Miramichi End of Summer Salmon Report

Darrell Warren holds a Cains River grilse.

Late Summer Fishing: Miramichi and Newfoundland – On Tuesday 8/13 I drove from Falmouth, Maine to Blackville and fished the Miramichi at Doctor’s Island that evening. Conditions were not good with low and warm water, and I knew it, but I was itching to cast a fly into the Miramichi.  As anticipated there were few to no salmon holding there with evening water temperatures around 22C/72F, but we did see one jump, and that was encouraging.

A green marabou slime fly tied by Casey Cramton.

The next morning I fished on the lower Cains River, and there I managed to catch one grilse on a green slime marabou fly, and briefly hooked another one.   I didn’t expect a lot at this time of the year without a solid raise of water, but on Friday I was headed for Newfoundland to fish the Serpentine River where I hoped for better fishing.

In Newfoundland I met up with Dawson Hovey, and Paul Rogers. With the retirement of Newfound Outfitters Lodge founder Ray Humber, Paul has become the manager for the new owners.  Dawson has fished and guided on the Serpentine several weeks each summer for 20 years.  The Serpentine was made famous by Lee Wulff, and while it is a small river it has a mix of salmon sizes including a few 30 plus pound fish.  Last year was my first trip, and we had good fishing with catches of salmon and grilse virtually every day.  Those new to my blog can scroll back through the blog entries and read the report from last year’s trip.  It was a lot more successful than 2019.

The landing on the Serpentine with the Blow Me Down mountains in the distance.

All out to drag the canoe over the bar at the mouth of the Serpentine.

An average sea run brookie from the Serpentine. You see them a whole lot larger, but they aren’t easily caught.

The short of it is, that although they have had a decent season on the Serpentine, with more large salmon in the mix than usual, when we arrived the river was on its bones. The water was the lowest that either Dawson or Ray had ever seen it, and getting in and out of the canoes to drag them over gravel bars made what is normally a fascinating trip from the lodge down to the falls and back a much slower and more difficult process.  There were decent numbers of both salmon/grilse and sea run brookies – some of these are really big fish – holding in several pools along the river.  They all, and I mean all, had lock jaw, and in 5 1/2 days of hard fishing 5 of us hooked 2 grilse.  We rose maybe a couple of dozen, but these fish weren’t serious and actually never touched the dozens of dry flies of all sizes and colors that were carefully presented to them.  Water temperature wasn’t the issue as we did much better on temperature sensitive brook trout, though all were of modest size.  The fish were simply stale from sitting in the same pools for long periods of time with constantly lowering water.  The succession of sunny days only made it worse.

I always get excited at Caribou tracks. They were extinct in NB 30 years before I was born, but I miss them anyway. Some moose tracks are there too, on the Serpentine River NL.

We also fished a morning and evening on the much larger Humber River near Corner Brook. This is a big river, and is somewhat wider than the Miramichi.  There was a good flow of water here that is regulated by a hydro dam upriver.  While it has been a decent summer on the Humber we only saw two fish jump in the course of around 6 hours on the river.  We spoke with a couple of long-time Humber regulars, and they confirmed that the last week or so had been very slow.

While in Newfoundland I did get an e-mail from my friend Ralph Vitale who was fishing at the Black Brook Salmon Club on the Miramichi. While the Club’s large, cold water pool held a lot of fish – of which Ralph managed to land a good one – it was slow there too, since as on the Serpentine no fresh fish were entering the system and moving between pools.  The lack of rain is the issue at both locations.

BBSC head guide Eddie Colford holds a smiling Ralph Vitale’s lovely cock salmon.

