ASF RiverNotes - September 13

Sep 13, 2018


Twins with an Atlantic salmon on the line. Senya and Masha, eight years old, focus everything on an Atlantic salmon on the line on the Rynda Home Pool, one of the rivers in the Atlantic Salmon Reserve on the Kola Peninsula of northwest Russia. Photo from Justin McCarthy/Atlantic Salmon Reserve.
Each year we attempt to gather the statistics and anecdotal information we can on Atlantic salmon returns and angling in European rivers. The area encompassed is massive, from northwest Russia to Iceland, and from northernmost Norway to the Minho River at the border of Portugal and Spain.

Many conditions MAY differ for European salmon, but in 2018 there has been one thing in common with North America - periods of extremely warm weather together with low rainfall for extended periods.


The table below shows results differing from one river to the next in a yearly comparison. Each river seems to have a somewhat different story. Additionally, the 2017 number is not a direct comparison but instead the total for the year.
To date the best performing Icelandic river is the Eystri-Rangá or East Ranga River, about 95 km. east of Reykjavik, near the south coast of the island nation.
The Eystri-Rangá, east of Reykjavik, is in 2018 the top river for Atlantic salmon success. Photo


Naturally salmon returns and conditions can vary greatly across island, but here are a couple of keen observers.

The Drowes River, in northwest Leitrim, drains Lough Melvin, perhaps the cleanest lake in Ireland, and also often is known for the first Atlantic salmon angled each year.

Shane Gallagher 
manages the fishing lodge situated along the Drowes:
Noel Carr, of the Federation of Irish Salmon and Sea-trout Anglers, also describes the conditions of 2018:
Drowes River in northwest Leitrim is an enchanting but short river joining Lough Melvin with Donegal Bay. Tom Moffatt/ASF
February was welcomed by one fishery manager with this enticement to throw off the Winter Blues as Spring beckoned:

“Tomorrow (Feb. 1, 2018) sees a blue moon, the second full moon in a calendar month which is also a blood moon and a super moon, making it the first “super blue blood moon” since 1866. The resulting large tides coupled with falling water levels will hopefully improve fishing prospects over the coming week after near constant flood conditions since the start of the season.”

But nothing, especially the water levels, improved and although the spring runs arrived late into April, some lovely fish were caught in new locations such as the Boyne River which produced a fine 16lb salmon caught on fly by Spanish angler Ignacio, and released again in compliance with the laws of catch and release for that river.

Elsewhere, low water and bright sunshine meant that most rivers needed much rain to get salmon taking but it would be late July before the runs came in any numbers due to a heatwave in early Summer in which 1973's 38 degrees C. air temperature records were matched.

Many rivers closed unofficially due to these overly warm conditions but things improved for July. The Moy in County Mayo proved to be the jewel in the Irish crown of rivers once again, reporting good catch numbers.

In July we welcomed a very special visitor, Vigfus Orrason, and drove him to the Blackwater River in Waterford. Vigfus is the son of the late Orri Vigfusson. Vigfus is a world-class guide and FISSTA was pleased to assist in tailoring his programme to try out various angling locations on his first visit. Photo FISSTA.


For once the weather seemed to be much the same across the country, with the searing hot, dry summer.


Jim Haughey, of the Ulster Angling Federation, says:
Carnroe on the River Bann is a favored location for angling Atlantic salmon. There is a low weir, and often salmon can be seen jumping it. This image taken in an earlier year, with better water levels in August. Photo Tom Moffatt/ASF


Alastair Gowans, internationally renowned Scottish angler, instructor and salmon advocate, discusses the 2018 Salmon season in Scotland. He has decades of experience in understanding the rivers and salmon of Scotland, and what is changing:
Urban angling of Atlantic salmon - one of the perks of living in Inverness is to have a great salmon river flowing through the heart of your city. Photo Jon Carr/ASF
When the cold weather eventually passed, conditions warmed until we had a heatwave with very little precipitation which meant that rivers shrank and became practically unfishable and indeed some beats to their credit stopped fishing altogether.

Compared to last year the River Dee summer catches were down by 50% and the R Tay catches were down by 30%. Compared to 5-year averages the figures are both down by 40%.

In addition to the numbers being depressed the size of grilse and 2SW fish is on average much smaller than they were ten or more years ago which suggests that some fish are struggling to find good feeding in the salt water and of course, smaller fish are much more susceptible in the ocean.

