ASF RiverNotes 31 Oct 2019

Oct 31, 2019
Braxton, Matt and Mark Dort celebrate the Atlantic salmon being released on the West River Antigonish this past week. Photo from Matt Dort

Northumberland Strait Rivers in 2019

Nova Scotia's Northumberland Strait rivers, essentially between the NB border and the causeway to Cape Breton, have a magic all their own. They are short, and do not have a great many pools. As a result, these salmon populations rely on good fall rains, and a nearly straight run from the ocean to their spawning areas. As always, there are exceptions, but that is the general truth.

These are somewhat intimate rivers, where you can get to know a segment of the river, and the far shore is not far away. The trees, the water, and the fish are all close by.

These are also rivers not far from population centres, and for this reason are a great opportunity for introducing youngsters to the special magic of fly fishing, rivers, and a place that in mindset is a world away from Netflix and computer games. These really are fun rivers to explore.

But compared to rivers on either side - the Margaree to the northeast in Cape Breton and the Miramichi to the west, these rivers are not well studied in an ongoing basis. There is some sampling of juveniles, and of tagged adults, but basically DFO studies rely on too much mathematical supposition and direct counts on a consistent basis are in too short supply. These are important rivers, with a unique population that deserves more attention.
Mark and Braxton Dort on the West River Antigonish. Photo Matt Dort
The Northumberland Strait rivers may generally be known for their lower "muddy" stretches, but in years with good fall water, they are very important spawining waters for Atlantic salmon. Segment of map from ASF Map of North American Salmon Rivers, 2019.
Matt Dort says this week of the Northumberland Strait rivers:

We are now into our final week of Atlantic salmon fishing along the Strait rivers. From speaking to many anglers and personal observations over the past few weeks, it has been a great year.

Many anglers are stating they had their best season in the past 10 years and a lot of new anglers to the sport are reporting their first Atlantic Salmon.

The West River in Antigonish continued with its hot trend with many fish being hooked last week. Things have slowed down a bit over the weekend and redds are now being observed in the upper river.

On the Barney’s River, some anglers were reporting multi-fish days last week. Most of the fish were dark and it appears the bulk of the run came in mid-October.

The River Phillip and Wallace also were popular spots for fishers and fish last week. However, the catching appears to have slowed down a bit over the weekend and redds are being observed.

Similar reports are coming from the East and West rivers in Pictou County. Fishing has slowed down a bit with the majority of the run coming in mid October with only a few fresh fish showing up now.
Barney's River has great water, and multi-fish days have been reported. Photo Matt Dort
Alan Harlow is another Atlantic salmon angler and conservationist who takes great pleasure in introducing his own and other children to the spell woven by Atlantic salmon rivers. Most recently, a few images from time spent on the River Philip, towards the western end of these Northumberland Strait rivers.
Colby, Nathan and Tyler Harlow stand prepared for the waters of River Philip. Tyler is using a 13 ft. Spey rod on this occasion. Photo Alan Harlow
Nathan Judge and his father Jamie Judge prepare to release a very nice Atlantic salmon on the River Philip last Friday. Photo Alan Harlow
Jakob Lorefice and Gerry Doucet releasing a nice salmon this past Saturday, his second that morning, on the West River that flows through Antigonish. Jakob Lorefice is a Grade 11 student and a member of Canada’s Junior National Fly Fishing Team. Gerry Doucet is a director and volunteer with the Antigonish Rivers Association. Photo Jakob Lorefice
Margaree River

Greg Lovely notes:

Most of the fishermen have left, and the trout and a few salmon are spawning.

All in all it was a good year on the Margaree and it is a beautiful time of year to get out and see salmon and trout continuing their life cycle.

Note that Atlantic salmon can excavate redds down 20 cm to 30 cm., and occasionally deeper, and after eggs are deposited, they fill it in. 
A large Atlantic salmon redd photographed by Greg Lovely on a tributary of the Margaree this week. Photo Greg Lovely
Reconstructed berm at Breakwater Pool on the Northeast Margaree. Photo Paul MacNeil, vice-president of the Margaree Salmon Association

Prince Edward Island

Taylor Main in PEI says:

As the season winds down for another year it's become apparent that we've had a repeat of last year where there just weren't a lot of fish around.

