Late Summer 2021 Miramichi Salmon Update

Jason Curtis holds a nice 18 pound Cains henfish taken on a bomber just as the recent heat arrived.

This year’s weather has been the most upside down of any for many years.  We started out June with two bonafide heat waves.  It didn’t rain either, and it looked like we were in for another low, hot year like 2020.  July, though, was one of the coldest in the last century – truly – and we had lots of rain, especially over the Cains River valley.  The NW Miramichi did not fare as well, and has had chronically low water all season.  Now in late August we find ourselves with little rain and constantly warm weather.  The weather is warm enough that DFO has closed the entire Miramichi system to any fishing until further notice – so no fishing reports.  That should all be coming to an end on Thursday of this week.  Friday, Saturday and Sunday are all forecast to be substantially below normal in terms of both high and low daily temperatures.  DFO wardens told a friend of mine that they expect they will be able to lift the ban this weekend.

Unfortunately, as it always does, the hot weather and concentration of salmon in the cold water pools has brought out the poachers.  People have been observed trying to snag salmon at locations where brooks enter rivers, and to run nets through pools.  On August 20th guides from Country Haven were checking on the Brophy Pool when they discovered a gill net set in the broad, slower portion of the pool.  The upper portion nearer the brook is pretty well protected with several anti-netting devices designed to snag and entangle any nets that contact them.  The net contained two salmon and a grilse that appeared to have been dead for a couple of days.  It was unclear why the net was abandoned.  The word is that other lower Cains pools have been netted too.  The Cains has had a good early run this year, and there are several cold water buffered pools in the lower section that are fairly remote.  These make attractive targets for the poachers.  There is discussion about forming a volunteer patrol to keep an eye on these pools.  Let us hope that happens.

After months, actually years of work, planning and organizing the scheduled application of Rotenone to Miramichi Lake and a small nearby stretch of the Miramichi River to eradicate the smallmouth bass present there, the plan was at least temporarily blocked by a group of First Nations women from the Wolastoqey band.   The group called the “Mothers and Grandmothers” canoed out onto the lake and refused to leave.  By contrast the Mi’gmaq band from further east have been prime sponsers of the smallmouth eradication project.  Apparently this group of Wolastoqey felt that they hadn’t been consulted enough, and that other terms necessary for their support hadn’t been met.  This is in spite of a signed agreement from the tribe from last spring.  Everyone is now trying to satisfy these concerns so that the project can be moved forward soon.

I’ve been holding off writing this update to get the August 15th trap counts from the DFO, but for whatever reason they haven’t posted them yet, and there were some other issues that I felt needed to be addressed before they became ancient history.  I did get the Dungarvon and NW Miramichi numbers through August 15th, though, and those numbers showed a few new fish entering.  This is the lull that always occurs at this time of the year.  The run for 2021 at the Dungarvon barrier shows 196 salmon and grilse, and that is up 26% from last year.  On the Northwest we are up from 209 last year to 248 this year for an increase ytd of 19%.  It is great that this year and last are up over previous years, but it is sobering indeed to look back at season totals from 30 years ago and see how far these numbers have fallen.  At least for the moment we seem to be headed in the right direction.

The passing Covid test that got me across the border.

Last, a few words on crossing the border.  I arrived at the border two hours early went across number eight in line on Sunday night August 8th.  I had loaded the ArrivCan app, got my Covid test results so that they would be less than 36 hours old when I crossed the border, brought my vaccination card with me, and I got through just fine.  It was taking about 10 minutes per vehicle at the time, but I would hope it is down considerably from that now, as the kinks are worked out.  I only stayed a couple of days, dropping off a bunch of special supplies for the camp and getting in a couple of sessions of fishing.  The first fishing was the afternoon of the day I arrived.  I did see a few fish jumping as they moved up the river, but the temperature was 73F, and I failed to get a strike.  It cooled off overnight and I went to the Cains where I got the 18-pound hen in the top picture, lost another nice fish, and rolled a touched several others, all on bombers.  As I like to do I had my breakfast on the porch the next morning before leaving, and like old times I watched a number of fish jump as they made their way up through the pool.  It was great to see that again.

Headed back to Canada after a 22 month absence.

On the way home I specifically asked the officers – as people had requested of me – if there were any plans for random Covid tests at the border.  I was told very clearly that at that time there were no Covid requirements at all at the border for American citizens.  All American citizens are welcome to enter at any time, and neither a Covid test nor proof of vaccination are required.  Things can change, but I haven’t heard anything about it yet.