I have the feeling that the 2018 salmon fishing season looks like being instantly forgettable, none of the rivers have fished well although its true that there have been some good days, just being in the right place at the right time but these have been few and far between.

In the far north of Scotland the River Thurso provides a good example of how bad things are, it has fished brilliantly for several years until this year when lack of fish and poor conditions conspired to ruin its catches. Until the end of August, the river produced 156 salmon and grilse, last year in the same period it produced 1115 salmon and grilse close to its 5-year average of 1168.

We can only hope that what’s left of the fishing seasons on our rivers shows an improvement in runs and catches, but it's a forlorn hope because Autumn runs during the past two years have not been great but you never know and we wait with optimism!

The BBC had a piece on the record temperatures and impact on Atlantic salmon last week:
Michael Wigan, Atlantic salmon author, and passionate Scottish advocate of the Atlantic salmon (book here) is most familiar with the rivers of the far northeast of Scotland, and especially the Helmsdale, which is 2/3 the distance from Inverness to John O'Groats at the northeast tip of Scotland:
Helmsdale River in northeast Scotland. Photo Geograph UK
Weather is now turning. In early September larger fish which have been lying doggo for months are appearing.

Probably not since 1976 has rainfall been so scarce, but there is no reason a good spawning season should not take place if traditional rougher autumn weather breaks through.

Fishing Pal has a great website for keeping track of Atlantic salmon angling in the UK and some other European locations. For the last week in August, their tally of know salmon angling success was this:

Last week of August’s known totals, depending on reporting but giving a sense of the returns.

Tweed 183
Tay 151
Dee 98
Spey 53
Ness 43
Findhorn 42
Border Esk 37
Esks 28
Hebridean rivers 24

While it may be a poor year, one can see clearly which the best rivers have been - the Tweed and the Tay.


The Tyne and Wear retain the title of best runs.

The Tyne is measured at Riding Mills. Unfortunately, the count does not separate returning trout and salmon. Also, August figures are not yet available. It appears that numbers will be down this year compared with the nice returns of recent years in the Tyne.
The Tyne has tributaries that begin far north and drains quite a lot of Northumbria.

The Wear River enters the ocean at Durham, and the counting facility is in the lower part of the river, but above the city.
Salmon in the River Wear appear to be even further down than in the Tyne
Wye River in the English and Welsh borderlands and with a source far into Wales shared the drought conditions.

Stuart Smith 
of the Wye Salmon Association has this to report:
The Wye River at Builth Wells in July
Many anglers stopped fishing and some beat owners suspended fishing on their beats until such time as things improved. Not a single fish was reported in July and with only 30 for August, the season rod catch at just 336 compared very unfavourably with the 550 of 2017 and 5 year average of 694.

Much of this year’s catch has been affected by conditions and low angler activity but perhaps, fortunately, there seemed a low stock of fish in the river. Anglers on the first beats reported the absence of fish entering the river and under the low water and temperature conditions. We hope they are sitting it out in the hostile environment of the estuary. Even the seals regularly reported on the lower beats are missing, and are presumably fishing in the estuary!


Conditions this summer at the Atlantic Salmon Reserve river the Kharlovka show just how extensive and extreme the hot, dry conditions were. Speaking about the end of July:

Last week was the hottest week on record for the ASR. Following on from exceptionally warm conditions the previous week, temperatures remained into the 30′s until the final day. Rains had been forecasted for late week which unfortunately never materialized. However the breezes did shift to cool things down slightly on the final days.

Fishing mostly early and late (with everyone including the salmon avoiding the midday sun) – the team of mostly experienced ASR guests were challenged to release a total of 85 salmon on the week – compared to the favourable conditions the previous year that resulted in 195 salmon for the group.
The rivers of the Atlantic Salmon Reserve on the Kola Peninsula are known for their large salmon. They are not generally known for hot conditions during the summer! Photo Atlantic Salmon Reserve
Justin McCarthy of the Atlantic Salmon Reserve had more to add this week:
Angler Vladimir with 36 pounder on the Litza River. Photo by his guide, Igor. Photo from Justin McCarthy/Atlantic Salmon Reserve
The Kola Peninsula rivers offer some spectacular Atlantic salmon, but this year the heat affected everything.
Ponoi River, largely a west to east river on the Kola Peninsula.
The Ponoi in early September has returned to more seasonable temperatures. But did the heat of the summer affect the behaviour of the first Atlantic salmon of autumn? The Ponoi River Company's posting on Sept. 10 makes one think.

