The Smarter Atlantic Salmon

Are some Atlantic salmon smarter than others? Do they learn, or live by instinct alone?

Adult salmon from Downeast Rivers, swimming in circles at USF&W facility at East Orland, ME

Round, and around…Adult salmon from Downeast Rivers, swimming in circles at USF&W facility at East Orland, ME

For many years it has been known that young Atlantic salmon raised in hatcheries survive in far lower numbers in the wild when compared with those growing up in streams from the time they are eggs.

Research published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B (B stands for Biology) looked at the effect of making hatchery tanks more interesting for the Atlantic salmon and parr with pebble bottoms, numerous vertical artificial plants, etc. The researchers moved the objects around about once per week in these tanks, that were located in Norway.

The results? Salmon in the “interesting” tanks learned better and faster; there was increased physical brain development; and some differences in which genes were turned on.

There are some hints, or at least speculation that Atlantic salmon are life-long learners as well. When ASF’s own marine tracking research shows salmon from different rivers meeting before going through the narrow Strait of Belle Isle, and older and younger salmon passing through at same time, the question arises –  is teaching and learning on routes takng place? Jury is out, but the question has been asked.

When anglers meet up with those self same salmon on their return to freshwater, give a thought to those intelligent creatures on the other end of a line, or seemingly lazing in a pool, conserving energy for the travels ahead. They may be smarter than you think.

River Notes

New Brunswick

Monday being New Brunswick Day, we’ll look first at this province that hosts the Atlantic salmon on the top of its coat-of-arms.

The real story this week was the massive rain events that came in starting Friday from air masses chock full of Gulf Stream moisture. In the southwest, St. Stephen on the St. Croix received 6.25in.

It poured, and it poured - the Miramichi at Blackville.

It poured, and it poured – the Miramichi at Blackville.

Southwest Miramichi – On the Miramichi the flows massively increased, as can be seen by the graph for Blackville. A weekend that might have been perfect for salmon angling turned into a high water event.

Keith Wilson reported a 3-foot rise of water at McNamee. But now the water is dropping and with somewhat lower temperatures, the combination should lead to good August angling, as well as good returns.

Dungarvon Barrier, SW Miramichi, to July 28

Dungarvon Barrier, SW Miramichi, to July 28

At the Dungarvon Barrier numbers have come up nicely. To July 28 there were 211 large salmon vs. 98 to the same date in 2012, a very nice improvement. There have been 182 grilse to the same date, vs. 120 in 2012. Total salmon number is 393 this year vs. 218 in 2012. This means a total increase of 80%, and an even higher increase for the vitally important large salmon.

One interesting report impacting salmon is that a striped bass was caught this year near The Ledges on the Southwest.

NW Barrier, to July 28, 2013

NW Barrier, to July 28, 2013

NW Miramichi – The total increase in 2013 over 2012 is less for the Northwest Miramichi, but is still 49%, with 319 up to July 28, vs. 214 last year. But the nicest part of the story is that the large salmon numbers have gone up even more, with 191 this year vs. 116 last year. Just as with the SW Miramichi, the Northwest’s grilse returns are more muted, with 128 to July 28 vs. 98 in 2012. It is enough for all of us to continue to think positive.

Saint John River – The numbers have just been posted for July 31, and do not make great reading, with 72 large salmon this year vs 95 last year. Taking a look at five-year averages, the 2005 – 2009 average was 293, and the 1995 – 1999 average was 1,451. These are low numbers in 2013, critically low. As to grilse, the signs are a little better, with 225 this year to July’s end, vs 79 in 2012. But these grilse numbers are way below the 2005-2009 average of 955, and the 1995 to 1999 average of 3,317.

Nashwaak – The large salmon to July 31 is 26, vs 29 last year. The grilse numbers are a more encouraging 51 this year against a pitiful 13 last year. But these numbers are all far below the numbers found prior to 2000.

Magaguadavic – Another of the outer Bay of Fundy rivers in trouble, there have been a single large salmon and two grilse to the end of July. In 2012 there had been no salmon, but one did come back before the end of the year.

Restigouche Watershed – Much of the area did not get the major rains that hit most of the province. Mark Ramsay is reporting that the fishing is “tough” at the moment, as the salmon are slow to take a fly. Water is cold at about 59 F.

“There are plenty of salmon in the pools. Still mostly big fish, and we haven’t seen the grilse moving up yet.” Noted Ramsay.

