ASF RIVERNOTES - 19 Oct., 2017

From one season to the next

What do Atlantic salmon mean to you?

People have many answers to that question, all equally valuable - for some, Atlantic salmon are the ultimate angling pursuit, for others a fascinating object of scientific investigation, people also value salmon as a cultural icon and symbol of a healthy environment. To most, the meaning of Atlantic salmon is likely a combination of these. At ASF our members represent the entire spectrum, from passionate fishers and hunters who get as close to nature as much as possible, to scientists and naturalists, and people who have never caught a salmon but can't imagine a world without them. The ASF tent is large and open to anyone that supports conserving, protecting, and restoring wild Atlantic salmon.

Traditions continue on the Cains River in New Brunswick where the angling season and ruffed grouse hunting overlap for a short period every year. Photo Nathan Wilbur/ASF

Whatever value people place on wild salmon, it's usually rooted in respect for an amazing animal. Like tigers, salmon can be still for long periods then display amazing strength and endurance. They can leap 12-foot waterfalls, swim 4,000 kilometres to Greenland and back, and change their bodies to live in salt and fresh water.

Atlantic salmon in Longue Pool, Grande RiviŤre, Gaspť.  Photo Charles Cusson/ASF

The human connection to Atlantic salmon stretches back thousands of years. It was one thing people on both sides of the Atlantic had in common before contact with each other. Today, interest in the species and its importance to Eastern North American and Europe is only growing. Millions of dollars pour into local economies from sports and tourists, governments are invested in ensuring a brighter future for salmon, and people in indigenous communities practice food, social, and ceremonial fisheries.

Every year, on each river, the first salmon spotted is cause for celebration, knowing they have come back once again.

Releasing female Atlantic salmon on Cascapedia River.  Photo Ben Carmichael.

The 2017 season

The 2017 Atlantic salmon year isn't finished yet. More rain in low water rivers could still bring a late-late run of Atlantic salmon racing inland to spawning beds in headwater streams.

The final tally of large salmon can be most important, with the vastly increased number of eggs carried by these predominantly female salmon - just waiting to be dropped into redds dug 20 to 30 cm. down into the gravel.

The low proportion of grilse this year is worrisome, but it may prove that the significantly better than expected return of large salmon could save the year class. We really will not know with certainty until all the scientific results are in and the calculations made. The first of those will likely come in February with Quebec's report, and somewhat later in the winter with reports by DFO and US authorities.

Those grilse are still important. The tracking research being undertaken by ASF is showing that a significant number of Atlantic salmon are meeting their demise through encounters with effective marine predators. Larger groups of outgoing adult Atlantic salmon are important in overall survival of populations of Atlantic salmon, it would appear.

Andy Miller releases a fall grilse a few years ago, on the Southwest Miramichi. Photo Nathan Wilbur/ASF

Prince Edward Island

PEI's Atlantic salmon swim "under the radar" for most people, yet runs on the island are consistent and significant. Genetic testing of PEI salmon has shown populations there are ancient compared to other Gulf of St. Lawrence rivers. As Taylor Main reports, 2017 has been another good year for returns in some PEI rivers.

Vibrant colours looking down to the Skidoo Hole on the Morell River on 14 Oct. 2017. Photo Taylor Main

Taylor Main has kindly agreed to provide regular updates on PEI rivers and their Atlantic salmon.

Like elsewhere in Atlantic Canada, most canít recall an October this dry and our rivers are desperately low.  Unfortunately for both anglers and fish alike, the long range forecast is not looking favorable for the end of the season.  On a lighter note, cool fall nights bringing frosty mornings are here to stay and are welcoming fresh fish into our rivers daily.  The fall colours are exceptional and the glimmering red and orange shades of the Acadian Forest at this time of year are simply stunning.  It is simply a wonderful time to be on the water.

On Morell River

Primarily a fall run river, the salmon season on the Morell is between 1 June and 31 Oct. with the final six weeks yielding the most hook-ups. Presently, the Morell has been receiving what everyone is referring to as its largest run of fish in over a decade.  Unlike prior returns of mostly large fish, the river seems to be full of grilse this year which has been attributed to the first year of returning fish from the recent fry stocking program spearheaded by the Abegweit Biodiversity Hatchery and the Morell River Management Co-op. 

