ASF RIVERNOTES - 9 Nov., 2017


Memories and Connections

Atlantic salmon are all about connections and memories. Connecting with the rivers and the Atlantic salmon. And memories as wide as the season just past, of the very best memories from years before, and of special people woven into the fabric of those Atlantic salmon experiences. These too are connections to treasure.

With the season over, this is a great opportunity to place some of the themes of 2017 into our Rivernotes.

Big Water early on, then drought for four months:

Anyone remember back to May, when much of Quebec and Atlantic Canada was up to its chin in water? The water was so high that bridge foundations were weakened and anglers were unable to practice their skills on rivers like the Miramichi.

Then along comes June, and there is almost no rain for four months. Rivers drop to critically low levels that no Atlantic salmon will like, and many don't enter their rivers, or just hang around in the lowermost pools.

Finally, in late October, and just in the "nick of time" major deluges provided absolutely essential rises of water in dozens of rivers. This was a cliffhanger of a season that way, but there could be decent egg production after all.

In both the Miramichi (above) and the Restigouche (below) the summer drought was difficult for salmon. Some Gaspe rivers were even worse.

Large Salmon numbers better than expected

The indications were that large salmon numbers would be down in 2017, but overall the returns were higher than predicted. In this case it is good news indeed!

In the case of the Penobscot River in Maine, the return of large salmon was the best in many years.

ASF President Bill Taylor releases a 20 lb. large salmon on the Cascapedia.

Grilse numbers much lower than expected

For reasons unknown, there was a decline of 30 percent or more in the returns of grilse throughout the North American rivers, with a very few exceptions.

In Newfoundland this led to the unprecedented closure of the harvest of Atlantic salmon across the island.

Grilse being released in the Morell River. Photo Clay MacLean

Striped Bass expand upstream and into more northerly habitat

Quite rightly there is great concern over anglers discovering Striped Bass many dozens of kilometres above salt water. For example, on the Southwest Miramichi they were found above Rocky Brook, and in the Cascapedia 45 km. or more above the estuary.

One angler of the Northwest Miramichi who completed the ASF survey on Striped Bass sightings said:

I have never in my life, I'm 74, seen the concentration of fish that were in the Lower Northwest branch of he river. During one moment I caught 3 fish over 3 feet long on 3 consecutive casts. All were over the slot limit so one can only imagine what was in their stomachs.

In Labrador, fishermen were finding dozens of Striped Bass in their nets in Forteau Bay, even though they had never seen them previously.

Photographs were submitted of Striped Bass with Atlantic salmon smolts as their main stomach contents. Photo Greg Dixon

Pink Salmon in Newfoundland and Labrador

In the eastern Atlantic there had been great consternation in 2017 at the explosion of Pink Salmon being found in the rivers of Scotland and Ireland. These were the legacy of an ill-conceived effort to bring the species from rivers in the Russian Pacific region, and particularly from rivers flowing into the Sea of Okhotsk to rivers in Northwest Russia bordering the White Sea and Kola Peninsula. Finally established in the mid-1980s, they expanded into rivers in northern Norway and then lately further south.

When a Pink Salmon was found in Newfoundland's Gander River by guide Tim Sharpe, everyone was amazed, and perhaps a little shaken. Then two were found in different rivers in Labrador as well. Chances are these fish likely crossed the Atlantic, and are not a risk - but then, the species did colonize rivers in Norway on their own.

Pink Salmon in the Gander River. Photo Tim Sharpe

What about your top observations of 2017? If you have something different from the above you wish to share, send it along to: asfweb@nbnet.nb.ca

A Special Connection and a Memory

How do we come to find a special bond with salmon rivers and with Atlantic salmon? Each person is different.

The following story is one such memory of a bond, a connectedness, with a personal touch, from a couple of years ago.

Flying High and Catching Bigger Fish
by Tammy Trivault

At 17,000 feet, flying home from a fishing trip to Canada for Atlantic salmon, I am reading The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell. 

“ “If you don’t want the fish, why do you catch them?”  

A few seconds pass.  “For the quality of the conversation.” “

And I got it.  All of my life I have loved being outdoors.  I enjoy hiking, fishing, gardening or just lying in the sun.  Reading this, I finally understood why I felt this way.  And this trip in particular, made me feel like it was the conversation I was seeking; the quiet, internal, dialog that I hear when I am not talking, not thinking, just simply being.  My words for my Holy Spirit. 

    This trip was different because we flew out on Friday, July 17th.  This was Austin’s 18th birthday.  Since he died two years ago, I have felt enormous anxiety about flying, especially with Jim, my husband who loves flying his planes.   I told myself that the commercial planes were safer.  They had two pilots and were larger.  My general thought was that I did not want anything to happen to me; not so much for myself but for my family.  We have all endured enough.  This day was different from the very beginning.  Jim and I flew from Baton Rouge, LA to Presque Isle, ME and I was not nervous.  “Fly High” was a phrase my family used when we released balloons for Austin on special days. This was his birthday and I was flying, peacefully.  A good way to start a fishing trip.

    Austin is my nephew; the baby of our small family.  He was 15 years old at the time of his death and he did not weigh 100 pounds.  Nor did he need to shave.  He was, in his own words, “a happy kid”.  Austin’s greatest passions were fishing and hunting.  Fishing was first in his heart.  At our family camp on False River, he would fish every day until dark in his own little fishing boat.  My brother and his wife had “Catching Bigger Fish” engraved on his headstone, and my dad left a fishing rod and fishing lures at his grave.  Since Austin’s death, I fish more.  Jim says it is a way we can honor him. And Jim is right. 

    The first day of our fishing trip it rained.  But the weather did not matter at all.  I had never waded in clear, moving water before and I was excited.  Day two was even better.  Leonard, our guide, had worked with me on my fly casting and by the afternoon fishing trip, I was hauling line 40 to 50 feet as I walked along the Miramichi river bank.  I was feeling good about my fly fishing abilities, being a novice at the sport.

 Then it happened.  I hooked an Atlantic salmon.  Not just any Atlantic salmon, but a huge one.  I had caught fish before, but nothing like this. 

Our guide and my husband walked along with me as I gripped the rod like my life depended on it.  Leonard instructed me about when to reel in and when to let the fish run, while Jim kept reminding me to “keep the rod tip up”.  The fish jumped several times and we could see it was large.  I was apprehensive and excited beyond belief.   I wanted to land this fish and I knew I had to be careful and do everything right to make this happen.  After about 20 minutes, we could see the fish in the shallow water about ten feet from where we were standing.  Finally, the fish was close enough to be netted.  He weighed over 20 pounds. 

Tammy Rivault releasing the large salmon to continue its journey to spawning areas upstream. Photo Jim Rivault

Jim took photos until the guide told me I had to put the fish back in the water.   The best photo was the one of me releasing him so he could continue his journey, swimming upstream.  In retrospect, this was also the best part of the catch.   

Leaving Canada and driving back to Maine, Jim and I were laughing and talking about what a perfect fishing trip we had.  We were recounting the perfectness of my catch; the beautiful pool where the salmon were jumping all around us, my position in the pool when I hooked the fish, the gentle battle of landing the fish, the netting, the photos, and finally the release.  That’s when it all hit me.  This was no coincidence.  None of this was about me at all.  My heart had been open on Friday when we flew, that’s why I felt so peaceful.  My heart felt peace each day when I was fishing.  The catch and the release were all perfect.  This was Austin’s fish.  He had been with me the whole time; flying higher and catching bigger fish.

Tammy and Jim Rivault - with memories of a great experience on special salmon river.