Bill Hartnett at the Restigouche River Lodge says the water levels are fine, but the angling is poor and “we aren’t seeing the salmon rolling – they just don’t seem to be there right now.”


Rain was forecast and did materialize to relieve many rivers of their drought conditions. Eastern Gaspé felt the impact of the same massive cloudbursts that impacted southwest New Brunswick and the Miramichi system. The next few weeks of August should be productive in Quebec

Dan Greenberg Petite Cascapedia

Dan Greenberg (right) releases a big Atlantic salmon on the Petite Cascapedia this July.

Matapedia River
To July 30, 907 fish had been reported landed (including 108 releases) and the same day the river was flowing at 15 cubic meters per second early in the AM and by midnight was flowing at 23 cubic meters per second.

At the same date in 2012, 612 fish had been reported landed (including 52 releases).  In 2011, to July 31, 1,557 fish were landed which included 208 reported releases. The in-river count is slated for early August but could be delayed due to more rain in the forecast.

Aux Rochers River
To July 30, 494 fish had entered the trap (377 salmon and 77 grilse) for transport around the falls.  Water levels are very low presently and the river is in need of rain soon.  To date, 186 fish have been landed (122 salmon released, 25 salmon retained, 4 grilse released and 35 grilse retained).  Water temperatures are holding at 14C but with little flow angling has been more challenging.

Matane River

Cap Seize Pool, Matane R.

Matane River – Anglers at Cap Seize Pool

As of July 30, 1,388 fish (1,059 salmon and 329 grilse) had migrated though the counting facility.  Also to date, 240 fish were reported landed (156 salmon and 84 grilse).

As of July 30 2012, 1,375 fish (766 salmon and 609 grilse) were counted.  Salmon landed to that date totaled 438 fish (225 salmon and 213 grilse).

The river had been suffering from extremely low levels until the 30th when it increased from 7 to 12 cubic meters in 24 hours.

Sainte-Marguerite River
To July 30, 98 fish had been landed, 89 salmon were reported released and 9 grilse retained.  At the same date in 2012, 131 fish had been landed (122 salmon and 9 grilse).

Rimouski River Angler. Charles Cusson/ASF

Rimouski River Angler.

Rimouski River
To July 30, 386 fish had been counted migrating through (269 salmon and 117 grilse).  Also to date, 101 fish have been landed (73 salmon released and 28 grilse retained).
To the same date in 2012, 339 fish were counted (166 salmon and 173 grilse).  84 fish had been landed to that date (22 salmon released and 62 grilse retained).

York River, Dartmouth and St-Jean Rivers
Angling success is on the rise on the Gaspé rivers since the weekend.  A massive low pressure system from the American East Coast passed slightly to the east of the Gaspé Peninsula dropping over 120 mm of rain on the rivers of Gaspé between Friday July 26th and Saturday July 27th.

Ruisseau du Pas de Dame, a stream near the York and St-Jean. Massive rainfall.

Dartmouth River. Massive rainfall.

With the new rain, water levels on the York, Dartmouth and St-Jean climbed above seasonal averages giving a new vigour to the salmon.  Since Saturday July 27th, on the York River only, 16 releases of large salmon and 7 captures of grilse were registered.

Live release of large salmon is mandatory on the York and Dartmouth rivers for the remainder of the 2013 season and a quota of 50 captures of large salmon will be allowed on the St-Jean River as of August 1st.

Nova Scotia

LaHave – The Morgan Falls Fishway has had 101 large salmon and 69 grilse to July 31, a wonderful increase from the 67 salmon and 18 grilse in 2012 to the same date. The great increase in grilse has certainly caused some conversation, as the improvement is far more than most other rivers in Atlantic Canada, by the percentages.

Sackville River – Low numbers continue with 3 large salmon and five grilse to July 31, against the same number of large salmon and seven grilse in 2012.


Much of the island, except the Northern Peninsula, had significant rain last Friday and Saturday, and temperatures cooled down. DFO reopened a number of rivers, with the list at the bottom of the NL report.

Dave Vardy playing a fish at Grassy Island on the Gander River this past week. photo Don Ivany/ASF

Dave Vardy playing a fish at Grassy Island on the Gander River this past week. photo Don Ivany/ASF

Gander R. – Don Ivany reports water levels have been high this past week, with great early morning and late evening fishing.

