September in Atlantic Salmon Country

The hot times seem to be over, as of this week, and anyone with concerns for wild Atlantic salmon should be happy. Now we just need MORE rain to go with the cooler temperatures.

Lower Tompkins Pool on the Northeast Margaree River in Cape Breton, on Wed. Sept. 19, 2018. Lewis Hinks/ASF


With the 2018 season closing at the end of the month, and no appreciable precipitation in the forecast and extreme low water conditions for salmon country, what we see is what we’ll get until September 30th unless Mother Nature changes her mind.  If half the rain predicted during the season had become reality there would have been flood conditions on more than one occasion…

Note that data used in the Quebec river notes is compiled from various river websites, social media and Quebec government sources.

Forks Pool on Matapedia River, Tues. Sept. 18, 2018. More water please! Charles Cusson/ASF

Matalik Pool on the Matapedia River, Tues. Sept. 18. Charles Cusson/ASF


On Sept. 18, Barbara Griffin landed a 10 lbs salmon in the E-3 Sector at 17 mile on the Grand Cascapedia. Photo: Salmon Lodge


Gerry Doucet has some notes on the Northumberland Strait rivers:

The Northumberland Rivers in Nova Scotia continue to suffer a summer long drought. Sporadic rains are in the forecast but what is needed is a prolonged soaking. The moisture associated with Hurricane Francine that pounded the Carolinas, missed our rivers, only touching the most southerly parts of NS. These spate rivers depend on fall rains, and in the meantime the salmon continue to hold in the estuaries and harbour mouths.


Middle River on Cape Breton Island on Wed., Sept. 19, shows the need for more rainstorms to help the salmon. Atlantic salmon season does not open here until Oct. 1, so time remains. Lewis Hinks/ASF

Greg Lovely has a report on Tues. Sept. 18 regarding the Margaree:

We are getting rain in the Margaree as I type this report (Tues,Sept.18, 2018). How much.....time will tell. Salmon are being hooked daily and fresh Fall fish are entering the Margaree system. The last sweep of the Margaree River to obtain broodstock for the hatchery was completed yesterday. There was quite a mixture of salmon. Some had been in the river all summer and others were nice bright fish that had sealice on them. If we get a good bump in water levels, the salmon will then be spread out more and hopefully so will the fishermen.

Northeast Margaree's Etheridge Pool, looking upstream on Wed. Sept. 19. Lewis Hinks/ASF

Sackville River

The DFO count for Sept. 2015 has 6 grilse and 1 large salmon, compared to 2017 numbers of 29 grilse and 6 large salmon. No a good year.

LaHave River

Whether this is an appropriate index river for those in the Southern Uplands of Nova Scotia could be argued. But the Morgan Falls counting facility to Sept. 15 has 20 grilse and 53 large salmon, compared with 188 grilse and 25 large salmon in 2017. The 1995 to 2000 numbers to the same date averaged 693 grilse and 140 large salmon.

LaHave River rom the bridge at New Germany in a time of higher water - June 2017.   Photo Lewis Hinks/ASF


Taylor Main, an avid PEI salmon angler, has these notes:

A hot summer was finally broken by our first touch of frost late last week and many are looking forward to high water, bright colours, and fall fish.  It is now time to reflect on what flies might have worked in years past and hope for some rain.

Dave Main releases a MSW fish on the Morell River during ideal water conditions.  13 October 2016.  Photo David Kidd.

This past Sunday brought with it the start of our six week extended salmon angling season on PEI.  Once again, the Mill and the Morell are the only two rivers open.   The vast majority of salmon are taken during this time.

Although the majority of our Island salmon are in trouble across our waterways, increasing returns year over year in the region of small rivers known as the "Northeast Cluster" as well as the West River continue to serve as a positive news story.  Although these small returns are barely a blip on the radar when compared to the thousands of fish on the mainland, for us its an indication that restoration efforts undertaken by numerous watershed groups are starting to pay dividends.

As seen over the past two seasons, several dozen grilse and MSW fish were seen ascending the West River beginning in late June and continuing through to the end of the trout season.  Conversely, a dozen or so fish were observed in the main holding pools on the Morell River throughout the summer.  The numbers of summer fish seen are generally very small as these are primarily fall run rivers of a couple hundred fish each, but they are nice to see nonetheless.

Wayne Gairns hooked into a sea run brook trout at the Highway Bridge Pool on the West River.  6 August 2018.  Photo Taylor Main.


