The Summer of Hot Rivers

We have been dealing with a summer of hot temperatures, and scientific predictions have just been made that we could see more of the same over the next five years.

This isn't what anyone wants to hear, especially anyone involved with Atlantic salmon in our rivers.

High temperatures make life difficult for Atlantic salmon The water holds less dissolved oxygen. Any exertion results in increased stress, both from the temperature itself, and the Atlantic salmon's decreased ability to "breathe". The Atlantic salmon tend to hold in areas where underwater springs bring in colder water; these "underwater (not air) conditioners" help them survive the heat.

Large number of brook trout with one Atlantic salmon holding in one of the cold water refugia of the Miramichi, in 2010. It was taken by ASF's Nathan Wilbur during his Masters thesis work. The cold water refugia and the importance of the Cold Water Protocol cannot be overestimated.

In the Miramichi River system, DFO developed a set of protocols to deal with this stress on Atlantic salmon. They have been extremely successful for these reasons

  • The Atlantic salmon are better protected from warm water stresses at any temperature above 20 C.
  • There are scientifically appropriate decision points for setting aside known cold water refugia
  • When extreme temperatures hit, at 22 C or above, extra conservation measures go into effect, and even more when water temperatures hit 23 C. Morning only was instituted recently in the Miramichi, but has now been removed.
  • There is a FASTER decision on reducing impact of angling, and equally important, FASTer decisions on re-opening
  • Some parts of the river can still be angled, while allowing Atlantic salmon to better survive with the Cold Water Pools

The system works. Everyone grumbles about the high water temperatures, but the vast majority of anglers, outfitters, and conservationists find the system works much better than the ways decisions were made a decade or two ago. It also gives DFO a higher comfort level with the decisions being made, undoubtedly.

Now SPAWN in Newfoundland is asking DFO to institute a similar Warm Water Protocol system in NL

They want this system for many reasons. But best to read their own reasoning on the matter.

Among the points made is that it allows angling, when temperatures are appropriate, on some segments of a river, and not others, and provides a faster turnaround on the decisions being made on closure and opening.

Given the predictions of hot summers to continue for the next five years, the proposal makes excellent sense - and would repay the effort necessary by DFO with better and faster decisionmaking, and a better decision for everyone - conservationists, anglers, outfitters, and government.

Check out the Warm Water Protocol being utilized in New Brunswick. Whether you are in New Brunswick, Newfoundland, or somewhere else, it is enlightening.

In the middle of a boat - angling run on the Gander River in 2017 in hot weather. Photo Geoff Giffin/ASF


Warm water stresses out Atlantic salmon. That puts extra responsibility of anglers to understand them and do things right.

Their three-chambered heart mixes oxygenated and non-oxygenated blood, so that means they aren't as efficient as you or I in moving oxygen around their system. They compensate in many ways - being "tigers" that laze in their rivers where possible, using less energy, but with highly efficient muscle fibres that allow them incredible acceleration. But endurance suffers in the lower oxygen environment of warm water, and that speeds up the lactic acid buildup in their muscles. Far higher levels than a marathoner even before the runner hits "a wall".

The angler needs to consider NOT angling at all above 20 C, and certainly above 22 C. Reduce the time playing the salmon. And efficiently remove the hook, and gently hold the salmon while not squeezing it underneath. Remember, that heart is just behind the gills, towards the bottom of the fish.

ASF's Charles Cusson gently supports a nice 12 lb. female salmon he is releasing in the Bonaventure River in the Gaspé Peninsula.

ABOVE EVERYTHING ELSE, KEEP THE FISH IN THE WATER. This lets it it breathe, and slowly recover.

Do not pump the fish back and forth, and certainly do not let it touch the rocks on the shore.

Do all these things, and keep the welfare of the Atlantic salmon foremost, and it will swim away, to spawn, to create a new generation, and keep things going.

