A QUICK COFFEE: Hooked on a reel good feeling

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Jim Lawley isn’t the kind of guy to gloat.


Ask him who landed the most Atlantic salmon on his annual angling trip to the Godbout River in Quebec last weekend and he hums and haws.


“Hooked five and landed three,” he finally says, under merciless journalistic grilling. “I was top rod — for once.”


Sipping from a travel cup full of black coffee inside a Starbucks, Lawley, who grew up in Halifax, is a hard man to pin down this time of year.


Along with helping run family-owned Scotia Fuels Ltd., he’s also a major real estate developer and investor, as well as the owner of a long list of other enterprises, but they aren’t the issue.


“We have a problem,” Lawley, 56, says of himself and the similarly afflicted.


The Atlantic salmon season is open. For someone who fishes for the so-called King of Fish for “60-70 days a year,” that means a lot of time on the river during the seven-month season.


It used to be easier back when he could bed down in his camp on the LaHave River, then rise at 3:30 a.m. to hold a rock for when fishing legally began at six.


He explains how he would put in 90 minutes on the river, drive to work in Halifax, and then at the end of the day drive back to the LaHave so he could do it all again in the morning.


Acid rain and other factors have decimated the salmon runs on his favourite river. But Lawley, who has been fishing for salmon since age 14, has found other places to wet a line, including Russia, Iceland, the other Atlantic provinces, and even Montana, where he also does a little trout fishing.


It’s taught him a lot, he says. For starters, about human nature, since salmon fishermen interact with all sorts of people in an activity that has long-established rules and rituals.


But also about the notion of taking up a demanding pastime and doing it well for its own sake.


“You have to be meticulous, you have to be patient. It’s always tough to salmon fish in Nova Scotia so you have to have discipline,” Lawley says. “All traits that will help you in business and in life.”


Slaying fish has nothing to do with it.


Lawley, who has been releasing every salmon he has caught for the past 25 years, is enough of a conservationist to be the recent recipient of the Atlantic Salmon Federation’s 39th T.B. (Happy) Fraser Award for his work preserving the salmon.


He is even an investor in a land-based salmon farm in Nova Scotia.


Generally speaking, Lawley doesn’t mix business and pleasure by taking customers to the three salmon lodges he owns with partners in New Brunswick and Quebec.


Still, he’s met several business partners on the river for the first time. And his salmon fishing-related friendship with Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard — the pair have fished together in Russia — is partly responsible for Lawley’s decision to open up a downtown Halifax Patagonia franchise.


The commercial connection is purely incidental. He’s the kind of angler who can tell you in precise detail about the first fish he ever saw caught — by a fisherman casting from a boat at Cooks Falls on the LaHave River — 42 years ago.


The kind of fisherman who sits forward when he recalls the first salmon he ever landed: a 12-pounder using an “Undertaker” wet fly and a trout rod after a 40-minute fight at the Oak Run on the same river.


That was in 1974.


“I guess I’m just looking for the thrill of being a kid again,” says the businessman, who will be back out on a river, rod in hand, later this week. “I still get as excited about hooking a salmon as I ever did.”


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