The physiological effects of episodic pH fluctuations on Atlantic salmon Salmo salar smolts in eastern Maine, U.S.A., were investigated. During this study, S. salar smolts were exposed to ambient stream-water chemistry conditions at nine sites in four catchments for 3 and 6 day intervals during the spring S. salar smolt migration period. Plasma chloride, plasma glucose, gill aluminium and gill Na +- and K +-ATPase levels in S. salar smolts were assessed in relation to ambient stream-water chemistry during this migration period. Changes in both plasma chloride and plasma glucose levels of S. salar smolts were strongly correlated with stream pH, and S. salar smolt mortality occurred in one study site with ambient stream pH between 5·6 and 5·8 during the study period. The findings from this study suggest that physiological effects on S. salar smolts are strongly correlated with stream pH and that in rivers and streams with low dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations the threshold for physiological effects and mortality probably occurs at a higher pH and shorter exposure period than in rivers with higher DOC. Additionally, whenever an acidification event in which pH drops below 5·9 coincides with S. salar smolt migration in eastern Maine rivers, there is potential for a significant reduction in plasma ions of S. salar smolts.