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Rivernotes May 16th, 2024

by Tom Cheney, Director of Marketing

Editor’s Note

Everything seems to be picking up in the salmon world this week. Smolt runs are gathering steam, and dedicated salmon researchers are out there tending smolt wheels to gather vital data. ASF’s Wild Salmon Watersheds program advanced by a leap and bound, installing (with a lot of help from our local partners) smolt wheels on the Terra Nova (NL) and Nepisiguit (NB) rivers. It’s the first time smolt have been counted on these rivers, and in the case of Newfoundland, the first time a smolt wheel has been installed on the island.

In Maine, migratory fish runs are looking healthy, stoking optimism for the season ahead. Meanwhile, anglers are catching trout and striped bass, and in many places waiting anxiously for the opening of salmon fishing season. Be sure to read all the way to the end, as this edition closes with a special report from the River Spey in Scotland.

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This week’s lead image shows Pabineau First Nation’s Robert Kryszko and ASF’s Jon Carr working on the Nepisiguit smolt wheel.

New Brunswick

Smolt season is in full swing. Researchers throughout salmon country are using rotary screw traps (aka smolt wheels) to enumerate out-migrating wild Atlantic salmon smolt. Last week I visited the Northwest Miramichi, a long-standing assessment site monitored by the Miramichi Salmon Association, Anqotum, and ASF. I also had the opportunity to film the installation of the first ever smolt wheel on the Nepisiguit River. This installation took place in collaboration with local partners as part of the Wild Salmon Watersheds program. Stay tuned for a video about how smolt assessment will fit into ASF’s groundbreaking conservation initiative!

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The editor rolls as ASF and Pabineau First Nation staff prepare to put a smolt wheel in to place (l); ASF's Jon Carr on the first smolt wheel ever installed on the Nepisiguit River (r). Photos: Andrew Clarke.
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ASF summer student Jacob MacPhee shows a striped bass caught in the Northwest Miramichi. Striper season is heating up. Photo: Jacob MacPhee.

Nova Scotia

Program Director Deirdre Green reports on a prestigious award granted to the Nova Scotia Salmon Association:

“On Monday, May 6 the Nova Scotia Salmon Association (NSSA) met with the Honourable Kent Smith to receive the “Minister’s Award of Excellence for Sportfish Conservation” in honor of the NSSA’s outstanding efforts toward sportfish conservation in Nova Scotia and longstanding contributions to habitat protection and restoration by leading the Adopt-A-Stream program and the West River Sheet Harbour Acid Rain Mitigation Project. To support the NSSA’s ongoing work, we encourage you to join at no cost today.”

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Also note several upcoming events in Nova Scotia:

May 26: The St. Mary’s River Association AGM where DFO Senior Biologist Aimee Gromack will be presenting on Ecologically Significant Areas—an area-based conservation tool that protects fish and fish habitat through regulations in the Fisheries Act under Section 35.2.

June 1: The Antigonish Rivers Association is hosting a fishing derby at the Cameron Lake Barrier-Free Recreation Site in Pinevale

June 8: The Inverness South Anglers Association is hosting their 15th annual fishing derby at the Mabou River Landing from 12-3pm.

Cape Breton guide Paddy Poirier has an optimistic report from his area, along with a reminder about best practices for live release:

“With the anticipation of 2024 salmon season around the corner, people are out casting off the dust chasing speckled trout (Nova Scotia’s provincial fish) and brown trout. This season has started out great with abundance of speckled trout, as well as an ever increasing number of brown trout. Brown trout numbers are increasing, but also increasing are the size of them. As salmon season approaches one hopes for a good little increase in water levels to help set the stage for the return of the majestic Atlantic salmon.

As the season approaches one must always be mindful of safe handling practices. The Margaree Salmon Association will be again placing nets at pools along the river to help land fish, with hopes it increases safe handling and reduce stress on these fish. As always: respect your surroundings and the environment these fish inhabit. Support your local river and salmon associations, be proactive in the protection and enchantment of habitats.”

Newfoundland and Labrador

ASF staff have been hard at work on the Terra Nova River, working with local partners to install the first ever smolt wheel on the island of Newfoundland. ASF’s Jordan Condon reports:

“The Wild Salmon Watersheds (WSW) program is well underway and off to an exciting start on the Terra Nova River. The Freshwater-Alexander Bays Ecosystem Corporation (FABEC) is one of the partner organizations of the WSW program and is responsible for managing the Terra Nova River in Newfoundland. I’ve been in Newfoundland with WSW program director Kris Hunter as well as regional program director Don Ivany since May 4th. After working diligently with FABEC the smolt wheel was deployed on May 6th. Since then, 62 smolts have been tagged and released, with the anticipation of the peak run yet to come as water temperatures continue to rise. The information gathered from operating the smolt wheel will help determine the freshwater production of the Terra Nova River and overall assessment of the watershed heath. We have experienced a range of weather conditions from rain and snow, but nothing is dampening our spirits for operating the first ever smolt wheel on the island of Newfoundland. This is a monumental period for salmon research in Newfoundland, the WSW program, and the FABEC group. This will set the pace for future years of development for this program.”

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Installing the first ever smolt wheel on the island of Newfoundland. Photos: Jordan Condon.

