CELEBRATION OF A GIANT
From time to time there are giants, far larger than life, who have a massive impact on Atlantic salmon conservation. Who can forget Bing Crosby being so strong in his condemnation of overfishing by Greenlanders in the 1960s that sale of his records was banned in Denmark by the government. Or Dr. Paul Elson who unravelled the mysteries surrounding how many salmon eggs turn into each subsequent stage of an Atlantic salmon's life.
With the Atlantic salmon season winding down, and this being the 70th anniversary of the birth of the Atlantic Salmon Federation in 1948, it would be right to take a moment remembering Percy Erskine Nobbs, one of those giants of Atlantic salmon conservation.
Percy Nobbs was the dynamic force behind the creation of this first large conservation organization to benefit Atlantic salmon in Canada. Then it was called the Atlantic Salmon Association, and was one of the two precursors to ASF.
Percy Nobbs definitely had a background that helped him think "outside the box". Born 11 Aug. 1875 in Haddington, Scotland, he was son of a Scottish banker who governed a banking establishment in St. Petersburg, in imperial Russia. For a dozen years young Percy grew up in Russia, on the edge of the Baltic. Then his education was in Scotland, and his artistic gift and passion for detail led him into a career of architecture. He was also physically fit – he competed in the 1908 Olympics in fencing, which was a demonstration sport that year, but would have won the gold if it was a regular event. Fortunately for us, his sporting instincts were wider, and from that early age he got away to Scotland's rivers to spend time fly fishing for Atlantic salmon.
An invitation to teach at McGill University brought him to Montreal, and with an abundance of energy far above the norm, he also designed buildings both on that campus and beyond that included the Strathcona Medical building and Osler Library, the Pulp and Paper Research Institute, the remodelling of the MacDonald Engineering building to name a bare few in Montreal. Elsewhere, he designed the Arts Building at the University of Alberta, and the interior of Currie Hall at Royal Military College in Kingston. His lifetime list of works includes multiple pages, single spaced.
He loved Atlantic salmon angling on Quebec's rivers, but his attention to detail took him further into serious efforts of river surveying in summer, and concern for overfishing, misuse and poaching on rivers.
His strong personality, persuasive speaking and commitment to Atlantic salmon led to the formation of the Atlantic Salmon Association, and also his push for an Atlantic Salmon Journal that would include both articles by experts and the observations and views of anglers as well as those individuals concerned with the river.
Percy Nobbs died in 1964, but his influence remains. Dynamic, fact-based work and advocacy for better conservation was central to him. If you want to read more, the Memoirs of Percy E. Nobbs were carefully edited and published by Karen Molson three years ago. Check them out
There are other giants of Atlantic salmon conservation, many now living and doing their utmost to assure the future of the species. Let us celebrate every one of them as we check out the latest from the rivers themselves.
Northumberland Strait Rivers
While 2017 may have had dismal water levels, this year is much better.
West River, Antigonish on Wednesday, following significant rains. Photo Gerry Doucet
Gerry Doucet describes the present situation:
What a difference a week makes. Rains finally arrived with the moisture associated with Hurricane Michael. River levels were on the rise Friday and Saturday and catches were being reported throughout the Northumberland Rivers from Amherst to Antigonish.
More rains arrived on Tuesday, yet again soaking the hydrology and providing positive river conditions for anglers and the migration of Atlantic’s to their spawning grounds. More positive news is in the forecast and the last few weeks of the 2018 season looks bright.
Another view of West River, Antigonish showing the well-filled channel - perfect for Atlantic salmon. Photo Gerry Doucet
Jesse Gravel, over on the Wallace River, adds:
The folks working at Fishing Fever Tackle Shop said Friday was a great day on the Wallace for many anglers. We've been getting some good rainfalls everywhere lately so hopefully the next couple weeks bring some action. The full moon in October usually brings in the big part of the fall run.
Lewis Hinks also had a chance to share an image of the West River, Pictou, taken 15 Oct. 2018.
West River, Pictou showing beautiful water levels. Lewis Hinks/ASF
Sunday Run on the Northeast Margaree River. Lewis Hinks/ASF
Greg Lovely has this to say about the Margaree this week:
I fished three pools earlier this week. Water levels are perfect, but saw no fish, even with the latest rain and time of year. I would say the salmon have moved to their spawning beds.We are getting a good smash of rain, which will even allow the salmon to move into the tributaries, where a lot of the spawning areas are located.
Ward's Rock Pool, Northeast Margaree on Tuesday. Water levels came up a metre with the rains. Photo Greg Lovely
I also stopped at the Baddeck River and it needed rain. What rain we received last night and today, should also give rivers in the surrounding area plenty of water for the salmon to move up the rivers.
Greg Lovely releasing a healthy hen Atlantic salmon on the Baddeck River earlier this week.
DFO has posted a few of the Oct. 15 numbers.
At the Cassilis Trapnet on the Northwest Miramichi there were 417 grilse and 454 large salmon, compared with 805 grilse and 573 large salmon to the same date in 2017.
Meanwhile, at the Millerton Trapnet on the Southwest Miramichi, there were 524 grilse and 615 large salmon. In 2017 there had been 950 grilse and 534 large salmon. But comparing back to 1995 to 1999 averages to the same date these are all low. Then there were 1,599 grilse and 799 large salmon.
