By SHAWN BERRY
The banner year that many fishermen enjoyed in New Brunswick’s salmon pools last year isn’t being repeated.
Fishermen who have taken to the waters of the Miramichi River this summer are reporting lacklustre results.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada has 17 salmon monitoring stations along nine New Brunswick rivers. Of the nine stations that reported for the period ending July 15, all are at their lowest counts in three years.
Mark Hambrook’s fishing partners found that out first-hand Friday.
“Fortunately, I did catch one and actually hooked and lost two others, but I was the only one in the party that managed to hook anything,” Hambrook said Friday after returning from a Crown reserve camp.
Hambrook, the president of the New Brunswick Salmon Council and president of the Miramichi Salmon Association, said it’s been a disappointing season.
“When you look at the grilse (the young salmon returning to the river for the first time), it’s quite poor,” he said.
“And the number of large salmon is not what we want to see — nothing near like last year.”
At this time last year, many stations were reporting counts that were as much as 60 per cent higher than in 2010. Some spots along the Miramichi had three times as many salmon in 2011 as they did in 2009, while the station at Jacquet River had almost four times as much for that same period.
Many fishermen are hopeful the poor summer run is a signal that New Brunswick’s rivers may be in store for a strong fall run, Hambrook said, noting that 90 per cent of the fish counted in the Miramichi last year were counted before July 31, 2011.
“Everyone is full of optimism saying, ‘Just wait, they’ll be here.’ ”
Hambrook said river levels may be a factor.
“I do think we need some rain. That is probably a compounding factor,” he said.
Some of the wealthiest in Canada and the U.S. hold leases along New Brunswick’s salmon pools. Many of those fishing along the Restigouche fly their jets into Charlo’s airport.
The airport is seeing as many as 60 private jets a month bringing in high-rollers who fish at exclusive lodges along the Restigouche.
But even workers at the airport are hearing the fishing isn’t living up to the past two years.
“The guys are saying, ‘We’ve gone out fishing, but that doesn’t mean we’re all taking fish home,’ ” said Gilles Savoie, operations supervisor at the Charlo Regional Airport.
“They have to go out to see how the season will be.”
Stephen Chase, executive director of The Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation, said he’s hearing the same from people along the Restigouche and the Miramichi and also experienced it himself.
“The last two years were really good, but this year the anecdote I’ve heard from everyone is ‘There are hardly any fish.’ ”
Chase was out fishing on the Miramichi earlier this month.
“I hooked a fish within the first 15 minutes of taking to the water in Blackville. I stayed there for a day and a half after that and then hardly saw a thing. We saw a couple of fish jump, but we should have seen dozens of fish jumping and moving.”