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

Reporting after my latest crown reserve trip, it appears there are a good number of fish in the Upsalquitch. DFO and RRWMC will be doing swim through counts on the Restigouche. and tributaries like the Upsalquitch, next week to see just how many salmon and grilse there are. Water is very low and clear and fish are pooled up in the major holding areas, so perfect conditions for counting fish. Anglers have been watching the last weather systems with great anticipation, but unfortunately they have not produced the rain we were all hoping for. The end of this week looks better for rain.

Waiting for more rain in the Upsalquitch on Sept. 8. Nathan Wilbur/ASF

Jaquet River - so far not a great year. Waiting for rain.

Saint John River

DFO has published its counts for Sept. 15

At Mactaquac there were 411 grilse and 60 large salmon, compared with 2017 counts to the same date of 317 and 167. And as a reminder of what this river has had in the past, the 1995 to 1999 average was 3,791 grilse and 1,670 large salmon. The St. John River was a truly heritage Atlantic salmon river, with even vastly greater numbers going back further into the mid-1900s.

For the Nashwaak, there were 67 grilse and 18 large salmon, compared with 49 grilse and 32 large salmon to the same date in 2017. Continuing with a reflection on earlier years, the 1995 to 1999 average to the same Sept. 15 date was 366 grilse and 128 large salmon.


Brock Curtis of Curtis Miramichi Outfitters in Blackville notes:

The talk here on the Miramichi tends to focus around the need for rain.Our rivers have been very low and we have been waiting on the much needed September rains. The past couple of weeks have had a slow down in the amount of salmon hooked on the fly. Though rivers are quite low I have been spotting a few salmon on the tributaries and was actually surprised to see them considering the conditions. Yesterdays and todays rain should make a difference. We have been hearing today that the river is already coming up. Anglers seem to agree that things should improve in the next couple of days.

The trap nets are always the first indication of fish coming in, being lower on the river system.

The Millerton Trapnet on the Southwest Miramichi had 269 grilse and 255 large salmon to Sept. 15, compared with 561 grilse and 279 large salmon in 2017. The 1995 to 1999 averages were 885 grilse and 295 large salmon.

For the Dungarvon Barrier on the Southwest Miramichi, no Atlantic salmon were counted in the week up to Sept. 16, 2018. That makes 79 grilse and 58 large salmon to that date, compared with 94 grilse and 122 large salmon to the same date in 2017. These are critically low numbers.

The Cassilis Trapnet on the Northwest Miramichi has had 197 grilse and 77 large salmon, compared with 2017 counts of 467 and 294. The Cassilis Trapnet was not in operation as of the late 1990s, but the 2000 to 2004 averages were 856 grilse and 207 large salmon

On the Northwest Miramichi barrier count to Sept. 16 was 87 grilse and 103 large salmon, compared with 131 grilse and 120 large salmon to the same date in 2017.


Don Ivany, ASF Director of Programs in Newfoundland says:

As you know by now most rivers in NL are now closed to all angling with the exception of the Big Three…Lower Humber, Lower Exploits, and Lower Gander….  which will remain open until Oct 7. The latest salmon counts up to Sept 16 are now posted on the DFO web-site and as you will note runs have improved over last year on most rivers, with a few exceptions noted. 

The Lower Humber River has been producing quite well during the past two weeks with a fairly large number of large fish being hooked in the 20-30lb range.   Not surprising there has been good angler participation on the river as a result. Water levels have remained fairly low on the Humber River for the past couple of weeks but heavy rain during the past couple of days and cooler air temperatures have improved angling conditions.


Anglers have been reporting a good sign of fish on the lower Gander as well.  In fact Gord Follett (Newfoundland Sportsman) spent a few days on the Gander during the first week of September at Jim Brown’s Rattle and enjoyed some excellent fishing at that time. However, low water conditions forced the closure of the river by DFO at the end of that week. 

The river has since been re-opened due to improved water conditions.  Angler Ken McKlean reports a good sign of fish below the TCH bridge on the Gander River last week, but warm water conditions at that time resulted in many rises and few hook-ups.  Again heavy rain and cool air temperatures during the past two days have improved angling conditions on the Gander River, and angling success is expected to pick up.


Bruce Andrews, President of ERMA, reports that there have been few anglers fishing the lower Exploits during the past couple of weeks.  However, reports are that there is still a decent number of fish in that section of river. Again conditions have improved during the past could of days.