Do check out the great video showing best techniques for live release, created by ASF and FQSA, with funding from Quebec's government. Click below:

Anglers using proper techniques of live release can be assured they are sending back into the river an Atlantic salmon that will survive, will contribute to egg production in that river, and is likely to survive to go to sea again - and return in a future year.

Keeping the fish in the water, letting it recover, and supporting it without squeezing it. From the "Live Release Video".


Charles Cusson, ASF Director of Quebec Programs, notes:

Record extreme low and warm water conditions are still a reality in the salmon regions of Quebec, although, there has been another very small influx of water on certain North Shore rivers. 

During the last few years, we’ve had the edges of hurricanes come through and greatly improve conditions for the fish and for anglers.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Note that the data shown below in the Quebec section of ASF RIVERNOTES are sourced from a wide variety of river websites, social media and Quebec government sources.


This gives a correction on total salmon licence sales for 2017: from July 31 2018 river notes. Note that the number of RESIDENTS buying Live Release Licenses keeps increasing, even though harvest licenses are available.

Check the low water:

The Cascapedia, like most Quebec Rivers, is very much in need of heavy rainfalls to recharge the system, and provide best conditions for Atlantic salmon.

Matapedia also shows the low water levels presently being experienced, and things were better even a week ago.

Bonaventure River back in June, when water levels were better.

Connected - to the river, to an Atlantic salmon, and to oneself. That is what the best of Atlantic salmon angling can bring.


It is still only the middle of August, but the returns so far bear some early indications of statements that can be made about Quebec returns for 2018.

While there is major variability, overall the returns of large salmon appear to be improved, although rivers like the Mitis are definitely not showing this! As to grilse, perhaps at this time it is best to say it is neither the best nor the worst of recent years.

Certainly the high air and water temperatures, and the low flows are now taking their toll. We need a series of good soakings to change that.


The four Labrador counting fence numbers are now quite interesting.

Remember these still could be better. Well, they can ALWAYS be better. They are in line with both the most recent five-year average and the longer period average of 1998 to 2017.

Power a-plenty. This Atlantic salmon leaping into the air above the Flowers River illustrates the tremendous energy wild Atlantic salmon can expend. Image by Rob Solo, and courtesy of Mike Crosby of Flowers River Lodge.

Mike Crosby of Flowers River Lodge has this to say about present conditions:

Water conditions on the Flowers have been on the high side most of the season. However, a recent stretch of very warm weather has reduced them at normal levels.
Fishing has been good, but not great by Flowers standards. We believe, as had been the case with most rivers this summer, that the fish are late and that numbers will continue to improve. Only time will tell.

Live release of a beautiful Atlantic salmon on the Flowers River in Labrador. Photo Rob Solo, and courtesy of Mike Crosby.

Forteau River in southern Labrador when the water was much higher than it is now.  Photo Eric Brunsdon/ASF


The latest DFO numbers from counting fence facilities are up. It should be noted that other forms of assessment are going on. For example, ASF's Don Ivany is taking part in a "snorkel swim through" assessment in two Bay St. George rivers this week.

Assessment of salmon populations is not always easy. Storms can take out counting fences, which is what happened to the Conne River fence this year. Or it can make the early construction of a counting fence not possible, as happened in Labrador this year at the Sand Hill.

Take a moment to look through the table above, and draw some conclusions. From being far behind the Torrent has come up. And now, as pointed out to me by Barb Genge of Tuckamore Lodge, some significant rain and cooling temperatures should be improving conditions.

Looking somewhat randomly in the table, Rocky River, that had a feew disastrous years because DFO took out the fishway to rebuild it, is coming back up in numbers - something good to see.

Terra Nova River - Appears to be doing very well indeed in 2018.

The Exploits - that catches our attentiion since it is really one of the 10 top producing Atlantic salmon rivers in North America, is still lagging.

Releasing a gorgeous 20lb Atlantic salmon in the Lower Humber's tanin-coloured water. Photo Bill Bryden

Brock Curtis of Curtis Miramichi Outfitters noted on Wednesday:

Our rivers have been dropping this week and water temperatures are coming back up.  The good news is we have a forecast showing rain over the next few days and lower temperatures. In fact, evening temperatures over the next few days are going to be as low as 10 C.

