Large Salmon and Small Grilse

Kelsey Taylor releases an Atlantic salmon on the Southwest Miramichi, July 20, 2014.

Kelsey Taylor releases an Atlantic salmon on the Southwest Miramichi, July 20, 2014.

Yesterday the FQSA (Fédération québécoise pour le saumon atlantique) called on the provincial government to apply mandatory live release for all large salmon, as a precautionary approach with the concern that there may be low rather than late returns this year. With the large salmon being so important for their egg-laying capacity the move is designed to reduce the impact of potentially lower returns. Check out their statement (French) in their brand new website at:

Incidentally, Quebec is the only jurisdiction in North America that still gives anglers the option of killing large salmon, depending on the river and the assessed numbers of returns.

Remember to brush up your live release techniques by having another look at ASF’s great live release video. Click here

Elsewhere, the buzz is about SMALL GRILSE

Last week we wrote about the small grilse being angled on various rivers. These were grilse that were very small, around 1 kg (2 to 2 ½ lb). We asked anglers to send in reports to better define how widespread this phenomenon was in the range of the Atlantic salmon in North America.

We have had dozens of responses, and with these small grilse showing up in rivers across the region, from Labrador, Newfoundland, Quebec, and New Brunswick at least. They are using the word “microgrilse” to describe them – a word that seemed to first appear in relation to grilse of this size and smaller in 2006 in Ireland and Scotland.

Camp Harmony guide Steve Blanchette releases one of the very small grilse causing much discussion this year. The weight was estimated at 2 lb. Photo James Emery

Camp Harmony guide Steve Blanchette releases one of the VERY SMALL GRILSE causing much discussion this year. The weight was estimated at 2 lb. Photo James Emery

Many of the reports sent to us ask the big question “why”. At this point no scientist could answer that, but it isn’t for lack of suggested reasons:

  • Did low winter temperatures at sea impact the salmon directly?
  • Were there conditions such that plankton growth in important salmon feeding areas was low?
  • Were food sources of the Atlantic salmon low in quantity, or did they move geographically away from the routes followed by these grilse, spending a single winter at sea?
  • Did heavy sea ice conditions impact them?

Anecdotally there is some evidence the grilse have a bimodal weight distribution this year – many of normal size and very healthy, and this second group in the 1 kg range.

Here are some of the reports shared with us, showing the extent of these small grilse:


“In 12+ yrs experience on the Pinware, I see 3 types of grilse.  In order of % hooked 1) classic shape, 2) slim torpedo (wild fast guys) and 3) football shaped.  Witnessed about 30 grilse released this year on the Pinware.   Body size ranged mostly in the average weight category with some smaller ones mixed in.   Didn’t see any football variants of previous years.
Steve Maclean

Sand Hill

“Here is a report (yesterday) from my camp on the Sand Hill River in Labrador, specifically addressing the weird situation with very small grilse, and also the very slow, very late run this season to date, such as has never before been experienced. We are obviously hoping for a much improved late season run.

The early fish on the Sand Hill were late starting and few in numbers, 5 to 7 salmon per day with 1 or 2  grilse which gradually increased to 20-30 per day with a high percentage salmon. The grilse were extraordinarily small for this river, many in the 2 -3 lb category. This is not the norm for Sand Hill. There may be a few small among the “normal grilse“ but not a population of extra small grilse.

The experience at the Sand Hill River Camp is similar to ours. Russell Smith, Head Guide at Sand Hill said he never saw grilse as small as this before in his many years on the Sand Hill. Our first grilse (2.5 lbs) was taken on July 3rd which is a week or two later than normal.

The numbers of grilse have increased this week.  The total count as of yesterday was approx. 1,200 fish. These seem to be a different run of grilse ( more normal in size).  The count this week now averages between 100-200 per day and the fish are bigger (3-4 lbs).”  – Bob Winsor

Grey River (South NL) –

“Two pounders on the Grey in June.” Bill Buckland

Main River (North NL)

“I hooked a small (estimated at 18″ and 2 1/2 lbs) grilse on the Main River (Sop’s Arm, NL) on Friday, July 18th.  The fish “self-released” as I attempted to tail it . It was bright & fresh, caught on the “flats” of the Main River (approx. 5 kms upriver from the salt) on a #8 dutot blue charm.  The river was blown out (high water) and it was the only salmon I angled in two days.” – John Boutillier