Ian Ereaut releasing a beautiful 35lb hen salmon on the Lower Humber this past week. 

The CAMPBELLTON RIVER deserves special mention.

There have been reports of salmon gathering, and likely to head up this river. DFO has taken this seriously. Below is their response to a query from ASF's Dr. Steve Sutton.

DFO deserves great credit for immediately checking, and in very fast order deploying a counting unit:

It is very unusual in recent years. Local people say there used to be a fall run of salmon but I would have to do some LEK collection to verify this.

We assume the fish are waiting for higher water levels.

We have the DIDSON sonar system installed on Campbellton River (up and running yesterday) and the Bishops Falls (Exploits River) camera operating to see if fish return there as well. 


We operated the fence at Campbellton until September 4 2018 as only 3 fish had passed through since August 24. However, there were fish at that time below the fence so we conducted a swim through and 180 small salmon and 20 large salmon were added to the count. We are not able to hold a fence in after the rain starts in the fall. Once I heard about the amount of fish on social media, we sent staff to investigate and this led to the DIDSON being installed. We have also engaged the support of C&P staff.


It is unusual that we see a significant amount of fish holding up after we remove the fence. However, this also occurred in 2017. We operated the Campbellton fence until September 12 2017 and there were approximate 140 salmon below the fence waiting to migrate upstream. These were added to the count. There were no reports of large numbers of salmon in 2017 but it is likely we missed fish entering Campbellton as well last year as the kelt count was larger than the salmon count. Based on historical adult to kelt survival, I am hoping to estimate what was missed in 2017.


In moving forward, we will continue to monitor this situation and adjust our monitoring operations as required to obtain the most accurate count possible.

It will be interesting to see the result of this late season run.

Labrador numbers are definitely better than in 2017, and the final count is below.

More on European Rivers

A few late-arriving accounts of 2018 conditions in European Rivers arrived this week, and we are adding them into the present RIVERNOTES. To check out last week's EUROPEAN OVERVIEW, click here

 Mysterious, Tucked-away Atlantic Salmon Rivers of Brittany, France

Brittany is a region of both Celtic heritage and salmon lore and riffling Atlantic salmon rivers.

Think mysterious rivers hidden away in wooded valleys. These are intimate rivers, often travelling down through walls of overhanging trees, cooling them and helping to keep them healthy. This is a region that has had a Celtic heritage as rich as those of Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and salmon are part of that.

The Léguer River shows this special quality of many of the Breton rivers - an intimage experience in beautiful forest glades. For more image, look in the rivers section of Guide Philippe Dolivet's website http://www.brittanyflyfishing.com/en

Photo copyright Philippe Dolivet

There are more than 20 of these small salmon rivers, each with its own character, and many are almost verging on healthy populations. But this has not been a great year.

There are counting fences on four of the rivers:

  • For the Elorn River, as of 16 Sept. there have been 440 salmon counted.
  • Meanwhile at the counting facility at Chateaulin on the Aulne River, 400 salmon were counted as of Sept. 7, a far cry from the 1,233 in 2017.
  • The Scorff had 240 salmon, counted at the Moulin des Princes, as of 23 Aug.
  • The Vilaine had just nine salmon

The Atlantic salmon rivers of Brittany form an intricate weave of watersheds.

Jean-Baptiste Vidal is another guide on the rivers of Brittany with great personal knowledge of these salmon streams.
Click here for website .

Jean-Baptiste Vidal on Breton salmon in 2018

Spring salmon in Brittany: Despite the very good water condition in all rivers in Brittany, spring salmon runs were quite low in 2018. While each rivers has a quota of catch allowed, none have reached their quota except for the Leguer river. This river has had much regulation since 2017, which has allowed fisherman to continue fishing only by fly, with barbless hooks and only live release of the salmon.

Since 2015 the river quota in most rivers in Brittany have not been reached.

Summer run Brittany 2018: The summer run, mostly grilse, has been very poor this year with only 240 grilse on the Scorff at this date, compared to about 700 last year at the same period. The run reached 800 grilse, more or less, last year on the Scorff which has a fish counter.

The water level was sufficient until the end of July and then dropped markedly due to lack of rain during the summer months.

Fall fishing is likely going to be very poor this year, and personally, I will stop guiding for salmon soon unless we have heavy rain in the following weeks.

