For six days ending on May 28 Dawson Hovey of Fredericton and I fished the Cains, SW Miramichi, and NW Miramichi with guide Jason Curtis for the various species of game fish that are all available at this stage of the season. We caught both sea run and river-resident brook trout, lots of striped bass, and danced with salmon, but were unsuccessful in boating either a kelt or a bright fish. It was very late for kelts – though a few are still around – and very early for bright fish – though the beginnings of the run were entering the rivers towards the end of our trip.
The weather in New Brunswick was more or less a continuation of the below normal temps that have existed in Maine and New Brunswick all spring, and more of that is forecast. We did have some sunny days, but they were really cold. Additionally, water flow down the brooks and tributaries is still heavier than normal, and we had no trouble running a jet Sharpe canoe all the way up beyond our Mahoney Brook camp on the Cains River. Still I really love this time of the year. We could see the foliage progressing daily from just a hint of green and big red maple buds to a fairly full cover of young leaves by the time we left. The spring bird life in New Brunswick is incredible, and beginning before daybreak a veritable din of bird song pours in through any open window. I had a new personal first for me, as on Tuesday morning I spotted a Baltimore oriole in an old apple tree near my camp.
It was a rainy day on Sunday, and we decided that instead of fishing we would take a ride and visit a couple of Dawson’s friends near Boiestown. Dawson’s son Tristan was also there, and we had a nice tour of the Kenmore Club. From there, Dawson and I drove the rest of the way out to Rocky Brook where Blake Munn gave us a great tour of this famous salmon camp.
I’ll be fishing the Miramichi again beginning on June 11th, and when I return in July I’ll do a wrap up blog on the early summer fishing. I have been keeping up a fairly consistent daily update on my Brad Burns Fishing blog called The Miramichi Salmon Report. Here is the link https://www.bradburnsfishing.com/miramichi-salmon-report/. I report on fishing activity, water conditions, flies that are working, and other activity that I hear along the river. It’s as close as you will get without being there.
The population of sea run brook, which less than 10 years ago was quite robust in many locations within the Miramichi watershed, has now fallen on hard times. Most fingers point to the outsized population of striped bass that can gobble up all but the very largest brook trout. The sea run brookies must share the lower estuary with striped bass during much of the year. The argument that the sea run brook trout problem is due to striped bass is especially compelling when you realize that the brookies are just one more fish on the list that was formally reasonably abundant, but have become very scarce in lock step with the increase in bass.
We caught brook trout both in the SW Miramichi and in the Cains River, but the sea runs came from well up within the Cains. We caught nothing at the mouth of the Sabbies River, but the caretaker there said that he watched two anglers catch several 15” to 16” sea run brook trout there a few days before. Later that day we caught two that size ourselves near Six Mile brook, 10 miles or so further up the river. We flailed away in several other locations without a touch, though we did get a few other resident trout from several locations. The lucky fly for me on the sea runs was an old Maine fly called the Barnes Special fished on a 150 grain Teeny line.
Byron Coughlin of Country Haven sent me a text my first night in camp that said that they were still catching kelts in the lower SW Miramichi. I didn’t fish specifically for kelts during this trip, but I did fish some spots where we at least half expected to hook one – but with no luck. Fishermen on the NW Miramichi began seeing early bright salmon jumping near the head of tide this last week.
A few days before the end of the trip we saw DFO employees putting the net on the Cassilis trapnet framework. We heard later that some fresh salmon had been captured in the net the next day.
My last day in camp, while Dawson fished for stripers on the NWM, I fished all day in hopes of running across a bright salmon on the SW Miramichi. I worked the high water side of Doctor’s Island as well as Campbell’s and Keenan’s. At 5:00 PM, just as I was getting ready to hang it up, a beautiful bright fish jumped out perhaps 150 feet directly downstream from the stern of our canoe. I spent another hour and a half on the river making a complete repeat pass through the pool, but as they say in the U. K. with no joy.
As I reported in blogs written earlier this year, there are a number of factors that leave me modestly optimistic for the 2019 Miramichi salmon run. A new one to emerge is that the Varzuga River on the Kola Peninsula where I fished at this time the last couple of years is reporting a year like old times. That was not the case in 2016, 17 or 18.
The short word on the striped bass season on the Miramichi is not particularly good, at least through Tuesday. The buzz among striper anglers all this spring has been that the body of fish expected has just not been there, either up on the spawning grounds or further down river. Reports I received today, though, say that the number of fish on the furthest upriver portion of the spawning grounds has picked up. The lateness in fish reaching the spawning area is blamed largely on cold weather.
We had mixed success in our fishing. One day we caught only a handful of fish, and many other anglers returned from fishing empty handed. On a couple of other days we had 60-odd bass of various sizes. Even on those days, however, it seemed like almost all of the fish were being caught in a tiny portion of the area whereas in past years the whole 6 or 7 miles of spawning stretch seemed to be stuffed with stripers.
Two of us casting had about 150 stripers in 3 ½ days of fishing. Among those fish the largest was 36 inches or 90 cm. We landed only 8 or 10 stripers that were larger than the 26”/65cm upper slot limit size. It was work to get our 3 fish per angler limit each day and one day we caught none in the slot. On the other hand there were no really small bass. I’d say the smallest that we landed was about 16 inches. On the Chesapeake Bay spawning grounds males become sexually mature at two years of age, and there are many 12 and 14 inch male fish there trying to spawn with the females. For whatever reason we did not see that on the Miramichi.
We have hoped that the salmon smolts, which are also late due to heavy flows of cold water, would have better luck making it to sea with a reduced amount of stripers present. It remains to be seen how that will work out.
I think that for most of us, the older we get the more important the non-fishing part of our river time becomes. Dawson has a long-time friend Bill MacKay, who lives upriver in Hayesville. We visited Bill and his wife Joan at their home overlooking the river. Bill is 84, but strong, quick, and can still pole a canoe. He worked for more than 30 years at Rocky Brook where he guided many well-heeled clients. I liked all of them he said with a broad smile. We talked about his competition in canoe races paired with his neighbor Mervin Green – long-time manager of nearby Salmon Brook Camp – when they defeated the equally acclaimed team of Pat and John Brophy on the Doaktown to Blackville run. They went down one side of an island said Bill, and we went the other, and that helped them, but after we came out the other side we soon caught them and won the race that day.
After visiting the MacKays we drove north across the Miramichi and up to Rocky Brook. For those not familiar with it Rocky Brook is a major tributary of the SW Miramichi, and a small salmon river in its own right with secluded pools located well upriver from the camps. Rocky Brook itself as well as the Miramichi waters in the area have long provided very comfortable fishing for up to 8 anglers. The fast-flowing, cool-water-buffered areas surrounding Rocky Brook offer much better mid-summer angling than lower stretches of the river that excel in the early season and during the fall fishery. At Rocky Brook we had a great tour of the facilities by 30 year employee Blake Munn. For a salmon angler, visiting the famous camps, seeing the perfectly maintained infrastructure, and looking over this storied stretch of the river is nearly a religious experience. Rocky Brook is only fished by invitation. Normally it is available exclusively to clients of International Paper that owns the camps and the private fishing along a big stretch of the upper river. Frequently, though, trips are donated to conservation organizations for their auctions, and many people get to fish the water in that way.
Check out this little video of the Rocky Brook smolt wheel in operation. Blake said they got a beaver in it once, causing quite a commotion on its way to being released…