River conditions and on the Miramichi this summer have been somewhere between warm and hot and with very little rain. This has caused the salmon and grilse numbers which were initially well ahead of last year to stagnate.  The last numbers as of August 15 generally showed that salmon numbers were down slightly compared to 2018, but grilse numbers were up substantially.  The Dungarvon barrier, for instance, is up in total count on August 18th from 131 in 2018 to 148 this year.  This is a solid 13% and since the barrier counts every fish that passes, it doesn’t call for an interpretation of efficiency like the larger traps in the estuary.  I’m especially pleased to see the grilse numbers because summer is usually a very  important part of the grilse run.  Grilse are mostly males, and good numbers are usually an indicator that next year’s multi-sea-winter female run will also be up.  The Miramichi fall run provides the great preponderance of the large salmon run, and there is still lots of time for those numbers to turn around and surpass 2018.  Let us hope that is the case.

In some years during the late summer we hear rumors about the amount of fish down in the bay and estuary waiting for fall conditions to enter the river.   I am already hearing these again this year.  One, by my experience fairly trustworthy report, says that there are “miles of fish stacked up waiting to enter the river.”  Let us hope that is accurate!  An inch to and inch and a half of rain is forecast for Thursday and Thursday night this week 8/29.  Recent mornings have been quite cool with Bantalor – located in the headwaters of the Cains River, the largest tributary of the Southwest Miramichi – being only a hair above freezing on Saturday 8/24.  So the river is getting over the summer heat, and if we get a good rain it could bring in a run of fresh fish by sometime during Labor Day Weekend.  Bring it on!

How warm is the Miramichi River – really?  I’m not trying to deny climate change.  The condition of the Arctic ice cap is clear enough, but I do want to show you what I found when I looked at the mean air temperature for a weather site in Gagetown, NB.  I used this one because it was the closest one to Blackville that I could find on Environment Canada that was continuously operating over the last 100 years.  The graphic to follow speaks clearly enough.  To keep it simple I chose one year at the beginning of each decade up until 2000 then I increased the frequency and put down every year since 2014.  2018 was the highest temperature of any year that I looked at, but 2015 was the third lowest year in the whole series.  Only 1980 and 1950 were cooler.  The last decade is pretty much within the same trend line as entire illustration.  2019, the July we just endured is more or less an average year.  The conclusion that I came to is that our water temperature problems are probably in no small part caused by factors other than air temperature with forestry practices being the most likely culprit.  This winter I’m going to do a much more in depth analysis of historic summer temperature trends.

Recently there was alarming news that an angler on the upper SW Miramichi had caught a smallmouth bass, and the presence of a smallmouth was later confirmed by the prominent CAST salmon biologist from the University of New Brunswick scientist Dr. Allen Curry who snorkled the pool. There has been an ongoing attempt by the Miramichi Salmon Association to convince Canadian fishery authorities to eradicate the population of illegally stocked smallmouths from Miramichi Lake.  The smallmouth eradication still hasn’t happened yet, but pressure is mounting on DFO from all sides to use rotenone to purge the lake of bass.

Striped bass also remain a very significant issue for Miramichi stripers. I have not been able to find any new population estimate for Miramichi stripers, but I doubt that it has grown since it was believed to have dropped from 1 million to some 330,000 individuals in 2018.  We are hearing reports of some striped bass in Miramichi salmon pools as we have in all recent years.  These reports seem to have lessened both in terms of how many of them we hear, and the numbers of fish that seem to be present.  We can only hope that with the somewhat liberalized regulations and the commercial netting by First Nations that the population will continue to shrink back to a level that will be harmonious with the salmon and brook trout numbers.  We don’t know for sure what that would be, but clearly still substantially lower than the current levels.  Incidentally I just finished a great little book written in the 1870s called The Emigrant Sportsman in Canada.  The author states the volume of the Miramichi commercial striped bass catch during winters in the 1850s as being 100 “tonnes” per year.  At an average of 5 pounds each that is around 40,000 fish per year – very significant.

