JOHN DeMONT: Finding solace in friendship and fishing on the Margaree

Like all of us, I want to know what happened to the treasure of the Knights Templar, and, definitively, whether there are cougars in Nova Scotia. Yet, the big mystery for me — the thing that can disturb my sleep more than reports that Bill Gates wants to implant microchips in my head or the question of where Sherlock Holmes actually went after he tumbled down the Reichenbach Falls — is this: what happened to my Sage salmon rod?

It is a riddle that becomes more urgent this time of year, when three friends and I make our annual expedition to Cape Breton, which takes place this weekend.

There, two of us make for the island’s golf courses and its salmon rivers. The other voyageur, a fervent angler, hits the river. I tag along with him because I last hit a golf ball when John Hamm was premier, and it did not go straight or far.

Rounding up my gear before the 2021 journey, my rod, built by the Sage Fly Rod company of Bainbridge Island, Wash., and its cylindrical silver aluminum case, was not in any of the usual storage places.

Now my fly rod and I had been through a lot together, plus it has a lifetime warranty; if busted all I have to do is package up the pieces, and ship them to the Sage repair shop in Washington state, and they will send me a new one, no questions asked, which, the one time I did it, like some seemed sort of magic.

Last year, in a rush, I borrowed a rod. In the lead-up to this year’s trip, I launched a more thorough search, not just digging through closets and sheds but emailing puzzled folks I’ve fished with in the past to see if I had maybe left it in their car trunk.


Last year, in a rush, I borrowed a rod. In the lead-up to this year’s trip, I launched a more thorough search, not just digging through closets and sheds but emailing puzzled folks I’ve fished with in the past to see if I had maybe left it in their car trunk.


Eventually, facts had to be faced. I stepped into a hunting and fishing store the size of an airport hangar. There, showing rare fiscal restraint, I emerged with a fly-rod which the clerk assured me was not a cheapo, even though, in a blue cloth bag that seemed inconsequential compared to my rod case’s Excalibur gleam, it sure looked it.

Catch-and-release angling is the rule on the salmon rivers of this province. Even if it wasn’t, the fish of the Margaree River had never had much to fear from me.

In my earlier days, my line spent more time in the air than drifting in the water where a fish might nibble or even take a manmade fly.

Now, I only cast every now and then because the dictates of the activity demand it, and because if I don’t, someone waiting on the bank would be within their rights to ask me to step away and give them a chance.

My expectations have been tempered by the long years of futility. Hooking fish has never really been the point for me anyway, particularly on the Margaree where, under the guise of trying to haul a fish from its world into mine, I get to stand kidney-deep in a river that is beautiful enough to adorn a stamp.


Hooking fish has never really been the point for me anyway, particularly on the Margaree where, under the guise of trying to haul a fish from its world into mine, I get to stand kidney-deep in a river that is beautiful enough to adorn a stamp.


Eagles sometimes climb and dive overhead. The surrounding forest, meadows, and farmer’s fields could be right out of one of the short stories Alistair MacLeod wrote in his cabin an hour away.

Taking a break, to maybe sip something fiery on a riverside bench, you will swear that you hear an old Dan Rory MacDonald fiddle tune somewhere up in the hills.

It is a singular place at a special moment in time. The wrong company could ruin that delicate balance. I am lucky in that regard.

It is rare during the rest of the year for the group to gather: one guy lives in Buenos Aires, another spends a big chunk of his year far from Nova Scotia.


As it is for old friends, the threads of a conversation left off a year ago will resume as if we just spoke yesterday.


But we have known each other for a long time: we are used to each other’s quirks; Our rhythms and rituals are well established by now.

As it is for old friends, the threads of a conversation left off a year ago will resume as if we just spoke yesterday.

Such things matter more than the tug of a fish on the end of a line. It is good to remember this.

I was reminded last weekend, at the celebration of the life of an old friend.

I hadn’t seen Dave James, he of the massive musical skills and even bigger heart, much in recent years, but when our paths crossed, it was like we were right back there, playing hockey in backyard rinks, puffing on wine-tipped cigarillos up in a big tree on the Conrose Playground, sneaking into high school dances.

Some folks I had not seen in a long time gathered in his honor last Sunday. We sent him off in style. When we parted, we made plans: we would get together, we said; let us not wait so long this time, we agreed, because you never know.

For a few precious moments there was solace in the company of old friends and talk of the future. On a sad day, that was something.

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