Last week’s fishing could certainly not be described as “easy”. The condition of the river was close to ideal and the weather was good, and by all indications, the “catching” should have been comparatively easy.

That said, though guides and anglers were seeing fresh fall-run salmon moving up the river, it seemed that the fish were not interested in stopping. There are few circumstances in salmon fishing more frustrating than seeing fish in number but finding them unwilling to take. It is these moments, though, that are occasionally rewarded with an eat, and when that eat comes the reward is all the sweeter. There is simply nothing as exciting as hooking a fresh Ponoi fall-run salmon.

The start of the week was slow, with 39 fish landed on the first day. Fortunately, the situation improved daily, and on the last day of fishing, our anglers landed 63 fish. The conditions and the “taking mood” of our fish improved steadily, and our guests were excited to experience the increased opportunity to lean back against the strength of some Ponoi silver.
The Ponoi River is known for its great runs of large, healthy Atlantic salmon. Photo Ponoi River Company.


ASF Board Member Chris Buckley most years heads to the Alta River in Norway for its normally wonderful Atlantic salmon fishing.

I fished the Alta two weeks this summer - the second week in July and the last week in August. The fishing on the river all season was the poorest in many years. The river was very low and warm all summer, with Arctic Norway suffering the same drought conditions experienced all over the Northern Hemisphere this summer (except, perhaps, in Iceland).

The catch during the first three guest weeks this year (the last week of June and first two weeks of July) was consistently only 30 per cent of last year's catch during the same weeks. However, 2017 was a very good year on the Alta, which needs to be taken into consideration. The catch during the other two guest weeks, the last two weeks of August, was also poor.

However, there were some big fish caught and released. Ted Dalenson of Stockholm, Sweden caught a 56-1/2 pound male salmon during my July week, and Nikita Mishkin of Russia caught a 54-1/2 pound male in the last week of June. John Cornell, an ASF director and guest of Rick Warren, former ASF US Chairman, this year caught a 46 pounder in the third week of August.
66 pounder caught on rod and reel in mid-September 2014 by Karianne Johansen, a board member of Alta Laksefiskeri Interessentskap ("ALI" - the syndicate of landowners that manages the river), who was conducting an angling census of the river that fall.
All-in-all, however, it was a pretty dismal year. It will be interesting to see what the redd count, taken in mid-October, reveals about the size of the run. It could have been bigger than we thought, in that the stable, low and warm water conditions may have kept the fish on the bottom and in a sullen mood. The tannic acid coloration of the Alta doesn't allow one to see the fish, so the population has to be determined by a count.

Generally, the Alta meets 110% of its escapement goal or conservation limit, making it one of the healthiest salmon rivers in Norway.

One needs to remember that he Alta sometimes also produces some huge salmon after the close of the season on Aug. 31.

The fight to remove the Gyrodactylus parasite from Norwegian rivers needs a mention. This ectoparasite found in the Baltic Sea rivers was first found in Norway in 1975. It had a devastating effect on juveniles in the 50 rivers that were eventually colonized by it, with an average of 86 per cent mortality, and as much as 99 per cent mortality. About the only good thing with the parasite is that it cannot survive in full sea water, and that has helped curb rampant spread.

By 2018 a sophisticated program involving rotenone treatment of rivers followed by re-introduction of Atlantic salmon from the National Genebank has seen the eradication of the Gyrodactylus from most rivers, with many declared parasite free after five years - and that river group continues to grow. Focus is now on the last seven rivers, and if those can be successfully treated, Norway could be free of this terrible stress on Atlantic salmon runs.

Given that the Gyrodactylus parasite is estimated to have cost a half billion dollars to Norway's Atlantic salmon economy, the success of the program is one of the most spectacular for Atlantic salmon conservation ever carried out, anywhere in the salmon's world.