A Facebook group, Atlantic Salmon Anglers of New Brunswick, has an interesting discussion on the ASF’s “Atlantic Salmon Federation” opposition to allowing the CAST SAS program go forward as planned. This program was developed by the University of New Brunswick, Miramichi Salmon Association and others to supplement the spawning population of Miramichi Atlantic salmon by releasing adult salmon grown from 100% wild Miramichi smolts raised to adulthood in the MSA hatchery.  If you are interested you really have to read it all – including the comment threads following the posts – and it doesn’t take all that long.  Comments are there from UNB’s top scientists, PhDs Allen Curry and Tommi Linnansaari who were instrumental in designing the program, as well as from ASF staffers.  I’m not a fishery scientist, but I have listened carefully to the arguments, and I think it is time for the ASF to accept the weight of the science behind the CAST SAS program and join the MSA in supporting this work.

I do agree with Nathan Wilbur of the ASF’s comment that essentially says if we can fix the issues like striped bass, forestry practices, and poor winter sea survival etc that we would not need to help mother nature by supplementing the river’s spawning stock. I think everyone can agree with that.  The Miramichi is perhaps the world’s finest natural breeding ground for Atlantic salmon.  Those obstacles, though, are proving to be very hard to overcome, and the CAST supplementation strategy could very well help the Miramichi population maintain its viability through this difficult period.  Sometimes the greatest risk comes from not taking action but from failing to take it.

Poaching has historically been a problem on the Miramichi as it has on most salmon rivers. Years ago many local individuals justified illegally capturing salmon because well-to-do sports “from away” caught and killed salmon.  Today, no one in New Brunswick can legally harvest a wild Atlantic salmon, and a fairly extensive social safety net keeps virtually everyone from going hungry.  Poaching, I believe, has decreased substantially since the middle part of the 20th century, but it still does exist.  This summer some of the cold water holding pools throughout the Miramichi system were netted by criminals.  In some cases the pools were netted several times.

I recently had a conversation with DFO agent Todd Davies about their on-going investigation of this problem. He told me that they do not have the size of staff that they would like, but they are committed to solving the problem and do have some new techniques that should prove very helpful. The poachers do not need to be caught on the scene to be prosecuted.  The most helpful information that they can obtain are the names of the suspected poachers.  Many fish poachers find it hard not brag about their escapades, and in many cases they sell their illegal catch.  This means there are people out there who know who these poachers are.  Officer Davies assured me that all information will be very sensitively handled.

Here are some ways to report poachers:

Renous office of DFO 506-622-5992

To contact Crime Stoppers
1-800-222-TIPS
1-800-222-8477

Bombers – How much does size matter? I used to do a lot more salmon fishing with dry flies – primarily bombers – on the Miramichi and lower Cains Rivers a few years ago. The overly warm water during mid-summer in recent seasons has kept me off the river during what used to be for me a prime time for bombers.  Now most of my bomber fishing is relegated to the first three weeks or so in September, or if we have a raise of water and a cool spell during July or August.

My experience on the Miramichi as well as the Cains has been that fairly large bombers tied on #4 or even #2 streamer hooks produce the most fish. I realize that to a large degree that could be a self-fulfilling prophesy, since large and larger are the sizes I use most the time.  I have had success with smaller sizes on occasion too, but generally my experience is that if they will take the smaller one they would also take the larger one, and since I have a lot more faith in larger sizes that is generally what I tie on.

I’m curious as to others experiences on this point, so send in your comments on bombers or anything else in this blog.

Autumn has always been the Miramichi’s most prolific time, and in recent years that trend has grown. There are a number of excellent outfitters along the river: Country Haven, The Ledges, Wilson’s, and Upper Oxbow on the NW branch are just a few.  Why not call now and book some time to fish the Miramichi or Cains Rivers this fall.

Brad Burns

Looking up river to the falls on the Serpentine. Dawson Hovey casts for salmon amidst a classic, wilderness setting.

