Miramichi February Salmon Blog

Eddie McCarthy river superintendent, and Pat Nicol ghillie, in the old lobby of the Ulbster Arms Hotel, headquarters for the River Thurso, Scotland.  Tons of fascinating history here.  The giant salmon was netted in the estuary during the 1930s.  Photo 2007

Fishing Friends:  For 20 years I’ve felt as if the MSA US dinner, historically held the first weekend in February, was the turning point in the winter.  The young turkeys living around our place in Maine were sort of unisex until recently, but now a good number of them have emerged as males and are in full strut every morning.  There are some big open patches on the south facing hills in the field, and at dusk there are deer out there feeding on whatever browse they can find.  It was quite light this morning at 6:00 AM, and I could hear bluebirds talking from the shelter of the pine trees here and there during my walk.  There is some cold yet to come, but things are definitely tilting in the right direction.

Bay du Vin Salmon Fishing Fleet back in the day.

I’m not sure when the salmon on our side of the Atlantic start getting the urge to leave their Arctic feeding grounds and head for the Miramichi, but it probably isn’t long from now.  1920s tag returns showed that a large school of salmon moved down the west coast of Newfoundland in April where netters intercepted them off Port Au Basques.  A few weeks later this school arrived in Miramichi Gulley outside the entrance to Miramichi Bay.  On calm nights during May it wasn’t unusual for over a hundred boats to be fishing drift gill nets for these salmon.  Individuals from that school were tagged with ribbon tags and found to soon start entering all of the inner Bay De Chaleur Rivers – as well as the rivers of New Brunswick’s Northumberland Shore.  Even in those years it was found that for some reason salmon began entering the Miramichi a little later than the Gaspe rivers.  It certainly is heady stuff to imagine this great movement of such large and beautiful fish.  It must still happen today, albeit on a less grand scale.

Scottish angler Colin Somerville and his ghillie holding a March springer from the Helmsdale River in Scotland.

At least in part because I just can’t wait to get fishing, but also because I have come to love the place and its culture, I get my own early start to the season by chasing “springers” in the Northern Highlands of Scotland.  I’ve got two trips this year.  I didn’t plan it that way, but I had lost one of my two back-to-back weeks on the Naver during Covid, and quite by surprise Roxton’s, the English company that I had been to Russia with a couple of times e-mailed me an offer for a week on the Helmsdale.  Lucky me, those are the two top rivers for their size in Scotland.

On my first trip to the Northern Highlands – which was to the Thurso River – I was ghillied by a man named Pat Nicol who is now an old friend.  From his command center in Wick, Pat keeps his finger on the pulse of Highland salmon fishing.  He knows the rivers, the beats, the ghillies, and the gossip – locally called craic.  From the table where he turns out hundreds of excellent tube flies, Pat keeps his fingers on the pulse of salmon fishing by phone, cell phone, text and computer.  Nothing of significance that happens on the Brora, Helmsdale, Wick, Thurso, Forss, Halladale, Naver or Borgie escapes his scrutiny.

Typical tube flies used for March springers in Scotland. Usually fished on a sinktip line.

So, amongst the humdrum messages in today’s Inbox was one from Pat: “Subject: Helmsdale – First fish off Monday followed by another yesterday.  Both beat 6.” followed by another e-mail from Pat, also simply named Naver “First fish off today.”

February fish aren’t at all unusual on these rivers.  They are known for it.  Still, it is a good sign.  Hopefully the North Atlantic has been kind to salmo over this winter, and the 2023 season will end up being something to smile about.

MSA president Robyn McCallum addresses the dinner.

MSA US Fundraising – don’t panic, I’m not asking for money!  The fund raising season is over.  Though if you were nearby and not a member of the MSA I would chew on your pantleg cuff a bit to get you to sign up.  You can just go to their website and do it today.  

We ran a number of events this year, and I told all of my readers about them right here.  We had the online High Roller event in December, we just finished a larger online auction on 2/9, and on 2/4, with the shadow of Covid largely abated we held an in-person event at the Portland Country Club in Falmouth, Maine.  The entire effort was quite successful raising approximately $75,000 USD.  A lot of this came from the auction and raffles with items from 50 different product and service donors.  Those funds will be used this year by the MSA for fry stocking, spawning obstruction removal, cold water enhancement, smolt counts, parr electrofishing surveys, invasive species mitigation and advocating in front of the legislators and regulators on behalf of Atlantic salmon and their habitat.  The in-person dinner event provided the first chance in a while for the Atlantic salmon conservation party faithful to press the flesh and talk about our favorite fish.  It was really enjoyable.