In addition to the eradication in most of Norway's rivers, the efforts of the UK and Ireland to avoid the parasite's introduction have been a successful partnership of anglers and government.
The Vefsna was one of the rivers declared Gyrodactylus free in autumn 2017, and was reopened to Atlantic salmon angling in 2018. Photo Wikipedia
It was all worth it. For the first time in the 21st century, in summer 2018 Atlantic salmon on the Vefsna were being angled. This is a beautiful Atlantic salmon in a beautiful river that has been made whole again. Jan Hegna with 17.5 kg. Atlantic salmon in Vefsna River. Photo from Norske Lakseelver Norway.
The Gyrodactylus eradication program, based on rotenone application and genebank salmon of each river, has had spectacular success.
Total eradication is possible. But in addition to Norway's problem with the parasite, there remain rivers on the western side of Sweden where the Gyrodactylus is found.


The heat affected rivers in both countries straddling the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea.

The Torn or Tornionjoki that can have runs of up to 100,000 Atlantic salmon in a very good year, appears to be having a "middlin" year in 2018, of perhaps 45,000 or so.
The Simijoki is having an unusual return profile in 2018

Somewhat further south, is the Simijoki that enters the northeastern part of the Gulf of Bothnia. This year's run is turning out to be unusual. Perhaps with the heat, fewer salmon ascended the river in the summer, and in the early autumn the numbers are considerable. Instead of a curve, the return for 2018 is a relatively straight line as graphed.


While the efforts to build effective fish passage past the many dams on the Rhine continues, this year's returns have so far been down from 2017. Here are the lastest Rhine Atlantic salmon counts at the three highest fish passages:

Iffezheim - 97
Gambsheim - 46
Strasbourg - 6

In 2017 the numbers at Iffezheim were 125 by mid-August, and 228 in 2015.
Overall the Atlantic salmon appear to have a fighting chance to return to the Upper Rhine, if the foot-dragging of a French power company can be overcome.
There is still a long way to go to re-establish Atlantic salmon in the Upper Rhine, but the possibilty exists for success.


The warm temperatures and harsh drought this summer have played part in reduced returns this summer.

The Loire

Returns overall are lacklustre in 2018.
The number of counted Atlantic salmon to Sept. 1 noted on a map showing locations on the Loire and its tributaries in France. The 389 is the count at Vichy, on the Allier branch of the river.
The Vichy Barrier has a fish ladder with underwater viewing, and an interpretive centre focused on Atlantic salmon. Photo Logrami
Vichy Atlantic salmon numbers for the Allier Branch of the Loire, 2009 to 2018


Even in Roman times the Atlantic salmon of these rivers were famous among those in the empire that paid attention to fishing. Pliny the Younger, in his "Natural History" noted that the residents of Aquitania were passionate about their Atlantic salmon.

In general, the group of rivers are known by one of the better known - the Adour.
Numbers returning in 2018:

Gave d'Oloron - 879
Saison - 333
Gave de Pau, at Artix - 285
Gave d'Ossau - 4
On the Nive, 5 Atlantic salmon were caught,

Strong floods from thunderstorms damaged at least one fishway in June, and work has been slow to repair this.

Guillaume Barranco of the Federation Pêche 64 says of 2018's season:

From the begining of this year, river conditions have included some massive flodding in the Gave d"Oloron basin : two or three floods in 6 months, with a big one in June, along with a very large late Spring snowmelt.
For anglers, it was a "so so" season, but better than last year. Return of Atlantic salmon seems to be similar to what we have observed over the past few years. But counts are not yet complete at our stations, so more salmon may come in during the Autumn. Atlantic salmon in Adour basin often return in the fall, boosting numbers.

Guilaume Barranco also notes that Atlantic salmon are picked off in nets at the river outlets, sometimes in seasonal numbers greater than a thousand.
The Nive River has a history of 2,000 years or more of Atlantic salmon fishing. In the Napoleonic Wars, a battle took place in its lower part in 1814. Photo Wikipedia


Atlantic salmon continue to be in decline in the southernmost country where they exist.


In the four rivers in CANTABRIA open to Atlantic salmon angling, a total of 70 were caught.

Ason - 24
Pas - 21
Nansa - 12
Deva - 8

Numbers remaining are so low that the best of these rivers, the Ason, reached only 34 per cent of the quota in place. In these rivers, methods available to anglers include natural bait and lures, in addition to flies.
The Minho is both the boundary between Spain and Portugal, and the southernmost river in Europe to have an Atlantic salmon population. This view is of the mouth of the river, with Spain on the right. Photo Samuel Fonseca/Wikipedia
In 2018 only five Atlantic salmon were caught in the Minho. With these numbers critically low, there is a stocking program using Minho fish to augment the very modest natural egg laying that takes place.

More Posts