotia in 1995 a number of rivers were also designated as closed to salmon angling for the year while others were designated catch and release only. Other than New Brunswick, angling for kelts (black salmon, slinks) is not permitted.

Please note that the above rules and regulations are highlights of those that existed in Nova Scotia during the 1995 salmon angling season. Please check with local authorities regarding current regulations at the time.

salmon pic
Contributed by Dave Liverman and many others..
Any corrections, questions or comments to Dave Liverman