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Atlantic salmon correspondent Paul Marriner recently asked his contacts around the world for an update on salmon. Here is what he found. This month, due to the press of other matters, we have room for only his feedback from Canadian sources, where generally poor fishing conditions coinciding with a downturn in the natural salmon cycle led to uninspiring catch reports. Check back next month for what’s up in Iceland, Russia, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Norway.
Gaspe: After two excellent seasons, the 2012 runs into lower Gaspe rivers such as the Bonaventure fell below average, particularly regarding the number of grilse. This might bode poorly for 2013 since a good grilse run generally presages a strong multisea winter (MSW) return the following year and vice versa. When I fished the Bonaventure in July, a friend who guides on that river told me he had recorded less than 20 percent of his 2012 numbers. On the other hand, with their access to the best limited-rod water, Camp Bonaventure (www.campbonaventure.com) rods did reasonably well. They have a long-term average of .45
salmon per rod, per day and this held up in 2012. Owner Glenn LeGrand told me that although the grilse numbers were down, MSW-salmon numbers remained good. He also noted that they had some excellent September catches (100-plus) in the private pool near the lodge. Rivers with historically low grilse counts, such as the Grand Cascapedia, remained slightly above the 10-year average catch rate (1,375), but this was still only 50 percent of the record 2011 season (2,692). Much of the recent Cascapedia improvement came from a net-fishing agreement that expired this year. A new agreement, hopefully for ten years, is under negotiation. If successful, this should guarantee strong runs for the future. Upper Gaspe rivers such as the York and Dartmouth reported below average catches, mostly due to lack of water and subsequently fewer anglers. However, the Pavillon Saint-Jean, a beautiful and productive upriver lodge (www.pavillonSaint-Jean.ca), did better, matching their five-year average. From a numbers standpoint, my trip to the Matapedia in July was disappointing. We saw very few fish and recorded only one grilse (not to my rod). While conditions improved slightly as the summer went on, the anticipated September run never materialized. Just like any salmon river, the Matane run fluctuates but is historically more consistent than many. Official statistics aren’t yet available, but in-season reports suggest a slightly below-average year. The river has no limited-rod sectors and all except three of its 55 miles are open to the public. Most of the more than 80 pools are easily accessible, and the daily rod fee for nonresidents is around $40. Unique to Matane, only floating lines and leaders are permitted. However, I’m aware of pressure building to implement this restriction on other Gaspe rivers.
Quebec North Shore: Results in the Saguenay tributaries were well below average. After a couple weeks of reasonable water and fishing, water levels dropped and the water heated up. The Petite Saguenay, for example, closed once the water temperature reached 73 degrees and remained closed for most of the season. The low water held back the salmon, exposing them to an extended period of seal predation. As a result, the run was substantially diminished. Further north, on index rivers like the Trinity, the situation was less severe, but nonetheless below average. Once again, poor fishing conditions determined catch numbers but the runs were down as well.
New Brunswick: Miramichi System. Weeks of hot, dry weather resulted in a dismal season for the Miramichi system. For nearly six weeks, all cold-water brook pools were closed to fishing and for three weeks the rest of the river was only open from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. Daytime water temperatures reached almost lethal levels. Even after cool nights brought water temperatures down and the regulations returned to normal, the continued lack of rain severely limited the number of fresh fish entering the river. Salmon passing some counters and barriers could be counted on one hand. This made for difficulties for all outfitters, some of whom had to cancel reservations and refund deposits. The poor conditions were particularly hard on companies in their first season of operation, such as the Old River Lodge. Owner Paul Michaels advises that he may be able to offer discounted or free flights for all confirmed 2013 group bookings received before December 31, 2012 (subject to availability and limited to Air Canada’s international routes). He is also offering additional benefits to individuals or corporations hosting a week for five or more rods. Restigouche System. With more rain and cooler nights, the Restigouche system didn’t suffer as much as the Miramichi system. Nonetheless, the season didn’t match the outstanding 2011 campaign. For example, Larry’s Gulch Lodge recorded only half of the previous year’s total. Once again, grilse counts were substantially below the five-year average by as much as 50 percent in some cases. Regardless, one lodge manager suggested that a better year-to-year comparison would be with 2010, as the fishing conditions were similar. The 2012 season catch was still lower, but by only 20 percent. Finally, although the river hasn’t offered salmon fishing for decades, the numbers reaching the Saint John hatchery dashed hopes of an incipient recovery. A return that was only 15 percent of 2011 and less than 10 percent of 2010 shocked even pessimists.
Nova Scotia: Rainfall during the season fluctuated between far too little and then too much. After a lackluster summer, the Margaree produced well in fits and starts during September, but October was generally disappointing. Regardless, a substantial number of large spawners entered the river—a promising sign for future runs. Reports from the smaller rivers with fall runs were mixed but consistently lower than the last two years. Any signs of recovery for the Atlantic coast rivers were obliterated by truly dismal counts. My local river, the La Have, is an index river for this region. The fishway grilse numbers fell by 90 percent and the already anemic salmon count was cut in half.
Newfoundland and Labrador: Insular Newfoundland rivers suffered from lack of rain, too, even at the start of the season. The Exploits has the island’s largest run, a previous five-year average of almost 40,000 (mostly grilse). That was down in 2012 by nearly 25 percent. Many of the smaller rivers were closed to fishing for extended periods. The three largest rivers, Exploits, Gander, and Humber, have extended seasons, with the Humber prized for its large fish (up to 40 pounds). Most Labrador rivers fared better. After an early two-week dry spell on the Hawke, conditions improved and the season finished down from 2011 though still about average. The Sandhill River run was similar, substantially below last year but less than 10 percent down from the previous five-year average (a number influenced by the almost 100 percent above-average 2011).