Upsalquitch (North NB) –

“I contacted the manager at Two Brooks Camp on the Upsalquich and he reported that of the 57 grilse landed this season half were very undersize, at about 2 pounds.” – C. D. Clarke

Restigouche –

“There had been very few grilse caught at all by July 4, when my small grilse was caught, at the mouth pool of the Upsalquitch, where it enters the Restigouche. Everyone was wondering where the grilse were. I did notice that there were a few 2 lb. grilse on the books at the license station in Matapedia. These fish were caught on the Matapedia.” – James Emery

Northwest Miramichi (NB) –

“Small grilse was 17.5 inches, with the weight between 2 – 2.5 lbs – a guess based on larger trout I caught before. I released 2 more grilse that day and they were of normal size and coloration.  This particular fish didn’t look like a normal size grilse.” – William Doyle

Northwest Miramichi (NB) –

“We were fortunate to be picked for the Depot stretch of the Northwest Miramichi approximately a week ago. Water levels were perfect. In fact all the conditions were perfect…except for the fish. They were NOT there. Our party managed to hook and land 2 grilse after fishing hard for both days. Neither of the grilse would have been more than 18/20 inches. As for their weight…no more than 3 pounds ..if that…..VERY small fish.” – Bill McCarroll

Litte Southwest Miramichi

“Two very small grilse” – Gary Spencer

When we consider all these reports, it is obvious the phenomenon is widespread, indicating a major event has taken place to impact the Atlantic salmon this year.

If you have reports of these small grilse to share, please send them in to

River Reports


Many rivers now closed due to warm water (see last week’s Rivernotes for details), but it is clear that many rivers were seeing Atlantic salmon coming in during the past week.

Counting fence data from July 20 is showing many rivers catching up somewhat, but most still well below last year’s numbers.

Exploits – 17,582 in, compared with 27,845 in 2013.

Campbellton River – 2,468 in, vs 3,977 in 2013

Terra Nova River is still way behind, with 1,284 this year vs 2,749 last year

Conne River – again in trouble with 1,171 returning, vs 2,544 in 2013

In the west and north the numbers are more interesting.

Harry’s River has seen 3,476 salmon in, well ahead of 2,658 in 2013

Torrent River has 2,273, also ahead of the 2,146 in 2013

Western Arm Brook in Gros Morne National Park has 1,327 salmon returned, vs 470 in 2013. This year’s number is well ahead of any statistic in the past.


Sand Hill – The counting fence numbers remain low, with 1,014 grilse and 419 large salmon in by July 20, vs. 1,422 grilse and 1,204 large salmon in 2013.

Bob Winsor says of this year’s run so far:

“In recent years the early run of large salmon is usually tapering off by the middle of July. The numbers of large salmon are well down (less than 300) and only a few coming through now on a daily basis.

The fish are coming in fast (not many being caught at the Lower Camp) with grilse taken at the Falls with sea lice still attached. Choppers is producing some fish and the Falls is producing well as usual. The fishing is a little slow here but not bad -everyone is catching fish. Last week there were some salmon caught in the 10- 16 lb range, with  a 43 in, 29 lb salmon caught at the Falls.

Water levels are good and temperatures have been kept lower with our 3-7 degree night time temperatures.”

Hawke River – located close to Snug Harbour and between Red Bay and Cartrwright, a report from the Hawke for July 1 to 6 noted that angling estimates were that the numbers were about a half to a third of the traditional numbers. Nevertheless it did not stop one from having three to seven hookups with a salmon each day.

David Greenwood fishing a pool on the Hawke River in Labrador this month.

David Greenwood fishing a pool on the Hawke River in Labrador this month.

English River – Appears to be doing well, with 33 grilse and 9 large salmon, totaling 42, compared with the four grilse and two large salmon in 2013.

Muddy Bay Brook – 88 grilse and 10 salmon vs. 136 grilse and 9 salmon in 2013.


Charles Cusson of ASF notes:

“Rain is in short supply with no apparent relief in sight over the next week. With the fact many rivers have already imposed live release, it is important to report your success at the local river management office.”

Cascapedia River
General Manager of the Cascapedia Society Darlene Sexton is reporting to July 18 for the month, 324 fish have been landed (312 released and 12 grilse killed).  The river is low, flowing at 20 cubic meters per second.

Pierre Manseau releases a spectacular large salmon on the Cascapedia on July 23.