Atlantic Salmon Reserve on the Kola Peninsula, Northwest Russia

Justin McCarthy, Director of Fishing for the Atlantic Salmon Reserve, was able to expand on the account of the 2018 season in this far northern set of rivers, the Kharlovka, Litza, Rhynda and Zolotaya

2018 has been fascinating with weeks that reminded us both of how special these remarkable rivers can be, but also of how finely balanced nature can be, when the heatwave that swept Europe also visited the Arctic tundra in July.  In addition, the vagaries of our unique location also meant that we were briefly but once more reminded that the remote and controlled zone in which our rivers flow has the occasional frustration to go hand in hand with the many advantages that it gives us.

Unlike the unprecedented high and cold water of 2017, the current year’s season was much closer to average in terms of the start of June.  By contrast with the prior year, a lighter snow blanket was well into its thaw by the start of the season and the ice had gone by the time the camps opened. 

The intense moments of a large Atlantic salmon on a fly. Photo Atlantic Salmon Reserve.

The runs of all ASR systems quickly showed signs of the promise of a really strong season.  The encouraging start in the first two weeks of June built through the latter part of the month when a sustained strong run of spring fish ran hard into the system.  Those old hands in both camps who have seen many an ASR season, unanimously felt that this was one of the best spring runs for many seasons. 

Frustratingly, it also coincided with a decision by the Russian authorities to restrict access to the controlled military zone for two weeks at the end of the month.  The location of camps in this controlled zone provides the very substantial benefit that the catchment and rivers are free of many of the man-made problems that have often afflicted salmon runs in other parts of the world.  However, it has, very occasionally, meant that these restrictions on access that benefit us most of the time, can have a drawback. 

This year was such a season when the military exercises, at the end of June and again in September, meant that we had to disappoint a number of our guests who were unable to fish their week as planned.   Whilst saddened and frustrated to have to disappoint old friends in this way, it did offer the opportunity to provide unusual access to these special rivers to a new generation of prospective young salmon fishers from Russia during the second half of June.

With the caveat of the old saying, “lies, damned lies and statistics”, we have attempted to conservatively estimate for the limited fishing activity of these weeks and the inexperienced nature of the youngsters who were able to take up the opportunity.  Having done so, we think it is fair to say that the runs during these weeks were some of the strongest in seasons and that, fishing, without the impact of the military restrictions, would have seen weeks that were some 50% better than the 5 year averages in the case of Kharlovka and some 80%+ higher in the case of Rynda – sparkling fishing indeed! 

This, on top of what were some of the best weeks of the season in any event.  This wonderful spell continued into early July when the regular guests of both camps could return to enjoy what was some great fishing with excellent catches. 

The rivers of the Atlantic Salmon Reserve are the near opposite of those in Brittany, France. Much higher flow, wider views, and usually more severe weather conditions. They have an entirely different sense of wildness about them. Photo Atlantic Salmon Reserve.

Of course, with salmon fishing nothing is ever straightforward and when the heatwave that had Europe wilting in July, also made its way up to the Arctic during the three weeks to the end of July, the impact on fishing was dramatic.  With water temperatures climbing inexorably higher and peaking at a punishing 21-22 C, the fishing became very challenging with the many fish in the system struggling to come to a fly and skillful and persistent guests having to work especially hard for their fish.  That this tough period of July was wholly related to the conditions was borne out by the fact that as soon as the water temperature dropped sharply back to low teens in early August, catches doubled.

Overall then, the picture at the end of the season is one that gives us great encouragement.  Some of the strongest runs in quite a number of seasons, a sparkling late June/early July period which repaid the faith of our June regulars who had endured the unprecedented difficult conditions of June in 2017, offset somewhat by the frustrations of both the July heatwave and the late impact of the military restrictions that curtailed some of the best weeks of the season.  Most satisfying of all has been the continued support and company of you, our guests.  With each week bringing old and new friends together, amongst both guests and members of camp, we feel fortunate to be custodians of some of the most exciting Atlantic salmon fishing that is to be found anywhere.

 The Final Image – the warmth of autumn

The Fosse Rouge Pool on the Matane has that quality of "quietly waiting" for the autumn to come. There is more than a tinge of autumn yellow in the forests on the hillisides, and the clear skies of summer now gone for 2018. Rain is all that is missing, so far.  Photo Charles Cusson/ASF