The main difference was that the fishing was fantastic from the last week of September right through to Thanksgiving and then fell off after that despite decent conditions. It would seem that most of the fish that were hanging around in early October moved on with the rain that fell over Thanksgiving weekend and the bulk have just started to trickle in now, as evident by sea lice present on most of the more recent fish to be taken.
A small male salmon taken in early October. Taylor Main Photo
Taylor Main continues:

It will be interesting to see what the redd surveys show in the next month but the outcome will likely be that we still have stable numbers but the main run of fish continues to return later and later each year. With any luck a number of rivers will have shown improvements over previous years due to continued efforts aimed at both habitat enhancement and stocking of unfed fry.
A trout redd typical of those found on PEI during the late fall.


Greg Shute paddling through the improved fish passage at Head Tide Dam. A somewhat unexpected byproduct of the fish passage reconstruction and partial dam removal is that it also improves recreational use on the Sheepscot River. Photo Maranda Nemeth/ASF

Jason Valliere
, biologist withs the Maine Department of Marine Resources, says:

Latest trap numbers below.

Thirteen more new fish have been captured at the Milford Lift in the past two weeks, plus 1 more at Orono!

This brings the Milford total up to 1,152 and Orono up to 44 for a total estimated trap return of 1196.

Temperature in the river is down to 48 degrees. Milford is scheduled to close on November 15.

These returns make 2019 the best return of Atlantic salmon in eight years, and with excellent water conditions, there should be good spawning success.
The 2019 return of Atlantic salmon is the best since 2011.


Nice Cascapedia salmon being released during a June session on the river. Photo Dan Greenberg
Charles Cusson, ASF Director of Quebec Programs, says:

Quebec rivers, as in the other salmon regions, are now entering the big sleep period until the spring. Fish will have much better spawning conditions this year as opposed to 2018 with its record very low water conditions.

Du Gouffre River

The Conservation Association of the du Gouffre Valley has published their final numbers for the 2019 season.

From June 21st and September 23rd, 539 fish (178 grilse and 361 large salmon) were counted thanks to new counting infrastructure installed at the Valmore pool. Having migration data will permit stakeholders to implement better conservation measures going forward.

To see it in action visit,

On the angling front in 2019, 243 fish were reported landed comprised of 147 grilse (60 harvested, 87 released) and 96 large salmon released.

For 2018, 267 fish were reported landed comprised of 178 grilse (76 harvested, 102 released) and 89 large salmon released.


Cascapedia Society General Manager Darlene Sexton is very satisfied with the 2019 statistics.

“90% of our anglers have live release licences which translates into the vast majority of grilse being released.”

For the season ended on September 30th, 2,231 fish were reported landed.
2019 Angling numbers for Atlantic salmon on the Cascapedia River.
2018 Angling numbers for the Cascapedia River.

New Brunswick

The Nepisiguit Salmon Association was breaching beaver dams to improve Atlantic salmon migration in the Gordon Meadow area. Photo Nepisiguit Salmon Association.
Jacquet River

What happened to the grilse in the 2019 return year? to Oct. 25 there have been only 45 grilse counted compared with 155 in 2018.

As to large salmon, there have been 87 to Oct. 25, compareed with 80 to the same date last year.


We are waiting for the near final numbers for the Miramichi, and may have more details in another week. This autumn has certainly had better river levels than last, and many anglers found the autumn angling more productive, and more exciting!


Nathan Wilbur, ASF Director of New Brunswick Programs, went looking for redds yesterday, Oct. 30, 2019:

There are a few redds on Penniac Brook, a tributary to the Nashwaak. It is nearly impossible to get a proper photo of a salmon redd. While out looking for them, the most important thing is to know where to look.

Salmon almost always make their redds at the tail out of pools just before the flow spills over into the next riffle (see photo with red circle indicating location).

Then what you look for is a discolouration in the gravel. The female salmon digs the nest with her tail and the gravel appears to be “cleaned”. If water conditions are right, they jump out at you.

The eggs are then laid and covered with gravel in a mound. The location at the tail out of the pool coupled with the shape of the redd ensure optimal hydraulics for good water and oxygen flow through the gravel to the eggs all winter long. I find that salmon will chose the same prime spots year after year.
The area circled in red is where the Atlantic salmon have been digging their redds and spawning. Penniac Brook, Oct. 30, 2019 around 4:30 pm. Nathan Wilbur/ASF
The redd is the area of lighter, disturbed gravel in mid-stream in Penniac Brook. Photo late afternoon, Oct. 30, 2019. Nathan Wilbur/ASF

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