Spawning is everything. For the Atlantic salmon all the skills fighting all those perils of predators, migration and severe conditions leads to this one biological act of depositing fertilized eggs in deep holes in a stream, and covering them over with 15 cm. to 30 cm. of gravel. That is the biological miracle of Atlantic salmon.
For anglers, river managers and those dependent economically on this miracle of the salmon, it can be called in-river production. Reduced to impersonal numbers, it predicts whether salmon runs will survive in the long term, or fade into extirpation, with a loss to a river's living food web.
This spawning event is taking place in one river or another as you read this. Related to rivers reaching 4 C to 6 C, in North America, Atlantic salmon begin spawning around the third week in Oct., although in many rivers it occurs a bit later, up to the middle of November.
DNA evidence shows that Atlantic salmon often return to the same short stretch of headwaters stream in which they were born.
The females dig a "redd" in suitable gravels, and have one or two nests within that redd. Grilse, smaller salmon having spent one winter at sea, tend to dig perhaps two redds during the spawning, while the larger multi-sea-winter salmon may dig three or four redds. A female may lay about 1,500 eggs for each kg. of her body weight.
The fertilization by the males has an interesting twist. While the full-sized males strain to provide the sperm to fertilize the eggs as the female lays them, there are also precocious parr hanging around. In some rivers as much as 30 per cent or more of the fertilization is done by these little guys - male parr that put all their energy into becoming sexually mature without ever leaving the rivers. When the adult male isn't looking they will dart in and fertilize a portion of the eggs.
After, the female covers the eggs with gravel, and the sign of the salmon's redd is often easy to see as a lighter patch of gravel on the stream bottom. Through the winter the eggs are protected under the gravel, hatching as alevin in spring, spending about a month in the gravels absorbing the yolk sac, and they wiggling up between the pebbles to the stream above.
It all seems like such a miracle of nature. And it is taking place right now - in hundreds of Atlantic salmon river.
Redd in the gravels of a stream feeding the Cheticamp River in Cape Breton. The lighter coloured gravels are the giveaway.
A technique being experimented with in Maine is forcing water down through gravels in mid-winter and planting eggs. There is no consensus yet whether this is a viable way to boost population or not. Are there DNA impacts from even the first few months in a hatchery, as there are for salmon raised to smolt or adult stage there.
The video below is from the Pleasant River in downeast Maine.
Maine keeps up the count on their web page regularly. But now with the runs completed, the numbers can be seen in the table below.
With the Conservation Limit (CL) for the Penobscot being 17,018, and the full return 762 (Milford and Orono counts), that is far below that challenging figure. But as recent years go, 2018 had respectable returns - something that can be built on.
With just a very few rivers still open to angler, thoughts are turning to the future success of Atlantic salmon - and preparing for 2019's season.
Autumn live release on the Cains River, tributary of the Southwest Miramichi. Nathan Wilbur/ASF
Brock Curtis of Curtis Miramichi Outfitters in Blackville, says:
Things are quiet here on the Miramichi now that the angling season is closed. We enjoyed a beautiful Fall but now colours are beyond their peak stage and quite a few leaves are falling. River levels have dropped again and we need rain. While some camp owners are reluctantly winterizing their cabins for another season, there are those who continue to stay throughout the Fall and enjoy the bird and big game hunting or just spend time on the trails with ATV's appreciating the woods and scenery.
Though the angling season is over, I always look forward to this time of year to experience headwater areas where the salmon are spawning. We are lucky as they generally spawn in front of our cabin. There are also other areas close by that we keep an eye on for spawning activity. This happens quite fast so can be over before you get a chance to see it.
The end of every angling season tends to be a time anglers reflect on the season, the salmon returns, river levels, water temperatures , etc. The one thing though that has become apparent here on the Miramichi as I talk to anglers, lodge owners, guides, etc is the impact the striped bass are having upon the salmon fishery.
A common question and probably the most important issue everyone is asking is - what is being done to protect and save our precious salmon from the striped bass? I really couldn't count the number of times I have heard this question. I do sense though that people are at a point that they want to know what is being done. Hopefully we will get answers soon. I encourage anglers to support their conservation groups. They need your support and are the best means in protecting this precious resource.
Enjoy the off season and don't forget to prep your equipment before storage.
There is an active assessment program on the Petitcodiac system, and lately they have had a number of Atlantic salmon. This field work is coordinated and run by Edmund Redfield, and with some fish predators tearing nets, plus fluctuating tidal heights, he has done a superb job of keeping this project on track.