Anglers have reported seeing as many as sixty fish in a single lower pool this fall, something unheard of in recent years on the Morell.  This anecdotal evidence points to very positive things to come for the river and the final redd survey numbers later this fall will hopefully complete the picture.

Following Thanksgiving Weekend last year the Morell River was running two and a half feet higher than it is presently.  At this time most agree that the river is at its lowest levels ever seen for this time of year.  Despite this, fish are being hooked each day and some anglers are reporting great success, hooking fish each day.

Mooney's Road Section, mid-morning. Photo Taylor Main

A Morell River grilse. 9 Oct. 2017.  Photo Clay MacLean

On West River

Despite losing its extended salmon season in 2011 due to low returns, the West River has been showing great signs of life over the past two seasons.  Like the Morell, most agree these are the most promising returns we have seen in well over a decade and are no doubt due to the intense restoration efforts undertaken by the Central Queens Wildlife Restoration. 

Multiple anglers reported catching salmon prior to the closure of the regular season on 15 Sept. and I have heard of as many as twenty fish being hooked between August and September. With increasing salmon redd counts each year over the past six years, everyone is hopeful this is a sign of good things to come for the West River as we anxiously await the final redd survey numbers later this fall.

Clay MacLean releases a beautiful West River grilse in early September.  Photo Taylor Main

Location of Morell River in the east and West River in the centre segments of Prince Edward Island.

New Brunswick

Atlantic salmon on Sept. 12, 2017 were drawn to the Gray Rapids area of the Southwest Miramichi, as the water levels had risen - and who could resist the beauty of the surroundings.   Photo Nathan Wilbur/ASF

Nathan Wilbur, ASF Director of New Brunswick Programs, notes:

On most rivers in NB, the angling season is now wrapped up, save for a handful of rivers in northeastern New Brunswick, which remain open to angling until October 22 or October 31. It has been a tough season for the angler, with extreme low water conditions from early July until, well, nearly the end of the fishing season. Despite the tough fishing conditions, adult returns have not been as bad as one might have guessed based on angling results.

Cains River on Sept. 14, 2017 - the day before the season ended. Water was still on the low side. Photo Nathan Wilbur/ASF
The season has long been closed on the Restigouche but assessment work continues and the latest adult counts are quite encouraging, with good numbers of Atlantic salmon being observed in the main river and tributaries. Final numbers will be presented by DFO in early winter.
It appears we did get the fall run on the Miramichi that we were hoping for, with the DFO assessment trapnets in the estuaries reporting a bump in numbers over the past two weeks. Several days after the raise in water there were between 25-40 fish caught per day, which represents only a small percentage, typically around 10%, of the number of fish ascending the river. This is good news and we hope that the final assessment work shows that the Miramichi rivers meet their minimum conservation limits in 2017.
For some of our other beloved New Brunswick rivers that have adult assessments, like the Nepisiguit and the Jacquet, we will wait eagerly to see the final counts after this fall, as fish continue to enter those rivers particularly on raises of water.


The Oct. 15 trapnet counts are posted - for the Millerton Trapnet on the Southwet Miramichi there were 943 grilse and 541 large salmon, compared with 1023 grilse and 764 large salmon to the same date in 2016.

The Cassilis Trapnet on the lower portion of the Northwest Miramichi there were 806 grilse and 573 large salmon, compared with 505 grilse and 542 large salmon in 2016 to the same date.

St. John River

Numbers continue to lag and be critically low. At Mactaquac there were 319 grilse and 177 large salmon to Oct. 15 in 2017, compared with 498 grilse and 184 large salmon in 2016.

To provide perspective the following two graphs, for large salmon and grilse, illustrate the decline for the past 15 years.


A very low 73 grilse and 43 large salmon were counted in 2017 compared with 336 grilse and 63 large salmon in 2016

Nashwaak River, early morning on Wed., Oct. 18, showing low water continuing. Photo Nathan Wilbur/ASF

Jacquet River - The DFO count is in, up to Oct. 16 - 179 grilse and 89 large salmon, vs the 2016 count to same date of 156 grilse and 215 large salmon. Certainly not good news for production of eggs this year, with the major drop in large salmon numbers.

