Opening Day on the Miramichi 2021

Some of the first anglers of the season leaving the lodge at Country Haven on a gorgeous April 15th morning.

Fishing Friends –

Nice salmon from SWM in Blackville.

All of a sudden the Atlantic salmon season on the Miramichi is open, and by all reports that I have opening day was a welcome success.  In addition to the great fishing reported the weather was sunny and comfortable and the river was at an excellent fishing height.  

Grilse on the line.

Jason Curtis took Bryan Burgess and his wife Mary Jane – new owners of Red Pine Camp down at Hell’s Gate – up the Cains River to Mahoney Brook for the trip they had purchased during the winter auction.

Bryan and Mary Jane Burgess at Mahoney Brook.

Though the river was lower than normal for this time of the season Jason made it all the way without a scrape.  They enjoyed a traditional lunch of hot dogs slathered in barbecue sauce, and toured the Cains River and its camps over the 20 miles from Mahoney Brook down to the mouth.  There wasn’t much time to fish, but they did do a little and landed one grilse and lost another.

Some serious fishing was done by Byron Coughlin’s guides and sports at Country Haven, and they were all smiles.  Axel Lurche landed a monster salmon.

Axel Lurche with huge hen kelt.

This fish looks to be 50 inches or more in length.  Very few fish this size are ever hooked during the bright season – perhaps big females like this are just too fixated on spawning – but in the spring they put on the feed bag to rebuild, and every now and then someone gets lucky.  That fish will drop down into the ocean and feed for as little as 90 days before being back as a consecutive spawner, or it may spend a full year at sea with the possibility of returning as a true Miramichi monster.  Biologists feel a lot of the decision revolves around the feeding.  I was on a zoom meeting this morning where Nathan Wilbur of the ASF commented on the good fishing yesterday, and he said that there were lots of smelts in the river.  That is just the thing to quickly rebuild these big kelts.

Ian Cavanagh with nice spring hookbill.

Perhaps it’s a testimony to how well the salmon overwintered in the river this year to see such a nice, large hookbill as this one caught by Ian Cavanagh in the spring fishery.  They are often few and far between in the spring.  They may either leave for the ocean early, or often fail to survive the winter due to the aggressive nature of the fall spawning ritual.  This one sure looks healthy.

I got an e-mail from Jeremy Scott, formally of Halifax, but now living in Moncton.  He is brand new to salmon fishing, and after reading about it in my blog booked some time at Country Haven.  He sent me pictures of several fish that he caught today including this one taken near Doctor’s Island.

Jeremy Scott with a hen salmon. These slightly darker colors are common early in the spring season. The fish seem to turn more silvery later and further down river.

Mahoney Brook camp showing banks swept clean by spring ice.

Byron Coughlin had reports from as far upriver as Blissfield, and down below Quarryville.  All reports were the same, and that was of the best opening day action in quite a few years.   Everyone was limiting out today.  This further validates the anecdotal reports of strong bright fish runs last summer and fall.

Wayne Curtis, whose writing many of you are familiar with, sent me this wonderful little story about his own opening day outing.  I’m sure you’ll enjoy it:

Brad – I went black salmon fishing today for the first time in years. I drove around to your lane, parked at the road and walked out past your camp to the river.  Boy your property is well groomed, not a blade of grass out of place. And you have some nice pine trees along the lane. You have built a sleeping camp since I was there. Anyway I walked down to the river and on down to Charlie’s Eddy where I used to fish with Harold Campbell and I casted from shore with a number two smelt. It was a warm day and I got a sunburn. I caught two grilse there in the eddy and then walked back, stopping at your little shed on the river bank to rest and have my sandwich and coffee from a thermos. Then I drove around to my own camp and played myself out raking pine needles. The river looked great today, but rather low for so early in the season. There were different shades of blue depending on where the breeze ruffled the surface. So I fished with the ghost of Harold Campbell. I hope the virus ends soon so things can get back to normal. But with no snow I wonder how low the river will get? 

Wayne Curtis 4/15/2021

A spring salmon scene 10 years ago of boats fishing a stretch called the Golden Horseshoe just upriver of Campbell’s Pool.

Unfortunately, due to Covid, very few people other than New Brunswick residents will get in on this early action.  Everyone is hoping that will change before bright salmon season, and the whisper date is July.  Let us pray.

