Situated in the east-central region of New Brunswick, the Miramichi River flows into the Miramichi Bay in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The name is believed to have originated from the Montagnais term “Maissimeu Assi”, signifying ‘Mi’kmaq Land’.
Covering roughly one quarter of New Brunswick’s territory, the Miramichi River watershed spans around 13,000 km, including a 300 km estuarine environment within the inner part of Miramichi Bay. The watershed primarily aligns with Northumberland County, while also extending into parts of Victoria, Carleton, and York Counties, and smaller portions of Gloucester and Sunbury Counties.
The winding Miramichi River stretches approximately 250 km, encompassing two significant branches – the Southwest Miramichi River and the Northwest Miramichi River, both with their own tributaries. Each bend in the river, from the Push and Be Damned Rapids to the Turnip Patch, carries a unique name, underlining the river’s importance to fishermen, canoeists, and lumberjacks. The tides from the Miramichi system reach as far inland as Sunny Corner on the Northwest Miramichi and Renous-Quarryville on the Southwest Miramichi — around 70 km from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. These two branches merge at Newcastle, where the river becomes navigable for ocean-going ships.
Downriver from Newcastle in the city of Miramichi, the estuarine portion of the Miramichi River flows through a submerged river valley. The rise in sea level in Miramichi Bay has introduced saltwater into the mouth of the Miramichi River. The estuary, sheltered from Gulf of St. Lawrence’s ocean storms by barrier islands, makes up the inner part of Miramichi Bay. Despite its relatively small size, the estuary stands out due to its high productivity. Freshwater discharge from the Miramichi River and its tributaries mixes with organic materials from adjacent coastlines and saltwater from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, creating a highly dynamic estuarine ecosystem.
The estuary’s dynamism is evident throughout the year, from the high freshwater outflows during the spring freshet, to the low outflow and increased saltwater content in summer, to the fall ocean storms and nor’easters reshaping the barrier islands and the old river channel that forms the navigation path for ocean-going ships. The estuary is entirely encased by sea ice in winter. The inner bay is on average only 4 m deep, with the navigation channel measuring between 6 and 10 m, leading to significant warming of estuarine waters in the summer months. The diurnal tide cycle averages only 1 m.
Originally, the Miramichi River and its tributaries were home to one of North America’s most abundant Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) populations. As an anadromous species, Atlantic salmon hatch and spend their early life in freshwater before journeying to saltwater to mature. They then return to freshwater to spawn and complete their life cycle. Despite ecological challenges, the Miramichi River still supports a relatively healthy and self-sustaining population of Atlantic salmon. The river also sees smaller runs of other anadromous species such as American Shad, smelt, herring, and sea-run brook trout. Approximately half of North America’s sport-caught Atlantic salmon are currently landed in the Miramichi River and its tributaries.
Fishing for Atlantic salmon in this area is strictly fly fishing, and all large salmon must be released alive to preserve the spawning population. Given the highly regulated nature of this fishery, anglers are advised to contact the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources for specific rules and regulations for each river and tributary in the province before fishing. Special licenses, salmon “tags,” and permits may be required, and certain sections of tributaries and the main river may be temporarily closed to protect salmon brood stocks.
The annual salmon runs typically begin in mid-June and extend through late October, when spawning starts in earnest. It is thought that different salmon runs, destined for specific tributaries, occur at different times throughout the year. Salmon heading for the upper parts of the watershed tend to enter the river earlier than those that spawn in the lower tributaries.
Popular salmon flies on the Miramichi River include the Black Bear series, the Cosseboom series, Butterfly, Oriole, and the Blackville Special. Deerhair flies such as the “Buck Bug” or the “Green Machine” have also proven effective. Much of the Miramichi River’s salmon fishing waters are privately controlled by clubs and outfitters, with limited “public water” accessible to all. Additionally, all non-resident anglers are required to hire a registered guide to fish for Atlantic salmon in New Brunswick. Guides can be sought in the Village of Doaktown and through Dept. of Natural Resources offices.
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