Miramichi: Salmon, Smelts, Smolts, and Scotland Northern Highlands Report


Kathleen Vickery, daughter of MSA US director John Vickery Jr. proudly displays her first Miramichi salmon.

Fishing Friends:

I’ve got a number of salmon news items today that I hope you’ll find interesting.  First of all is a report on the Miramichi spring salmon season.  The word is now getting out that 2023 was the best spring salmon season in some years.  I’ve been in touch with Country Haven, The Ledges, Upper Oxbow Adventures, Black Brook Salmon Club, Wilson’s plus individual fishermen, and they all report limit catches, often for days in a row.  The fish are all spread out too, with The Ledges Reporting that their last group of sports in Doaktown hooked 40 fish, and other photos I’ve received showing fish being caught below the Quarryville Bridge.  This is close to 50 river miles, and all of it holding fish.  Most of these have been salmon as opposed to grilse, but Charles Foster reported more grilse than salmon from his trip to Blissfield, and Pete Howell had three grilse and a salmon in one session at Black Brook.  The fish really do seem to be in excellent condition, and we can hope it was a good year for spawning with a light ice cover that shouldn’t have scraped out many redds.

Pete Maher with another very good Miramichi salmon.

Eddie Colford of Black Brook reported that Pete Howell caught a smelt in front of the old Wade’s Fishing Lodge, some 18 miles upriver from tide water!  Eddie also said that salmon were surfacing there the evening before, and he thought they might be feeding.  He now believes that the salmon were feeding on smelts.  He’s been fishing on the river all his life and has never seen smelts that far upriver.  It may not mean anything, especially with the poor smelt report for last winter that I got from Miramichi Bay, but we take all positive reports to heart.  Smelts are very important for reconditioning salmon kelts, and repeat spawning salmon make up a very substantial percentage of egg deposition in the Miramichi.

John Vickery photo of Renous Special spring salmon flies.

I recall reading that it can be 40% or more of of all the eggs deposited in a given year.  Additionally repeat spawners make up essentially 100% of the salmon larger than 15 pounds that are caught on the Miramichi.  Some of these fish really do get pretty big.  Rip Cunningham and Pete Maher were at Black Brook this last week, and Rip, who has caught many large fish in his lifetime, said that at least one he hooked, but ended up losing, seemed like it was going to spool him!

Traditionally the spring salmon season runs until May 15, so we have two weeks to go.  There is still time get up here and get in a few days on the river.  Speaking of booking time with an outfitter, I noted that FishPal Miramichi has already booked as many days of fishing in 2023 as they did all of last season.  This has to be a great bonus to the outfitters who are participating.  If you are an individual guide, or have a fishing lodge that is not listed on FishPal, please let me know.  You could be listed on FishPal too.  Open the FishPal Miramichi link and check it all out.  If you have any questions please send me an e-mail at bigbass@maine.rr.com.  If you prefer to talk directly with the outfitter, all of their contact information and links to the lodge’s website can be found under their listing in Fisheries in the upper left of home page menu.

While you are on FishPal you will get a request to sign up for rod availability alerts.  I got one the other day with some July dates that have just become available at Ted Williams White Birch Lodge.  These alerts are free, fun to get and keep you in touch with the river.

Cut and paste of the e-mail rod alert from FishPal Miramichi for the Ted Williams White Birch Lodge.

It is known and accepted by virtually everyone but DFO that smolt predation by striped bass is one of the key issues in salmon declines in the Miramichi.   While I am a strong advocate of supplementing the salmon stocks with hatchery born fry using the best of modern techniques, there may be other things that we can do to help.  On the River Spey in Scotland they too have what they call “pinch points” in the river where they can document high mortality of smolts.  A huge pinch point is known by years of acoustic tagging data to exist in the Miramichi where the highest concentration of striped bass spawn.

Starting this year in the Spey River the Spey River Fishery Board has a new project called Save Our Smolts.  They are going to live-trap large quantities of smolts, put them in tank trucks, and transport them around the pinch point placing them back in the river below the dangerous area.  The MSA is aware of this concept, and we will be discussing the feasibility of it in meetings later this month.

MSA Smolt wheel in action. It is possible that extra smolts can be herded into smolt wheels by lines of air bubbles.

A companion to the pinch point work is call Smolt Shepherding.  With this volunteers spend time on the river during the peak of the smolt migration driving off fishing eating birds and fishing for any predators such as smallmouth bass and striped bass that may be available.  This would allow interested members of the public to do some valuable volunteer work.   Hopefully these projects are workable, and we can do something with them for the 2024 season.

I’ve known Rod McGarry for many years.  Rod was a highly successful insurance executive who found that his real love was training and mentoring others in communications skills.  Rod also had a passion for fly fishing, and he combined the two into a second career.   Fly Line Podcast host Michael Jones recently interviewed Rod and that podcast – along with others – is now available by clicking the Episodes link in the home page menu on the right top edge of the website.  I listened to it yesterday.  I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

It’s fun to track the progress of Scotland’s fishing for springers, and it may be somewhat indicative of the amount of bright fish that will arrive in the Miramichi a month or so from now.  Michael Wigan from the River Helmsdale e-mailed me today with a recent report of 20 bright salmon for the week.  This past week at Michael’s property, Borrobol Estate, their two rods landed 2 18 and one 17-pound salmon.  Those are impressive springers that I can promise you gave a terrific account of themselves before being netted and released.

Jason Curtis holds a large late-June salmon from Keenan’s Pool.

I also heard from Geordie Doull, manager of the Thurso River – located not far from the Helmsdale – and he was very pleased with their week of 28 salmon.  Their April total ended up well above both the 5 and 10 year averages for the river.  He said that really good numbers of fresh springers were seen entering the river during this last week.  Good news to everyone!

I’ll do a wrap up of the spring fishing season in a couple of weeks, and then we’ll begin the countdown looking for those first bright salmon along with some sea run brookies.  Meanwhile I am doing regular updates to both the FishPal weekly reports and the Salmon Report of river conditions and fishing news at this link on my own website.

Fish on in Keenan’s Pool.  It won’t be too long now…

Thanks for reading.  Brad Burns


One Comment on “Miramichi: Salmon, Smelts, Smolts, and Scotland Northern Highlands Report

  1. Great report Brad. It is uplifting to hear about the strong start to the spring salmon season on the Miramichi.
    It sure would be nice if someday we could see some of the creative ideas you mention put into action to preserve the population of Atlantic salmon. Thank you for all of your efforts to make positive progress.

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