15 Essential Flies to Take on a Fly-Fishing Trip to Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia, as well as other provinces of Atlantic Canada,  namely New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador, is renowned for its stunning landscapes and abundant wildlife. No wonder the province attracts thousands of anglers each year. Many of them are fly-fishing enthusiasts enticed by the allure of Atlantic salmon, brook trout, and other species that abound in the area. And one of their most frequent questions is what flies will best seduce the often capricious salmonids, as well as smallmouth bass, chain pickerel, and others. While the definitive answer to this question is practically impossible to give, this article will guide you through the essential flies you should pack for your Nova Scotia fly-fishing trip.

Flies for Atlantic Salmon

Nova Scotia is home to numerous species of fish that act like a magnet on any fishing enthusiasts, but the most attractive of them is, without a doubt, the Atlantic salmon. The stocks of this wonderful fish have been sadly depleted by unsustainable commercial fisheries in the past, which is why fishing for Atlantic salmon is catch-and-release only, and only with barbless hooks. While Atlantic salmon usually survives egg-laying, it still enters freshwater for reproduction, and hardly even feeds. When it does catch the fly, it’s only because it triggers its predatory or defensive instinct, thus the need for the flies to be bright and conspicuous.

1. Green Highlander Hairwing: An affordable variation of the classic salmon fly pattern that is productive during the spring and early summer when the water levels are high. The bright green and yellow colors make it highly visible in water, which can provoke aggressive strikes from salmon.

2. Silver Rat: This is another excellent choice for Atlantic salmon. It is particularly effective in clear water conditions and is suitable for use throughout the fishing season.

3. Blue Charm: The Blue Charm is a versatile salmon fly and one of the most popular in Nova Scotia. It is most effective during the summer months but can also be used with success in early spring and fall.

Flies for Rainbow, Brook, and Brown Trout

The cold, clear waters of the rivers and lakes of Nova Scotia are also home to a variety of trout species. Rainbow trout is available mostly in stocked ponds and local lakes, including within some municipalities that seek to improve the living standard of the towns in this way. Brown trout has been introduced from Europe in the 1920s, and have adapted well to the new environment. And, of course, the most attractive trout for both locals and tourists is the indigenous brook trout. However, whichever species you may target, the behavior of Nova Scotia trout does not differ much from the same fish in other areas, and the same classic flies that work for you in your local river will likely work here, too. Here are a few essential trout flies to bring along:

1. Adams Dry Fly: This is a versatile fly that is effective for almost any trout species. It is designed to mimic a wide range of mayfly species, a staple in the trout’s diet. 

2. Elk Hair Caddis: This fly is a favorite among fly anglers. It floats well, is highly visible, and effectively mimics a caddisfly, a common food source for trout.

3. Woolly Bugger: This is arguably the most versatile fly pattern. It can mimic a variety of trout foods, including nymphs, baitfish, and leeches. Pack a range of colors, but be sure to include black, olive, and brown.

Flies for Sea-Run Trout

Trout normally live in rivers and lakes, but some species may adapt to spend part of their life cycle in the sea as well. Those are known as anadromous, or sea-run, trout. In Nova Scotia, you may cast your fly for a sea-run brook trout, and also for a sea-run brown trout, both being arguably the second most exciting quarry for a fly-fishing enthusiast after Atlantic salmon. After they return to the rivers from the sea, in their lighter than usual scale and impressive mass and length, the sea-run trout require a different set of techniques and flies to catch than their inland cousins:

1. Mickey Finn: This is a great fly for sea-run trout, especially in the fall when these fish are known to strike at brightly colored flies.

2. Bead Head Nymphs: These flies are weighted, allowing them to get down into the water column where sea-run trout often feed. The flash of the bead can also attract these fish.

3. Green Machine. Another wet fly made of deer hair, with a fairly small body in relation to the hook, which provides for a natural slow sinking motion. By choosing a sinking or floating leader, you can use this fly to fish either near the surface, or deeper below. 