Our rivers are back to normal fishing hours so anglers are back out in the mornings and evenings. With the lower temperatures in the forecast we are hoping to see the 26 cold water pools opening soon throughout the watershed. It will be interesting to see what our returns and salmon angling will be like once the river is back to normal conditions.

The rugged North Branch of the Little Southwest Miramichi on Aug. 15, 2018. Nathan Wilbur/ASF

DFO has posted the Aug. 15, 2018 numbers for theTRAPNETS:

Cassilis Trapnet on the Northwest Miramichi has had 177 grilse and 48 large salmon to that date, against 397 grilse and 219 large salmon in 2017. The 2010 to 2014 five-year average was 742 grilse and 224 large salmon.

On the Southwest Miramichi the Millerton Trapnet has had 210 grilse and 109 large salmon to Aug. 15, vs. 438 grilse and 213 large salmon to the same date in 2017. The 2010 to 2014 average was  1,014 grilse and 428 large salmon.

Are these trapnet numbers reflecting hot conditions, and a major number of salmon will swim upstream once the severe conditions abate? Or are these numbers reflective of a relatively poor year. No one yet knows the answer.

Plus, are we seeing the results of the past few years of extremely high STRIPED BASS numbers?

St. John River

Mactaquac has now had 400 grilse and 60 large salmon as of Aug. 15, compared with 315 grilse and 161 large salmon in 2017. The 2010 to 2014 five-year average was 722 grilse and 229 large salmon.

These indicate continued historically low numbers of grave concern for a salmon run that was once among the largest in North America.

The Mactaquac Power Dam has been a salmon population-destroying barrier since the 1960s, impacting both downstream passage and return of Atlantic salmon. In May, many smolt cannot even find the lower end of the Mactaquac headpond, according to tracking studies.


The Nashwaak has had 55 grilse and 15 large salmon as of Aug. 15, compared with 42 grilse and 32 large salmon in 2017 at the same date. the Five-year average 2010 to 2014 was 245 grilse and 75 large salmon.


Sackville River - The count is extremely low to Aug. 15. It includes 6 grilse and 1 large salmon, compared to 29 grilse and 6 large salmon to the same date in 2017. The 2010 to 2014 five-year average was 21 grilse and 8 large salmon.

LaHave River

The Morgan Falls fishway is reporting 20 grilse and 53 large salmon to Aug. 15, compared with 180 grilse and 25 large salmon to Aug. 15, 2017. The five-year average 2010 to 2014 was 132 grilse and 54 large salmon to the same date.

Angler on LaHave River reaching for a Atlantic salmon, about 60 years ago. ASF Archives

LaHave River in 2017. The photo is colour, but many fewer Atlantic salmon in this gorgeous river southwest of Halifax. Lewis Hinks/ASF 


Success flows freely! A Google Earth view of the site of the former Veazie Dam. It is no longer an impediment to Atlantic salmon and other native species travelling from headwaters to the ocean, and return. Photo Google Earth

Below is the latest set of numbers for Atlantic salmon in rivers in Maine

Some of these numbers need explanation - the St. Croix is not being monitored for Atlantic salmon.

The Penobscot is monitored most intensely at the Milford Fish Lift, but recent high temperatures has meant the staff have not been handling the fish - just letting them continue their upstream migration.

There is an alternate channel, and some fish are counted at Orono.

Overall the numbers in the Penobscot this year are better than most recent years, but not quite as high as either last year. The best recent year ws 2011.

The Fish Lift at Milford. It is located on the landward edge of the turbine house. Thus it is largely hidden from most public areas. Notice the significant water flowing into the Penobscot at the fish lift entrance, to attract Atlantic salmon and other migrating species. Google Earth photo

Through a window in the side of the fish lift, Atlantic salmon and river herring work their way up through the water flow.Photo: Penobscot River Restoration Project.