Most Atlantic salmon have been trapped recently, and seem to be individuals from the Fundy Salmon Recovery Program releases of adults. Four adults were noted in an email sent out Oct. 16.
One of the Atlantic salmon captured on Oct. 16 in the Petitcodiac River system.
On Oct. 22 there was another curiosity - a very large parr (17.5 cm) without any tagging. The suggestion is that it is actually a precocious parr that was not stocked.
Large parr found in the net on Oct. 22. Is it a precocious parr from further up the system?
PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND
Taylor Main of PEI has these notes about the past week:
As we enter into the final week of the salmon angling season things are finally starting to pick up somewhat. We have been very fortunate to have had perfect conditions since the second week of October and are finally starting to see some fish around. The last week of the season should be interesting to say the least.
A fine Morell River specimen measuring 32 in. 11 Oct 2018. Taylor Main photo.
This was supposed to be the big year for returns on the Morell River as it will be the first year we see MSW fish returning from the salmon fry stocking program led by the Abegweit Conservation Society's Fish Hatchery. With the main run being very late the final redd surveys in late November will tell the tale.
Northumberland Strait Rivers
These rivers are doing much better in 2018, thanks to higher water levels.
Gerry Doucet, President of the Antigonish Rivers Association has the following notes:
The rains have arrived and the salmon anglers are happy. While some of the Northumberland rivers closer to the New Brunswick border have had less rain than the rivers east of them, all rivers are fishing. Days of multiple hook-ups are being bragged about by numerous anglers.
Returns are strong and the fishers are find success throughout the whole river systems. Classic fall pattern fly selections are productive. Rain gear and warm clothes are a must, as morning temperature are chilly.
Another low pressure system this week is adding to the sustained positive river levels and will serve to charge the rivers through the weekend angling.
Saturday Oct. 20th saw the successful completion of the Antigonish Salmon Charity Dinner. This activity included afternoon events with fly casting demonstrations, tours of the Antigonish County rivers to view the recent restoration and enhancement projects, and a free BBQ. The day was capped off by a sold-out Dinner that evening with proceeds going to fund further river projects of the St. Mary’s River Association, The Antigonish Rivers Association and the Nova Scotia Salmon Association. The Dinner Committee would like to thank all that attended and donated to this worthy cause.
West River Pictou on Oct. 15, 2018 Photo Lewis Hinks/ASF
Jesse Gravel has the following. Mostly he fishes the western set of rivers in this group:
The fall salmon angling has definitely picked up over the past week and a half. I decided to head to the West Pictou River for a good part of the day Saturday. Word was there was lots of action throughout the whole week; everything from trout, grilse, and a confirmed 40" buck were caught on the river.
By Saturday the water had settled down quite a bit and so did the salmon, although multiple fish were still being caught. I was lucky enough to hook and land a beautiful, thick and healthy 15 lb hen that morning. She slipped out of my control before I could get a picture. I wasn't willing to potentially injure a fish that was to be released when she wanted to go.
Shortly after, I hooked into another salmon which, judging by the size of the tail when it turned and broke my leader, seemed to be a few pounds heavier than the first salmon. The first fish was taken on a Green Slime fly, second was on a Canary. Neither fish hesitated to hammer the flies just under the surface. Bright colours were definitely the most successful flies.
A reminder to those out enjoying the rivers for the last few days of salmon angling: RIFLE SEASON for deer opens on Friday so it is essential to wear something blaze orange.
Some exceptional rain fell and the Margaree rose two metres!
Greg Lovely had this to say earlier in the week:
I went out for three hours fishing today. Water was very cold and high. I saw fish but did not hook up. Cranton Bridge was closed for four days while I was away in Halifax, pending a safety inspection after last week's deluge. The river came up two metres.
There were some successful anglers in the rain. Check this out:
Steve Morin brought in and released this healthy hen salmon of about 20 lb. on Saturday. Photo from Alex Breckenridge's "The Tying Scotsman" Facebook page.
"Oops Moments" happen.
DFO reports that the late run of salmon held up below the bridge at the mouth of Campbellton River (NL) has now passed up river and through the counter. Data from the counter are now being reviewed and the official count from the river will be made available at the Regional Salmon Advisory meeting in March. DFO also reports that an error was made in their previous report to ASF regarding the number of kelts that left the river in 2018. The actual number was 327, well below the number of salmon counted entering the river the previous year.
FINAL PHOTOS OF THE WEEK - MORE REDDS
René Aucoin points out a redd on the Cheticamp River in late 2017.
Manu Esteve's footage of spawning Atlantic salmon in the Nansa River in northern Spain.
Near the end of the video, notice the precocious parr hanging around.