“With an angling companion, we hooked seven fish, mostly grilse, but very large and healthy. There are many reports of large fish in the 10 lb. range. At Petrie’s, one angler saw 50 jumps in one pool. Water temperatures were about 17 C. in the early morning.”

Exploits – This river continues to be a phenomenal producer of Atlantic salmon. To July 28 there were 31,402 salmon, vs 28,712 in 2012.

Terra Nova – 3,605 salmon returned to July 28, vs. 2,911 in 2012, and this compares favourably with the 2008-2012 average of 3,055 and even more so with the 1992-2012 average of 1935. Definitely a success story.

Middle Brook – had 2,834 return to July 28, vs. 2,410 in 2012. It is interesting how superior these numbers are to the 647 average of the 1984-1991 average.

Conne River – There have been 2,435 return as of July 28, vs. 1,960 last year. This is a river that should be doing better with the 1984-1991 average being 6,023.

Harry’s River – With the Didson radar counter, 2,849 have been counted, vs. 2,178 last year. Note that there are restrictions on Harry’s River, and anglers need to check the anglers guide carefully.

Torrent River – As with all the Northern Peninsula Rivers, there is a need for more water. In addition there appear to be continuing issues with some of the salmon getting banged up in the fishway. To July 28 there have been 2,652 return, vs. 3,666 last year.

Western Arm Brook – There have been 675 return as of July 28, vs. 790 last year.

Main Brook, NL

Main Brook near Roddington, far up the Northern Peninsula. Despite the need for rain, there were good signs of Atlantic salmon. Taken this past week. Don Ivany/ASF

Reopening of Rivers in Newfoundland

Jul. 29, 2013

Salmon Rivers re-opening in Zones 3, 4, 9, and 10

DFO advises anglers that due to improved environmental conditions the
following rivers on the east coast of Newfoundland in Zones 3,4,9 and 10
will re-open to angling at 2PM on Monday, July 29, 2013.

24. Souflett’s River
25. Little Harbour Deep
26. Coney Arm River
27. Sop’s Arm River and tributaries.
29. Wild Cove Brook
30. Western Arm Brook
31. Middle Arm Brook
32. Southern Arm Brook
33. Baie Verte River
34. Woodstock River
35. Burlington River
36. Indian River
37. West River
38. South Brook
39. Tommy’s Arm River
41. Western Arm River
42. Leamington River
43. Charles Brook
82. Colinet River including north and east branches
83. Rocky River & tributary streams
84. North Harbour River, St. Mary’s Bay
88. Great Barasway
89. South East River (Placentia) & tributary streams
90. Northeast River, Placentia

For more information please call the DFO at 709-772-4423.
For media inquiries, contact 772-7623

For all other inquiries, contact:
Jason Simms
Resource Management
Tel. (709) 772-2045


Jul. 25, 2013
Salmon Rivers Re-opened in Zones 9 and 10

DFO advises anglers that due to improved environmental conditions the
following rivers on the east coast of Newfoundland in Zone 9 and 10 will
re-open to angling one hour before sunrise on Friday, July 26, 2013.

87. Branch River
91. Come By Chance River
92. Watson’s Brook, Placentia Bay
93. North Harbour River, Placentia Bay
94. Black River, Placentia Bay below falls
95. Piper’s Hole River


There are good reports now coming out of Labrador.

On the Flowers River, the word is that the fishing is “out of this world”.

English River – the counting fence data is in for July 28, and there were 66 grilse and 26 large, totalling 92, a disappointing number compared with last year’s 186 grilse and 46 large salmon totalling 232

Sand Hill River – To July 28, 1,467 grilse and 1,223 large salmon have returned, totalling 2,690. In 2012 those numbers were 2,931 grilse and 674 large salmon returned, totalling 3,605. This year is certainly on the low side for runs during recent years on this river.

Eagle River – Pratt Falls Lodge is reporting very low water, but there is still good angling to be had.

Pinware – Same call of low water, and mixed accounts of the angling success.

On the Pinware, a moment of suspense. Taken on July 17, 2013. Don Ivany/ASF

On the Pinware, a moment of suspense. Taken on July 17, 2013. Don Ivany/ASF


The Narraguagus remains at 17. The Penobscot is temporarily closed off, but at 372, the lowest return since the Veazy trap was installed. The Kennebec had 5, the Androscoggin 2, and the Union and Sebasticook 1 each.

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