Nova Scotia

The DFO numbers are certainly up this year.

On the Sackville River there were 29 grilse and 6 large salmon, vs. 11 grilse and 2 large salmon

At Morgan Falls on the LaHave River a far better 192 grilse and 25 large salmon, against 19 grilse and 39 large salmon in 2016.

Northumberland Strait Rivers

These rivers can be wonderful in years when there is enough water, but 2017, alas, is a low water year it would appear.

In the tidal area of the West River Antigonish on Mon. Oct. 16, 2017.  Photo Gerry Doucet

Gerry Doucet of the Antigonish Rivers Association has this to say:

The fall salmon season continues to be frustrating for anglers on the Northumberland shore. No rain for the last week and rivers are shrinking daily. The long term forecast is unfavourable with little to not rain for the next two weeks. Salmon continue to move in and out of the tidal pools with the fluctuating tides, but space is limited for anglers and frustration builds. On a positive note, cooler temperatures prevail at night compared to the 25+ degree temperatures that occurred over the Thanksgiving long weekend.

West River Antigonish in the tidal area. More rain needed to bring Atlantic salmon upstream.  Photo Gerry Doucet

And to the west of this river, photos on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017 by ASF's Lewis Hinks, Director of Programs for Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, showing the low water levels in the rivers Wallace and Philip. Note also the photo between the two from Jesse Gravel, showing Atlantic salmon on Oct. 18 laying below a road bridge in the Wallace River.

Wallace River on Oct. 17, 2017 shows the low water conditions typical of most of these rivers. Photo Lewis Hinks/ASF

Lazing beneath the Kerrs Mill Bridge that crosses the lower part of the Wallace River on Wed., Oct. 19, these Atlantic salmon are waiting for a strong rain to bring up the stream levels in order to race towards spawning areas. There are about 50 salmon holding in this deep pool, most in the 10- 15 lb. range.   Photo Jesse Gravel

River Philip on Tues., Oct. 17, 2017 also shows a need for more rain!  Photo Lewis  Hinks/ASF


Alex Breckenridge, of the Tying Scotsman, noted on Tuesday:

A cold windy morning here, two bands of rain yesterday and overnight, above and below us. None fell here, the river is low again but anglers seeing fish in all the pools.

Rain is forecast next Wednesday/Thursday itís giving 30-40mm, that would see the season out nicely. I live in hope!

Latest from Ireland and Scotland

Northwest Ireland - Upon inquiring of Shane Gallagher on the Drowes River in very northwest Leitrim, he said that Hurricane Ophelia was a non-event in that region. Its full impact was much greater in the far southwest of Ireland.


Ally Gowns
gives an overview, as well as an advance on the management of salmon rivers for 2018:

Scottish rivers donít appear to have been badly affected by Ophelia. There was some rain and rises in water levels but nothing out of the ordinary for these parts, especially at this time of year. Unfortunately salmon fishing continues to be disappointing. Our autumn runs depend greatly on decent-sized grilse to make up numbers and this year (like last year) runs of these fish have been very low and the majority of fish being caught in the rivers that are still open are coloured and well advanced towards spawning.

The Scottish Government has recently announced its intended river classification for 2018. This suggests that several very well-known rivers are expected to be short of fish next year.

Rivers downgraded to Category 3 (mandatory catch and release) include the Alness, Beauly, Bladnoch, Brora, Don, Earn, Eden, Ewe, Forss, Dionard, Glass, Hope, Laxford and Ythan. Only 27 Scottish rivers remain Category 1 status compared to 47 this year. 27 rivers are suggested as Category 2 (48 in 2017) and 123 rivers as Category 3 (73 in 2017). Some of these categories may be changed after public consultation but there is no escaping the fact that our salmon are in trouble at sea.
Salmon are a resilient species, born survivors, and it is clear that they will need all their abilities if they are to continue to be a sporting asset. Sadly Scotland appears to be suffering problems similar to those in the Canadian Maritimes.

Pitlochry and River Tummel, Scotland