I do know that the lodges are filling up fast.  Upper Oxbow, Country Haven, White Birch, The Ledges, Bullocks, Wilsons, and probably some others I have missed may still have available spots.  This year’s run has been excellent, and statistically, in most years, the fall more or less mirrors the rest of the season.  Now is the time to make your plans for getting on the Miramichi this fall.

Thanks for reading.  Brad Burns

PS  MSA staffer Butch Dalton with a little help from me has been working away on FishPal Miramichi.  The site is not finished, but it is getting there, and we hope to have it available for people to use as a source of information before the month is over.

A partial snapshot of the FishPal Miramichi page in process.


13 Comments on “Late Summer 2021 Miramichi Salmon Update

  1. Thanks Brad- at least the border crossing looks ok. I go across a week from today (assuming I get a negative Covid test result on Sunday and take take the red eye Sunday night thru IAD to Presque Isle.)

    Being on the west coast it’s hard to get a feel for how much impact Henri is expected to have up there in New Brunswick.
    If you get any reports later this week on the impact please pass along if possible.


    • Dave – Henri is here now and no big deal. It is a non event from the wind front. Tonight and tomorrow some areas may see as much as 40MM of rain, but it won’t be that wide spread. The rivers are low now, and a solid rain is just what is needed to kick out the warm water of the last couple weeks and get us ready for the fall. Brad

  2. Thank you for the detailed report on the health of the waters. It’s interesting to learn about the effects of water temperature, the actions of the DFO; as well as the actions being taken to tackle small mouth bass. Sorry to hear about the poackers – I would have thought that all locals would be good stewards to the waters – but I guess I’m mistaken.

    Would you be able to tell me more about the counts from 30 years ago? Have the counts halved? Do we know the approximate percentages?

    • There were no counting mechanisms years ago, but a guy by the name of Bill Hooper was a fishery scientist for DFO and calculated the size of the runs through a formula he came up with by taking the commercial landings out in the bay, the trap counts in the estuary and their resulting mark and recapture extrapolations, and figuring out how many salmon would need to remain to keep up the size of the run based on the percentage of smolts that survived to adulthood etc. He figured that the last great run was in the mid 1960s when he calculated in excess of 600,000 adults returning. He used earlier commercial catch records to estimate that in the 1920s the run was probably in excess of 1,000,000 adult fish. If we have a good year now we might get to 60,000. It was close to 100,000 in 2011 and the fish seemed to be everywhere.

  3. Brad,
    That is very discouraging news about the smallmouth bass eradication project. River conditions appeared to be near perfect for the project and I fully expected a report from MSA this week that the effort had been completed. Any increase in river levels will likely complicate the effort. This is just unbelievable news.


  4. I just heard that they had an inch of rain up at Clearwater and are expecting a bit more…hopefully that will open the river up again……..I’m set to go over this weekend if the river opens….I noticed something on the AccessCan site about where we can cross…it mentions something about the third bridge at Calais….do you know which one that is? I have been crossing at Downtown Calais for 30 odd years and never tried the new one upriver…..not sure what they mean by the third bridge…

    • Mac – yes, 27mm in Clearwater. Combined the cooler weather forecast to begin Friday there could be some decent fishing as soon as DFO opens things back up. I only know of one crossing point in Calais. My experience there has been that it is crowded. I have never randomly been searched at Houlton, but I have a large percentage of the time I go through Vanceboro. Houlton has more facilities and more staff, and I have found it to be the best crossing place.

  5. A few years ago they built a new crossing just upriver from the old downtown bridge one, only have used it once, kinda like going through downtown and into downtown St. Stephen, a couple good places to eat in St. Stephen….I think the upriver one was built to ease the truck traffic downtown as I see very few trucks there now….think I’ll take my chances on the old bridge,worst can happen is they will tell me to go upriver,no problem for me, been up the creek lots of times……

  6. DFO salmon counts are posted up to August 15th. Very encouraging numbers and hopefully the start of positive recovery news for years to come!

    • Salmoe, thanks for posting this. I wish I viewed it as positively as you do. The salmon number is quite disappointing to me compared to what I hoped to see. Yes, it is a lot better than 2018, 2019, but they were really horrific. The grilse numbers were definitely on much stronger footing, but still far below what we were seeing 20 years. I’m going to add a more thorough analysis to my last blog and send out a notice sometime over the weekend. Brad

      • I agree 100%. I too wish it was pre-1975 numbers. That being said, if you want to get to the finish line you have to start the race somewhere.

        • Salmoe, I just wish that we were back to 2000 numbers…but I do agree that 2020 and 2021 appear to be steps in the right direction.

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