Pierre Manseau releases a spectacular large salmon on the Cascapedia on July 19. Photo by Claude Hamel.

Matapedia River

To July 22, 524 fish have been reported landed (including 84 releases). On the same day the river was flowing at 20 cubic meters per second.

At the same date in 2013, 768 fish had been reported landed (including 95 releases).  Meanwhile, in 2012, 556 fish had been reported landed (including 45 releases).  The river was flowing at 20 cubic meters per second.

Causapscal River
To July 15 2014, 157 salmon had been landed (including 9 releases).  This compares with 172 for the same date in 2013, and 129 in 2012.

Matane River
Mandatory live release of salmon over 63 cms in length will be in force as of July 23 until the end of the season on September 30.

As of July 22 to date, 422 fish (295 salmon and 127 grilse) have been counted and as of July 22, 64 fish have been reported landed (38 salmon and 26 grilse).

As of July 22 2013, 828 fish (668 salmon and 160 grilse) had migrated though the counting facility.  Also to the same date, 162 fish were reported landed (118 salmon and 44 grilse).

As of July 20 2012, 1,289 fish (744 salmon and 545 grilse) had been counted.  To that date, 373 fish had been landed (212 salmon and 161 grilse).

Madeleine River
As of July 19 2014, 150 fish had been counted (112 salmon and 38 grilse), far below the levels of previous years.  At July 23 2013, 1,011 fish had migrated via the fish-way which at that point had surpassed the season total of 1,062 for 2012.

Angler below falls on the aux Rocher River.

Angler below falls on the aux Rocher River.

Aux Rochers River

Mandatory live release has been implemented. Up to date information is not available.

À Mars River

At July 22 2014, 69 salmon have been counted in the fishway.  Anglers to date have landed and released 12 salmon.

To July 20 2013, 31 salmon were reported landed and released with an additional 43 “long distance releases”, meaning the salmon “self-released”.  To July 20 in 2013,  224 salmon were counted at the fishway.  To the same date in 2012, 61 fish had been reported landed (48 salmon released and 13 grilse retained).

York River

To July 22 2014, 255 fish had been reported landed (65 salmon released and 190 killed).  To July 22 2013, 205 salmon were reported captured (115 salmon released and 90 killed).

New Brunswick

This is the Nashwaak barrier and counting fence which just became operational again this week after major damage from Tropical Storm Arthur.  DFO as well as the Oromocto and Kingsclear First Nations worked very hard to repair the damage to bring the counting facility back into operation.

This is the Nashwaak barrier and counting fence which just became operational again this week after major damage from Tropical Storm Arthur. DFO as well as the Oromocto and Kingsclear First Nations worked very hard to repair the damage to bring the counting facility back into operation.

ASF's Director of NB Programs Geoff Giffin releases a grilse on the Miramichi. Photo by David Hoskyns

ASF’s Director of NB Programs Geoff Giffin releases a grilse on the Miramichi. Photo Jeff Sheehan.

Miramichi – Accounts in general have the fishing slow, but salmon are being hooked. As of July 20 a total of 40 grilse and 39 large salmon had been counted at the Dungarvon Counting facility, compared with 174 grilse and 379 large salmon in 2013. Some caution is needed in reading these numbers because the barrier was not operable for many days due to high water. Nevertheless, the numbers leave one a bit uneasy.

The Northwest Miramichi also has somewhat low numbers counted as of July 20, but with the same caveat on problems operating. There were 87 grilse and 50 large salmon, compared with 123 grilse and 186 large salmon in 2013.

A Miramichi report from Bradford Burns, written July 20:

“Here is a personal report on Miramichi salmon fishing in 2014.  I just returned from ten days at Campbell’s.  I acted on a hunch that a decent run would hit after Hurricane Arthur flushed the river with a huge raise of cold water, and it was a lucky guess.  It is hard to comprehend, but the water temperature in the entire system went from 80F to mid 50Fs in a little over one day while levels rose over 12 feet!  The Cains rose to spring time levels.

The short of the report is that I fished 10 days, Tim Politis fished with me for three days, Steve Bellefleur and Jim Koehler each fished with me for three days – 19 rod days –  and we collectively landed 20 grilse and salmon – the vast majority being grilse.   Many additional fish were rolled, briefly hooked but lost etc.  There was also very good action at Anderson’s Point just below us, and also slightly upriver, with Jason Curtis and his wife Jennifer fishing in Jason’s non-guiding time at the Jardine Pool.   Two of our fish came by us taking the jet boat up into the Cains and fishing some of the public water there.  It was nice to see some July fish in the Cains.