Don Ivany, Program Director for Newfoundland and Labrador, fills out the regional report with optimism about water conditions as well as some news from affiliates. He writes:

“Newfoundland and Labrador had a very mild winter this year, with far less snowfall accumulation than normal. For salmon conservationists and anglers alike, this is always cause for concern because we count on a heavy blanket of snow each winter, with a big run-off to help maintain good water conditions on our many salmon rivers during the spring and summer. Fortunately, due to a rather cold and wet spring, I am glad to report that water levels on most of our rivers throughout NL are currently still running high, and water temperatures remain fairly cold (less then 10 degrees Celsius on average). So, with just two and a half weeks to go before the recreational salmon season opens on the island (June 1st), conditions should be good. Let’s hope we continue to get some precipitation in Labrador to maintain water levels for when the season opens in that region (June 15th). On another positive note, the recreational salmon licences for the 2024 season are now available and can be purchase at local vendors or provincial government service centres throughout the province.

In other news, the Salmon Preservation Association for the Waters of Newfoundland (SPAWN), held their annual on-line auction from May 4-10th. This is their main fundraising event for the year, and once again they indicate the event was a big success. Finally, Terry Paul, who is the Executive Director with our Affiliate group, the Environmental Resources Management Association (ERMA), which is based on the Exploits River, reports that they will be hosting an Atlantic salmon fly-tying symposium for youth on May 27, 2024. Students from eleven schools will take part in the event which will coincide with the release of salmon fry that were raised in local schools as part of the Fish Friends program that ERMA also delivers in the area. Great stuff!”


Regional Program Director Charles Cusson reports on the modification to the regulations this year that will limit the harvest of large salmon. (English text below)

“Le ministère de l’Environnement, la Lutte contre les changements climatiques, Faune et des Parcs (MELCCFP) annoncé la semaine dernière due au fait qu’ils s’attendent à des montaisons très basses cette saison, que les rivières qui sont exemptées du plan de gestion en début de saison, soit la Causapscal, Moisie, Natashquan et Saint-Jean (Côte-Nord) que la récolte de grands saumons ne sera pas permise jusqu’à l’avis contraire.

Last week, the Ministry of the Environment, Climate change, Wildlife and Parks (MELCCFP) announced harvesting of large salmon on rivers which are exempt from the current management plan at the beginning of the season, Causapscal, Moisie, Natashquan and Saint-Jean (North Shore) will not be permitted. The decision was taken based on the poor returns being predicted for the coming season.”


Colby Bruchs, fisheries scientists with the Maine Department of Marine Resources, shared an exciting report from the Narraguagus River:

“Smolt captures continue daily at both sites. Persistent low water has produced high capture efficiency at the Route 9 site, approximately 15% higher than most years. Total new catch at Little Falls has surpassed 400 individuals! Conversely, low water leads to lower capture efficiency at Little Falls. With that said, our daily catch is consistently above the previous 10-year median. The 2024 run is shaping up to be a relatively good one!

Yesterday was another great day on the river with a crew of special guest trap tenders! Three students from a local area high school assisted with sampling at Little Falls. They were able to participate in our mark-recapture monitoring program, learn about our habitat restoration and connectivity efforts, and get hands-on technical experience tending rotary screw traps. We also toured our adult salmon trapping facility in the lower river where they observed the commercial river herring harvest operation. Here they learned about all the conservation efforts that continue to promote the growth of a sustainable marine resource that is of ecological, cultural, and economic importance to their communities. All are very interested in pursuing careers in fisheries management and are scheduled to begin their fisheries education at Maine colleges this fall! Very rewarding to see their excitement and connect with the next generation of women in fisheries!”

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Students help with salmon smolt sampling at the Little River site on the Narraguagus River in Maine. Photos: Colby Bruchs.

Meanwhile, this year’s migratory fish runs on the Penobscot River are off to a great start. Jason Valliere, with the Maine Department of Marine resources, reports that so far 39 Atlantic salmon, 457 American shad, 189 sea lamprey, and a whopping 1,463,218 river herring have been counted.

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Atlantic salmon at the Milford Fishway. Photo: Jason Valliere.

Further Afield

We wrap up this edition of Rivernotes with a report from photographer and ASF contributor Ben Carmichael, who was recently in Scotland soaking in some angling history. He writes:

“Like many during lockdown, I spent time at my vise—and while there, I fell for the classics. I found myself pouring over Traherne and the incorrigible Kelson, only to develop a fondness for some of the old style Spey flies. Fast forward to today, with lockdown behind us, and I followed my vise to book a trip to the Spey.

Most notably, I wanted to learn more about The Lady Caroline. And where better than the waters and grounds of Gordon Castle, the very beat on which the fly was invented? And so I booked in for two days April. I loved The Lady, but I wondered: did I understand her?

Prior to the trip, I read John Shewey’s latest book on Spey flies, in which he makes one important update: His speculation that Geordie Shanks, the famed Gordon Castle head ghillie, had possibly invented the fly had metastasized on web forums and stories into fact. In fact, there’s no documentation to show who tied the fly, and John tries to correct the record. There were many ghillies and, if any, it was likely his father, Jamie. I pondered this as I had a pint under the framed set of original Spey shanks at the Craigellachie hotel bar, which Shewey wrote about as a kind of revelation. My experience was as well, especially after a dram.

Having been blown off the water on our second afternoon, our ghillie offered us a private tour of the wader room and other areas of the Castle. There, I found a framed photo of a lady angler with a 40+ lbs salmon from the Spey. Lady Caroline Elizabth Gordon Lennnox, the eldest daughter of the 6th Duke of Richmond and Gordon, was on the vanguard of a group of female anglers who took to the Spey and other rivers. They were known as great anglers, with their reputation written about as far afield as newspapers in London. Lady Caroline was an influencer before influencers. Were she around today, I’m sure she would love to join the 50/50 or Pêches ladies in their wonderful efforts. She’s deserving of our memory—and of this famous fly. I only wish she was around today, as I’m sure she would have much to teach us all.”

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The Spey River (l); the Lady Caroline (r). Photos: Ben Carmichael.