Miramichi Salmon Blog – Winter Begins

Mahoney Brook camp 12/7/2020 photo Jason Curtis

The activity, including the just plain chatter, that normally accompanies Miramichi fall salmon fishing was the quietest during 2020 that I can remember.  Certainly a lot of that has to do with Covid and the lack of non-resident anglers.  Normally the fly shops in Doaktown and Blackville are buzzing with people that you see every fall, as well as new faces on the river.  I wasn’t there to see for myself, but from all reports it was very quiet.  Even the fall rains were small and uneventful, barely enough to provide good spawning access to the tributaries.  The fish were there, though, and all the lodges reported excellent fishing towards the end of the season.  According to Jason Curtis – who knows what he is looking at, and has a ringside seat to witness salmon moving up the SW Miramichi – salmon continued to enter the river strongly for a week or so after the season closed.

As Country Haven guide Jeremy Vickers knows, the 2020 Miramichi season had its share of monsters.

A short while ago I received an e-mail from Eddie Colford, head guide at the Black Brook Salmon Club.  Here’s exactly what Eddie had to say:  September and October were really good fishing, and the late raise in the water was good to put the fish up the Cains. The last couple weeks of the season we were getting a lot of male Cains grilse. To me the fish run was good this year. Just hoping to get things back to normal next year. There also was some big Salmon, Alex my son landed one at 34 and a lot of other fishermen who had the water rented never seen the like of the big fish.

I would add to Eddie’s comments that the catch at Campbell’s this year, while less than half of a normal year due to the lack of fishermen, was comprised of 69% grilse whereas the average for the previous 5 years had been only 62%.  While anything but conclusive evidence, I take this, along with the evidence of our catches and observations, as an indication that the grilse numbers were improved in 2020.  All of the positive reports from 2020 have motivated me to book two spring salmon trips to the Miramichi for late April 2021 rather my normal single trip.  I think spring fishing will be quite popular this coming spring, so now is the time to call one of the outfitters and book some time.  Country Haven, Upper Oxbow, The Ledges, and Wilson’s – that I know of – are all good spring fishing outfitters.

This year’s ultra-low water is essentially unparalleled, with levels continuously below .5 meters from 7/15 to 10/15.

The record low water all came to an end with a good rain on October 15, and then a very big rain on December 1st.  The river had settled down to a worrisome spawning height of only .5 between these events, but the second rain averaged around 100mm or 4 inches over much of the valley.  A lot of folks connected with the river feared that the already wet ground would send the Miramichi out of its banks, but thankfully it didn’t happen.  Largely, I believe, we were spared because the headwaters areas received less rain than the Cains valley and the lower Miramichi River.  They still had a big rain in the headwaters, but more like 60mm or a bit over 2 inches – half of the lower river.  The water rose to 5.3 meters, well shy of the 6.5 meters or more needed to head over the banks at Campbell’s Pool and to flood the interval, as it has in a number of recent years.  It was stunning how rapidly the river rose from around 1 meter to 5.3.  It hardly took 24 hours to come up roughly 14 feet!  And, it went down very rapidly also.  I’m not an expert, but I suppose this is evidence of the clear cutting throughout the watershed.  It does seem like these raises run off much faster than they used to even in my relatively brief time on the river.

A big raise, but in several recent years we have seen water over the top of the bank at Campbell’s. The water has been a couple of feet up the sides of that little white shed.

We had a decent run of both large salmon and grilse in 2020, and we will hope that they worked their magic on the spawning grounds, and that conditions will allow for strong numbers of fry next spring.  Also, let us hope that whatever happened in the ocean during the winter of 2019/2020 will again happen this winter, and that next summer’s run will be another step in the right direction.

Miramichi USA Salmon Celebration 2021 “Save the Date” – Rip Cunningham, Gary Tanner, Ralph Vitale, David Fenderson, Butch Dalton from Canada, and myself have been hard at work on putting together an event that you won’t want to miss.  First, there will be an auction with lots of great items and fishing up for bids.  This will run from noon on Sunday Feb 14th to 5:00 PM Sunday Feb 28th.  You’ll be able to register before and during the auction.