The Dungarvon Counting Fence shows that Atlantic salmon are indeed coming in. To Oct. 14, there were 108 grilse and 87 large salmon. Of special interest is that 16 grilse and 18 of the large salmon were in the week from Oct. 7 to 14. With the rain recently, perhaps more have returned. To the same date of Oct.. 14 in 2017 there were 126 grilse and 131 large salmon, so the results are still low, even if they are encouraging.
The Northwest Miramichi Barrier Counting Facility reported to 14 Oct. 116 grilse and 116 large salmon, compared with 137 grilse and 120 large salmon in 2017.
There have been many peer-reviewed research studies showing that if anglers practice correct live release techniques, there is almost total survival of the Atlantic salmon.
This week Paul P. Elson brought a great recent example. The Atlantic salmon below was caught and tagged at the Millerton Trapnet on June 20, 2018. It was released, and was brought in and carefully live-released by Andrew Mason on 23 Aug. It was then angled and subsequently released by Paul P. Elson on 3 Oct. 2018.
Paul P. Elson gently prepares to release a hen Atlantic salmon - on its way for the third time on its migration up the Cains River.
Rains have certainly brought up the river levels, and everyone remarks on this.
Nathan Wilbur, ASF's Director of Programs for New Brunswick reports:
Everyone, including the salmon, wanted rain and last Thursday did we ever get it. A cold rain all day brought the rivers up over the weekend and set things up nicely for the last two days of the season on the Miramichi. Anticipation was high for fish to move in on the high water, but by most accounts, fishing remained quite slow with very few fish hooked or seen in the last days of the season.
ASF Directors C. D. and Tracey Clarke did not let the cold rain on Oct. 11 stop them from being out on the Cains River. Nathan Wilbur/ASF
On the Cains, a tributary of the SW Miramichi and a renowned fall river, there were a few salmon around but fishing was slow. These should have been the very best days of the season on the Cains. Still, anglers were out enjoying the river, the scenery, getting the odd hookup, and putting bird dogs to work in the woods. A great time of year.
The radio tagged salmon shown in the photo is part of a new DFO project to figure out run size on difference branches of the Miramichi. The effort ties into the move towards river-by-river management. They have tagged 200 salmon this fall and will track their movements on the four river systems that empty into tidal water – the Northwest Miramichi, Little Southwest Miramichi, Renous, and Southwest Miramichi. Nathan Wilbur/ASF
While Oct. 15 marks the end of fishing season on most rivers, a few late run rivers remain open until the end of October. These include, among others, the Tabusintac, Bartibog, and Jacquet River. The Nepisiguit remains open until October 22nd, giving anglers another few days on the river before a long winter.
On closing day, 15 Oct. 2018, there was great water on the Cains. A great way to spend a day in mid-October. Nathan Wilbur/ASF
Paul P. Elson gets out on the rivers whenever he can. He is, incidentally, a grandson of the Dr. Paul Elson mentioned in the introduction. Paul is a keen observer of any changes in these rivers. He has this to say about the year, and the week:
Northwest Miramichi system Sept 24-Oct 4: fishing was slow at best compared to other years. Water was extremely low, but did get a small raise in that time frame that turned the fish on a little. The water on the NW system was low all year with only one decent raise in water in August. I’ve been fishing for Atlantics in the Miramichi since 1991, and this has been by far my worst year, even worse then 2014. Tough conditions with the low water and the heat during the summer kept me off the river from July 11 until Sept 1st. It seemed the fall run of salmon really never started. Instead, there was just a trickle of fish and certainly no major influx of fish holding in the normal “holding” pools. I suspect that with the water up now, any fish waiting to come into the river are are probably moving now. Conditions in the Renous were pretty much the same as in the Northwest Miramichi system.
Some other observations: This was the first year of not finding any redds on the Northwest Miramichi system as well to mid-October.
Fall colours were nice this year. For the last couple of years all the leaves were off the trees early! The picture of Cleland's Pool shows the difference in water levels after the rain on Oct 11. Photo Paul Elson
One scary thing for me, I only caught two parr all year….Not sure where they are but if that’s an indication of whats to come, it’s not good!
This is something Atlantic salmon anglers should make observations on in 2019.
This northern NB river is still lagging last year, but large numbers have been coming in recently, including in one week from Oct. 7 reports of 41 grilse and 50 large salmon.
PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND
Taylor Main in PEI makes observations on this past week:
As we enter into the last two weeks of the season, fish are still few and far between. Historically, these tend to be the best two weeks, and with absolutely perfect water conditions since last Wednesday it is at the very least a lot more enjoyable to be out than this time last year.
We had a good raise in water levels after several rains the middle of last week and just as things were dropping we had an even better raise on Monday night.
Anglers talking flies along the side of the river at Grant's Bridge on the Morell. Taylor Main photo.
The only downside to this is that these late-returning fish will no longer need to hold for any length of time along the way, with plenty of water to reach their spawning grounds. We should see many salmon redds high up in our river headwaters from one tip of the province to the other.
Mooney's Road section of the Morell River under perfect water conditions on 14 Oct 2018. Taylor Main photo.
ASF's Charles Cusson is waiting for end of season numbers, and with Atlantic salmon angling finished in the province, has nothing further to report.
FINAL IMAGE OF THE WEEK
John Hart casting on the Northeast Margaree last week. Lewis Hinks/ASF