Portable passive integrated transponder (PIT) tag antenna systems can be valuable in providing reliable estimates of the abundance of tagged Atlantic salmon Salmo salar in small streams under a wide range of conditions. We developed and employed PIT tag antenna wand techniques in two controlled experiments and an additional case study to examine the factors that influenced our ability to estimate population size. We used Pollock's robust-design capture–mark–recapture model to obtain estimates of the probability of first detection (p), the probability of redetection (c), and abundance (N) in the two controlled experiments. First, we conducted an experiment in which tags were hidden in fixed locations. Although p and c varied among the three observers and among the three passes that each observer conducted, the estimates of N were identical to the true values and did not vary among observers. In the second experiment using free-swimming tagged fish, p and c varied among passes and time of day. Additionally, estimates of N varied between day and night and among age-classes but were within 10% of the true population size. In the case study, we used the Cormack–Jolly–Seber model to examine the variation in p, and we compared counts of tagged fish found with the antenna wand with counts collected via electrofishing. In that study, we found that although p varied for age-classes, sample dates, and time of day, antenna and electrofishing estimates of N were similar, indicating that population size can be reliably estimated via PIT tag antenna wands. However, factors such as the observer, time of day, age of fish, and stream discharge can influence the initial and subsequent detection probabilities.