Smallmouth Bass and Chain Pickerel Flies 

Smallmouth bass is not indigenous to the Canadian Atlantic provinces, and doesn’t exist in the whole region, but it’s locally abundant and a popular species in some areas. If your fishing trip happens to be within the smallmouth bass range, you may just as well dedicate a couple of hours and try to attract this species with a fly as well. Smallmouth bass in Nova Scotia is said to be unpretentious and ready to grab anything that remotely resembles prey, but we all know that sometimes it’s the fish that the locals refer to as “child’s play” that’s the most difficult to catch. The best results are achieved with big surface flies. The same applies to chain pickerel

1. Hairbug. This is a surface fly made of animal hair, with has a lot of bulk but is still very lightweight and buoyant. This makes them ideal for topwater presentations. When fished, they create a noticeable disturbance on the water’s surface, enticing predatory fish to strike.

2. Mouse Rat: Another surface type fly used to target large, predatory fish such as trout, bass, and even pike. As the name suggests, it’s designed to imitate a swimming mouse. 

3. The Zonker. Known for its excellent swimming action, the Zonker is a potent fly when hunting for larger predatory fish. If you’re targeting large bass, this fly can be a game-changer. 

All-Arounders and General Attractors

Many excellent flies are hard to define in any particular category. Some aren’t designed to mimic any specific insect or aquatic life but are known to attract fish through their movement, flash, or color. They can be especially useful when fish aren’t feeding on a specific hatch. Others can be used for to catch several species with equal success. Here are several such flies that are good to have in your box: 

1. Royal Wulff: This high-floating dry fly is easy for anglers to see and hard for fish to resist. It’s an excellent choice for fast-moving waters.

2. Muddler Minnow: This fly is a streamer and can imitate a variety of aquatic life, including sculpins and small baitfish. It’s effective for both trout and salmon.

3. Clouser Minnow: This is a favorite among many fly anglers due to its ability to mimic a wide range of baitfish, making it a versatile choice for a variety of species, including bass, which can also be found in Nova Scotia.


Packing the right set of flies can make the difference between an okay fly-fishing trip and an unforgettable one. This list is not exhaustive, but it provides a good starting point for a fly-fishing trip in Nova Scotia. Remember, it’s crucial to consider the time of year and specific locations you’ll be fishing when selecting your flies. Also, consider packing multiple copies of each fly. Fly-fishing can often involve losing a few flies to trees, rocks, or particularly aggressive fish. Having backups ensures that you’re not left without your most trusted patterns.

Remember, too, that it’s all individual. Your personal casting style (and confidence in your equipment) influence the choice of the flies to the same degree as the fish’s preferences do. Researching for this article, I stumbled on an old thread on a forum for Nova Scotia fishing enthusiasts.  Discussing their favorite trout flies, about half of the participants swore by the classic Muddler Minnow, while the other half said they couldn’t catch a single trout on this fly if their life depended on it. This is true for any lure invented by humankind – an oddball that 99 out of 100 anglers won’t even look at might prove a killer for you, while a universally proclaimed tried-and-true wouldn’t entice a single bait. Or vice versa. You never can tell. That’s why it’s called fishing, not shopping. 

Speaking of shopping, a tip you might have read several hundred times is to visit a good local fly shop, chat with the assistants, and buy a few flies on their advice. This tip is worth its weight in salmon, except that tight schedules and travel emergencies may leave you with no time for shopping. Thankfully, there are local fishing goods stores that go online, and bring local knowledge and the best choice of flies to your screen, and then delivered to your home and office, even before you embark on your trip. One such store we can wholeheartedly recommend is Highland River Flies from Wolfville, Nova Scotia. 

Finally, while having the right flies is important, so is understanding how to present them in a way that will tempt the fish. Practice your casting and retrieval techniques, and consider hiring a local guide, especially if this is your first time fishing in the region. While a fly or technique that the fish hasn’t experienced before may sometimes bring surprising results, it’s the local knowledge that usually wins the day. Below you’ll find a selection of fishing trips to Nova Scotia available directly from the best guides and lodges on BaitYourHook.com 

Main Photo Credit: Shan Cunningham

Fly Photo Credit: Highland River Flies.

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