The snow is out of the woods, and while we don’t know how much rain the next month will bring, favorable conditions for the summer run to begin could come early.  It will be interesting to see when the first bright fish are caught.  Jason Curtis caught one at Campbell’s last May 31, and perhaps we’ll see that again in 2021.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave a reply or ask questions below .  Brad Burns

13 Comments on “Opening Day on the Miramichi 2021

  1. Is there ANY word of ability to go to Red Bank from the US after the 21st??? Last year was the first time I missed fishing the black salmon in 36 years.

    • Robert – a friend from Fredericton said the Premiere was on TV this morning saying that he hoped to have the borders open for tourists by early summer.

      • Thanks for the quick reply Brad. Early summer sounds like I’ll miss my season (May 7 thru May 15). I guess I’ll have to cross my fingers and see if I can’t get up there later in the season. Too all my friends in Canada– Blessings from Boston. Take care and rest assured- This whole aggravating situation will all come to a end- sooner or later.

  2. Though I won’t be luck enough to join you this year, I only hope they open the season for you soon. Tight lines and keep in touch. Rick Sedeer.

  3. Nice pics and commentary. It seems last year’s light fishing pressure may have been good for the fish. With such limited snowpack and an early thaw, we should all pray for a rainy summer. (And for some help at border crossings.)
    Do females comprise most of the kelts caught because the males leave in the fall or drop back earlier under the ice? This would be consistent with their brown trout cousins, where males begin eating almost immediately after the spawn. Some say they never stop.

    • Jim – those are great questions. I know enough about it to say that I don’t believe anyone knows the answers to that for sure. I read in a Norwegian study that they felt that some of their male salmon went back to sea that fall, and some stayed for the winter. The theory is that winter under the ice is relatively safe even though there is nothing to eat. Returning to the sea in a weakened state is dangerous, but if you are weakened enough by spawning it is your only hope of surviving. Somehow they must instinctively make that determination. I know from talking to my friends in Scotland that they see a lot of dead males after spawning, but almost no females.
      It is also true that in good grilse years there are a great many grilse kelts caught, and those are over 80% male. Apparently the grilse survive better than the larger cock salmon. Brad

  4. Thanks Brad. We all have our fingers crossed—and since we are “anciens”- our vaccinations!

  5. although we missed yet another spring season , our friends, guides and our camp caretaker sent remarks and photos of their fishing day in the Carroll’s Crossing area between Doaktown and Boicetown and they all echoed what the folks all over the river reported – great fishing , beautiful weather , and just happy to be back on the river.
    Hope your whispers of an early summer border opening come true as we are aching to get back up to our camp and our friends there. (this was the second time in 39 years we missed out on the spring fishing- last year was the first
    Dave Townsend
    Messler’s Salmon Camp

  6. Hi Byron, just a picture of the river brings back great memories. Miss my days fishing and visits and hope things change for next spring. Regards to everyone.
    Barry Leeds

  7. Brad, I know that fishing for “kelts” or black salmon (downstream salmon in the spring) is very popular, BUT after looking at your pictures of these beaten up, skinny dark fish, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for them. After these poor fish have made it through the anglers in the fall, survived a cold winter under the ice to spawn in the spring, I thought that perhaps we should let them alone to swim back to the ocean with what little life, energy and strength that they have left? Ben Taylor

    • Ben – there is no question that the kelts look very poor compared to bright fish. From everything that I have heard and read, though, catch and release mortality is very small on these fish. Barbless hooks are required, and the cold water is full of oxygen. All of the salmon that are tagged by the MSA and ASF to record their trips to Greenland are angled first. After being caught on rod and line they are operated on and the tags inserted. They they are released. It is not unusual for 100% of the fish treated this way to make it out of the river and out through the last sets of receivers at the entrances to Miramichi Bay.
      Because of natural mortality in the ocean only a fraction of the kelts that leave the river will ever live to return anyway. When it is all added up the conservation impacts from the spring fishery are very small.

  8. Brad, I enjoyed your report as usual. President Robyn’s report mentions that a CAST Salmon Colloquium was held on April 16, but she didnt go into details. I have not heard very much recently of the experimental river work. Is this study still going on or has it been shut down? It is good to see that the MSA and the ASF are working together.
    The ice has melted on Long Lake up here in Sinclair quite early this year. Usually it happens around Mother’s day. There are quite a few fishermen early in the morning. The smelt have not started running as the water temperature is still to low [44 degrees]. Jack

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