The most exciting news is that a special Celebration event will take place at 7:00 PM on Saturday night Feb 20.   This will be a Zoom/Webinar event that will feature presentations by some of the top names in Atlantic Salmon fishing.  Background for the event will be movies and photographs – both modern and historical – of Miramichi scenes, people, and fishing.  Here are some of the presentations that you will see:

  • A chat with Joan Wulff and Ted Rogowski
  • History of the Miramichi salmon fishery by Morris Green of the Atlantic Salmon Museum
  • Spey casting with Topher Browne
  • Presentations by fishing personalities April Vokey and Deirdre Green
  • Club histories of the Black Brook Salmon Club and the Doctors Island Club by Rip Cunningham and Pat Boland
  • Miramichi fishing with Bryant Freeman
  • A message from Robyn McCallum the incoming president of the Miramichi Salmon Association.
  • Remembering Wade’s Fishing Lodge with Dr. David Wade and Emery Brophy
  • Top Miramichi outfitters with Byron Coughlin of Country Haven, Debbie Norton of Upper Oxbow Adventures, Keith Wilson of Wilson’s, and Andrew Anthony of The Ledges
  • Miramichi salmon art with John Swan and Luther Hall
  • Readings from On the Cains by Brad Burns

Deirdre Green with a nice Miramichi grilse from the 2020 fall run.

There will be no charge to view the Miramichi Salmon Celebration, though donations are gladly received.  All donations over $50 will enter the donor into a raffle for a Luther Hall original painting being designed right now for the event.

It’s Christmas – Signed copies of On the Cains: Atlantic Salmon and Sea Run Brook Trout on the Miramichi’s Greatest Tributary can be purchased from my website at this link.  There is also a combination special with a copy of Closing the Season available for half price if purchased along with On the Cains that is available from the menu at the top of the website page.

Happy Holidays, and happy planning of next season’s Atlantic salmon fishing!

Thanks for reading.  Brad Burns

25 Comments on “Miramichi Salmon Blog – Winter Begins

  1. Quite a program scheduled for the Saturday 2/20 virtual event. Very well done! Won’t miss it.

  2. Yup. Just as our friends South of the Canadian boarder, there are a handful of European camp owners in the Miramichi, who are longing to be back on the river in 2021 …
    Quite happy to hear that despite of historically low water levels, 2020 provided some good fishing to those who could.

    John Stucki – Geneva/Switzerland

  3. Hi Brad
    Thanks for the great salmon news. First time in 38 years I didn’t get to our camp ! Ugh!!
    I agree with you about the spring. If we can get across the border I think we’ll have great fishing(given that we have decent water conditions— which is always a crap shoot)
    Have already started winding up some new marabou tube flies!

  4. Hi Brad,
    Thanks for the good report. Hope the Canadian government will let us in by the end of April.
    Have a safe winter.

  5. Great update as always Brad and looking forward to the Zoom event! If the border does open this spring and I hope it does for the sake of both fisherman, outfitters and guides (even though I live here in NB) it wouldn’t surprise me that it might depend on whether or not you have been administered the vaccine … I’m not a Dr. so just speculating here but something to be mindful of. Based on what I hear re the vaccine rollout here it’s still going to take some time for enough people to get it to be effective. Here’s hoping all the same! Tightlines!

    • Great to hear from you Ian. Yes, here’s hoping all the same. I will say, though, that friends of mine in England are already getting the vaccine. Another friend who lives in MA, and is a couple of years older than me said the schedule in his state has him getting the vaccine in March.

  6. Read your books in short order…having fished the Miramichi and Cains for over 37 years I found them quite interesting and informative. Thanks for keeping us salmon fishermen up to date with your Blogs. Hopefully I’ll get up to my camp on 2021!

      • Main Southwest Miramichi….Swinging Bridge and Bridge Pool Upper Blackville

        • Those are well known pools, congratulations. Hopefully the vaccine will clear up our problems and we’ll be able to enjoy some time up there this year. Brad

          • I would be willing to donate some days at the Bridge Pool for your Miramichi USA auction if it would help.

  7. Hi Brad,

    What a great idea for the virtual event and auction. After winning the rod last year, I had all intentions of trying it out on New Brunswick salmon. Here’s hoping for a 2021 season.

    Topher Browne was scheduled to do a spey casting clinic at Eldridge Brothers Fly Shop but they canceled it.

  8. Thank you for putting this out, I got your book on the Cains and will read it over winter looking forward to that the zoom meeting sounds wonderful! That’s how we are meeting at the Connecticut Fly Fishermen’s Association and it works well and keeps us in touch

  9. Fabulous blog post, Brad. I am lost for words sincerely!
    Came to it a bit late but have sent a link to a new salmon fishing friend who wants to perhaps come out next September with me (& Christopher L I hope).

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