Brad Burns introduces Zoom attendees to long-time MSA super-supporters Bud Bird and Marc Cabot

We held four raffles:

Choice of Sage fly rod – won by Jeff Sherer of Rhode Island

Luther Hall original painting – won by Kim Sharpe of New Brunswick

Choice of Rio fly line – won by Andy Dumaine of MA

Pair of Reddington zippered waders – won by Guido Mosca of NYC

Also at the Portland Country Club we heard from J. D. Irving.   I know that hearing anything from J. D. Irving is controversial, but we thought that it would be a lot better to listen to what J. D. Irving had to say than not.  Andrew Willett, their director of Sustainability and Indigenous Relations gave a solid presentation including photos of his fishing in a massive brown-out on the Restigouche which they followed up-stream in a helicopter to find a large area that another, name-less company had degraded with a number of illegal forestry practices.

Stacey Akeley, Debra Abbondanza, Dale Akeley and our volunteer dinner photographer Rick Abbondanza enjoying the evening.

I don’t think that anyone is ready to accept that J. D. Irving puts the salmon first in everything that they do, but I did come away believing that Irving is aware of all the issues, and that at the least conservation is high on the list as they constantly refine their work procedures.  It was certainly good to find out that Andrew is a salmon fisherman, and we already know that Jim Irving himself is passionate about salmon and sea run brook trout.  We saw some slides of things of older culverts being replaced by massive open bottomed culvert installations that are big enough to have a far more flow capacity than required and in which a natural river bottom exists.

The ecological side of salmon management is a complicated area, it probably takes an expert in the field to really understand and critique the stewardship of a company like J. D. Irving, but there is a lot to be gained in listening to all sides.  There was no time for questions on Saturday night, but I have asked Andrew for a statement about spraying glysophate, and in particular the effects on aquatic insects.   He said that he would get back to me.  I will report what I receive.

Herman Campbell relaxes on his porch on the Cains River late 1950s. Dougherty Rock in background – still there.

Here is something a little more fun to talk about.   How many who regularly fish for Atlantic salmon have thought about having their own little Miramichi hideaway, especially one that is a cabin on the property of the old Herman Campbell Outfitters on the Howard Road in Upper Blackville?  Herman was one of the river’s most famous outfitters, and for many years hosted many of the sport’s luminaries.

I have no stake at all in the sale of this property and pass the information on as a personal favor, but mostly because I think one of this blog’s readers might be glad to know about it.  So here goes:

The late Bud Hofer outside one of the now Salar Haven cabins during Bud’s first Miramichi trip in the mid 1950s.

Available cabin

Member Selling: Glenn Bushell                                          gbushell@northwestel.net   1 867-667-6630                Salar Haven is a private fishing club on the Main Southwest Miramichi River located approximately half-way between the confluence of the Cains River and the Upper Blackville Bridge.  There are 7 Camps with a main house that is occupied year-round with the Camp Manager living in Blackville.

Salar Haven has 3 private pools with very good spring and early season angling.  Another camp owner at Salar Haven, Dave Fenderson, says that SH is the perfect angling and recreational atmosphere for the entire family.

The asking price is a very reasonable $36,000 CA.

A nice traditional interior

Herman Campbell’s home pool/Salar Haven













Last, I’ll report on the letters written to Joyce Murray Minister of Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Gudie Hutchings Minister of Rural Economic Development.  My letters went out on January 13.  I have had no reply at all from anyone.  If anyone else has I’d love to know what you received.  The only reply that I have heard of from anyone was a boilerplate response from Gudie Hutchings office to a New Brunswick outfitter that said that salmon were managed by DFO…  I was told by someone who knows Hutchings’ staff that all letters will be looked into, but that it could take quite a while.  I suppose that is a lot better than completely disregarding them out of hand.  Time will tell where this ends up.

Thanks for reading.  Brad Burns

PS  If you enjoyed reading this blog you can sign up to receive notices of future blog posts at this link.  There is no fee and I don’t provide anyone with your contact information.