We occasionally spoke with folks from Hallihan’s, Hershey’s, and Black Brook as we passed by on trips to the Cains, and they had decent fishing to report also.

At Black Brook Camp below the Cains River, Southwest Miramichi. Photo Geoff Giffin

At Black Brook Camp below the Cains River, Southwest Miramichi. Photo Geoff Giffin

I don’t mean that this is a really impressive number of landed salmon, but given the slow start to the season, the far less than optimum water levels, and the mostly sunny and warm weather we were happy with the level of action.   There was a fairly strong run of grilse during the 10, 11, 12th time frame.  The water was high and these were all running fish.  It was not unusual for Tim fishing from a canoe 100 feet from shore, and me fishing from the bank to each raise several different fish in one pass down through the pool.

Interestingly all the fish were against the Campbell’s or north bank, something echoed by the other camps in our area.  Arthur left the water very colored and a lot of suspended sediments were visible on the north side of the river, but the south bank was much clearer.  After the good run of grilse we had a period of rain and thunder showers that brought the river back up about a foot and a half and made it quite dirty.  This knocked out a day and a half’s fishing.  Water temperatures weren’t bad, with each morning starting in the high 50s at the beginning of the trip, and only rising to mid-60s by the end.  Evenings were much warmer, though, and last evening, 19 July, fishing for a decent push of fish was thwarted by temperatures that rose to 72F.  We had too many days that were clear, bright, sunny and hot, but July always contains much of that weather.

All the fish that we caught were bright as a newly minted silver except for one.  Yesterday afternoon Jim Koehler hooked a salmon of about 15 pounds that was clearly somewhat colored.  It appears that Atlantic salmon runs are down in rivers on both sides of the Atlantic, and while that is very worrisome it was good to see a decent push of fish head up the Miramichi.

On both the lower Cains and the Miramichi there were a solid number of parr of various sizes feeding all around us. “

Nova Scotia

LaHave – 20 large salmon and 38 grilse have returned as of July 23, a far cry from the 99 large salmon and 63 grilse for 2013 to the same date.


Penobscot – the numbers of Atlantic salmon remain low at the Milford Fish Lift, with 170 large salmon and 76 grilse as of July 21. The final number for 2013 was 372, when the Veazie fishway was closed on July 14 for the demolition of the dam.

Penobscot, July 18, 2014.

Penobscot, July 18, 2014.

With the low numbers able to be collected at the Milford Fish Lift, Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery in East Orland will be relying on a number of fish being held at Green Lake Hatchery in order to make up the production target of 2.5 million eggs of Penobscot-genetics salmon for next year.

Sculpture, Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery. Photo Tom Moffatt

Sculpture, Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery. Photo Tom Moffatt

Kennebec – So far this year 12 large salmon and 2 grilse have passed the Lockwood Dam

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2 Responses to Large Salmon and Small Grilse

  1. Chris Baird says:

    We have been seeing these micro-grilse on the Avalon peninsula in Newfoundland for the past four years or so. They arrive early, often before main runs of salmon. They range from 1-3lbs and are often mistaken for sea trout.

    I have also seen micro-grilse in the Bay St George area during June month.

  2. Just to add to your rivernotes: Eagle River also seen a lot of the microgrilse at the same time as the large fish. Fish were 2 weeks late in general, but we hooked and released the most large salmon and the biggest large salmon we have ever seen once they arrived. Numbers overall are down, but we feel it is much to do with rising water during the peak grilse runs, because when the large fish did arrive and the river conditions were good the results were excellent. Experienced guests hooking 8-10+ a day nearly all large week of July 4-11th. We are still seeing around 15-20% salmon mixed in with our main grilse run and we are not seeing many small grilse now. plenty of grilse in the 5-7 lb range July 11th – present day. Again hard to gauge how many due to the rising and high water we have had over the past couple of weeks. River is falling now but extreme hot sunny days is keeping fish down. Experienced guests still managing to hook 10+ a day most of this week. We expect some steady fishing to come over the next two weeks given that the runs are late and the river has loads of water. hopefully it does not get too warm. – Dwight Lethbridge, Pratt Falls Salmon Lodge, Eagle River, Labrador.

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