 

19 Comments on “Miramichi End of Summer Salmon Report

  1. Great photos of the Serpentine River and thanks for the Miramichi update, hopefully I can make it next year. Kal

    • I know how much you like June on the Miramichi Kal. The last couple have been pretty good. Catches were better in 2018, but the fish were there this year too, just booking it upriver in the strong, cold flow. Brad

  2. I always enjoy your blog updates Brad. I just spent the last 2 days in Gander and Grand Falls NL for work. Like the Miramichi and Serpentine rivers, the Exploits and the Gander rivers are very low. A good rain is desperatley needed in all of Atlantic Canada to get some fresh fish in the systems and older fish moving again. Hopefully we will get this rain soon and enjoy a good fall run of fresh salmon!!

    • Thanks for the kind words about the cover Kris. Looks like some rain this week and next, and be off to the races. Brad

  3. Brad- I have been enjoying your updates on the Miramichi this year as a new recipient of your news letter.
    I wanted to comment on your remarks about “bigger is better” for bombers.
    While perhaps not germane to the Miramichi- on the York in Gaspé this past June I hooked a 15 plus lb salmon on a #10 bomber after repeated attempts with giant 2’s & 4’s …. a savage take with numerous jumps and mad dashes. I was devastated to loose him in a lower pool after the fish ran into very shallow water and almost beached itself – I thought I had him and let the tension off the line as I walked towards him. The fly popped out from his upper jaw as soon as the tension was relaxed and the fish back flipped right back out to the main current in the blink on an eye. While subsequent inspection of the hook indicated it was quite opened up at the bend, and surely too small to take the weight of a good size fish, it was an example of a situation where the small size worked over the large in spite of the guide’s best advice to go big …. I will continue to give the small bombers a try in the future even at the risk of a straightened hook…

    • David – thanks for the great comment. Gary Colford, well-known Miramichi guide always said about bombers to keep trying different colors until you find one they like. We can add sizes and shapes to that too. Brad

  4. always enjoy your blog and cannot wait for your Cains river book. I have enjoyed a lot of nice hikes this summer and planning on more.
    Ken Cogswell

    • Thanks Ken. I envy you those hikes. I can think of a number of places on the Cains that I’ve read or heard about that I’d sure love to go see in person. There is only so much time.

  5. Brad,
    I’m not as certain about size as I am about colour wrt bombers. I have raised many fish to bombers and sometimes they take, and sometimes they just swipe at it. Often when a salmon raises to one bomber several times, but doesn’t take, the switch to a different colour will bring a more convincing and aggressive hook up. As you know, nothing brings more satisfaction than playing this game and outwitting something that should be significantly inferior to humans in the IQ category, yet still seems to outsmart us more often than not.
    Having said all this, I wonder why colour should matter anyway, as I’ve always thought that a fly when viewed from below, with light from the sky above, would only appear dark in silhouette. Perhaps then, it has more to do with something else about the fly pattern than the colour. I’m sure next time, my observation will prove false and my assumption about changing colours won’t work, and the salmon will outsmart me again. Nevertheless, next time, I will try and change the size rather than colour and see if it makes a difference when confronted by the “raising” but not “taking” salmon.

    • Kent – on the point of color I bow to the advice of long-term Miramichi guide Gary Colford formally of Wades and now Country Haven. Gary says that if you roll one that won’t take just keep changing colors until you find the one they want. It does seem to work. Brad

  6. Brad, so pleased to receive and enjoy your EOS report. As you know I am very committed to the Miramichi and leave the UK for NB on Friday . I enjoy until the end of the Season. I equally relish your reports on the Serpentine- a River totally unknown to me . To me life is all about extending knowledge of things and places. Another favourite. River is the Spey and I was fortunate to fish a lower beat called Braewater in early July . It is a challenging wade and every year it seems an unfortunate Angler drowns and this year it has already happened. The first two days we were there the River was totally out of condition with torrential rains -this is Scotland-but the third day we could just about fish with sunk lines and tubes-a terrible way to cast -into a very coloured water . I was boated down a pool by a very fed up Ghillie who bemoaned the lack of fishing and fish. At the end of the Pool I got into a good size fish who immediately took off ,tube in mouth . After about 20 yards the line stopped , the hook came out and the fish was away. I checked my reel and the line had crossed and jammed . A fed up ghillie was now a disgusted ghillie having lost the only fish hooked that day. My hostess told me to take up golf! Complete lack of preparation on my part and I should have checked and rewound the line before starting to fish . Caveat caveat