13 Comments on “Miramichi February Salmon Blog

    • Thanks Ken, glad to hear you liked it. I also got this comment from another friend from Scotland Nigel Griffiths. Nigel, actually from Wales, loved the Thurso so much that he ended up moving there.

      Hi Brad,
      I really enjoyed your latest blog, the picture of the old lobby at the hotel brings back many happy memories.
      Just to correct you on one point however, the Salmon above Eddies head was actually taken on the fly from Cruives Eye on beat 10, in 1923 i think! Forty Seven pounds, and it took a Dusty Miller tied on a 7/0 single iron. The Thurso’ record rod caught fish!

      I wish you tight lines on both your trips to the highlands this year.

      Kindest regards,


  1. A size 7/0 hook? Wow!
    DFO’s unresponsiveness is disappointing, but not surprising. Perhaps it’s time for a federal ombudsman (google “Canada time for a federal ombudsman”).
    Good luck in Scotland!

    • Pete – I know from buying tube fly double hooks before they were readily available here that UK sizes and American are not the same. I don’t know how much difference there would be on a UK 7/0 and US sizes. I tried googling it up but couldn’t find a comparison chart. The 1920s would be back in the day of much heavier rods, reels with crappy drags and a no release policy… It was man against fish! Brad

      • That wouldn’t have been a tube fly back then. That would have been one massive single hook. If you have access to a copy of Kelson’s “The Salmon Fly” there is a true to size chart of salmon hooks in it.

        • Most of the old fishing hotels that I’ve been to in Scotland have a framed presentation or two of feather wing salmon flies tied on 3, 4 or 5/0 salmon irons gathering dust on the walls. I’m sure you’re right, that was what people used in those days.

  2. Brad… Am I really reading that right?!? $36,000 CA?!? Or should it be $360,000? Or $3.6M? Did I dream this?!? Fred

    • You read it right. The Salar Haven camps probably represent the best value I know of for someone on a budget who wants their own spot on the river.

      • Howdy Brad,
        In response to the camp for $36,000.oo. I believe that is for the one members camp. The camp in the photo, yes-no!
        Anyway I finally latched onto your blog. And am liking it.
        So here is a little story-
        This google thing is quite an amazing tool, eh.
        How I came to discover your self and the book about the Cains River-Being interested in my families history involving, The Miramichi, Doctors Island, googling Paul O’Haire, well up pops page 67 of ” On The Cains “with a brief history of my dad, the island and the Cains river camp. The article contains information and stories which I had not previously heard. I thank you for that.
        My 4 brothers { Marshal,Geoffrey,Daniel and Richard } and I have great memories of running around the camps, most important-learning to fish- listening to tall tales and being coralled by the guides so we weren’t underfoot. You have to realize we were all just little gaffers in those days-seen not heard-. Max Vickers and I remained great friends through his lifetime.
        I thank you for your valuable time and the fond memories.
        Happy Day,
        Dave O’Haire

        • David – really great to get your e-mail. What a fascinating heritage you have. Paul O’Haire is still a very important name around the Blackville salmon fishing community. Your dad made a lasting mark. David Donahue is running the island now. He leases the cabins and the lodge to parties who want that sort of unique experience. It is very popular. He is also restoring the buildings while maintaining their rustic nature. Brad

  3. Howdy Brad,
    Yes I have been following the island on facebook and am quite impressed how they are restoring the cabins and keeping the history alive.
    If you are interested in more info about Doctors Island. Look magazine, December 3, 1963. The one with President Kennedy and his son on the cover.
    That is a very historic magazine for many reasons.
    There is a great article about the island. Which shows the sumptious dishes served there. Also a pic of Suren Ermoyan holding a 28 pound salmon caught at Merseraux Rocks hole. What never got mentioned is that Suren was using a dropper fly and hooked a large brook trout at the same time and it took a while to figure out why it put up such a fight.
    Incredible narative on American politics of the time and terrorists in Canada. Of course the advertisments of the day are so telling of the times to reflect upon.
    I will stop ramblings here.
    If you catch a copy, well, it is all very interesting.
    Happy Day
    Dave O’H.

  4. Hello Brad ,
    Thanks so much for your support of the MSA, I enjoy your updates on your salmon fishing trips to Scotland. I remember well the trip Karen and I took with you to the River Dee. Keep up the good work.
    Enjoying retirement from the Olympic Peninsula. Our daffodils are 3-4” high.
    Kal Kotkas……Shelton, WA

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