    • Chris – you better check that stuff again before you go to the Miramichi this weekend. If we get the forecast rain, which is likely to be substantial, there could be some hot fishing for a few days. Many of the stale fish holding in the cold pools will start to take before the water really raises, and after the raise we should see a nice run of fresh fish. I don’t get there until Wed night, but I wish I was going tomorrow! Brad

  7. Great to hear there are “miles of salmon” waiting to come into the Mirimichi. I have faith in the guy who posted that report, whoever he is. Interesting to read that striped bass catches were so large in the “good old days.” It shows that salmon have been surviving striper predation for longer than I knew. As for the Gagetown temperature report, I think it illustrates the difference between local weather and general climate change. Local weather is spotty and unique. Climate change is general and reflects long term variations in many factors, air temperature being one. Wind events, the strength and frequency of major of storms, rainfall amounts, and changes in the atmosphere, all combine to influence the measurement of general climate change over large portions of the globe. No doubt the climate changes we notice today have been trending for a long time, but they are occurring more frequently now than ever before and , eventually, will affect every place on earth.

    Sorry your Serpentine trip was a bust, but that’s salmon fishing, as they say.

  8. The weather radar indicates the Miramichi area is experiencing some heavy rainfall right now (morning of 8/29). This should help get the salmon moving.
    Brad, thank you for all of your updates. They really make a difference in keeping us all informed and engaged.

  9. Just back from Clearwater and lots of fish there and Marg and I released 6. Water was low but cool, around 64. Got most of fish early and on a cloudy day. Seemed to be seeing more grilse this year. They have caught 5 stripers, one nearly 2 feet long. Good rain the day we left.

    • Doug – thank you for your comment. I have to approve the first comment, but all future comments that you make will post automatically. I have heard from other fishermen that the headwaters fisheries are good this summer. We had a good run early, with lots of cool water. The fish moved rapidly through the river to the headwaters. That is excellent news. Hopefully with the rain that we have just had and forecast cool temperatures the fall run will be a good one on the lower river. Brad

  10. Brad,, I can’t say how much I look forward to reading your fishing reports,, I have a trailer at Hennessy’s up above your Campbell’s Pool,, I came up today,, river is really looking good,, and expecting a nice dip,, in the height over night,, so I get a better,, outlook of the center bar. Sounds like from the fishing success you’ve had,, that things will or should pick up over the weekend,, I’ll be in my canoe in the morning,, and fish,, pretty constantly throughout the day and evening,, again,, Thank You so much,, for your Fishing Reports,, they mean so much when I am back in the Moncton area,,

    • Thanks Bob. I hope you are seeing the my daily Salmon Report on my website. This is selectable fro the menu bar at the top of the home page at Bradburnsfishing.com.

  11. Sounds like you had FANTASTIC fishing on Saturday,, My son Jeff,, wanted to go up on the Cain’s and put the canoe in at Salmon Brook, so that’s what we did,, Chris Barnett caught two Salmon on his Shrimp fly, its deadly, lol There were about 5 other fishermen, but when we left there no one else had caught any,, we fished the various pools,, throughout the day, not many fishermen on the river surprisingly, Brophy’s had a sport there, as did the Black Brook Salmon Club, the guide had said he had seen several fish but there Sports hadn’t caught anything,,Very nice water though. Yesterday we fished here at Hennessy’s my son caught a Beautiful Male Salmon about 10lb range,, just so full of fight,, he was out of the water move then in it,, It two had a DFO number on him along with the tracking device,, he, the Salmon was so active, and we didn’t want to handle it much,, so it swam off. Fished late into the evening,, No luck,, and didn’t see any moving / will fish a bit this AM and then head home for a few days,, again,, Brad,, Thank You, so much for your daily updates, they mean so much,, to me for sure,,

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