Monitoring of dam passage can be useful for management and conservation assessments of American eel, particularly if passage counts can be examined over multiple years. During a 7-year study (2007–2013) of upstream migration of American eels within the lower Shenandoah River (Potomac River drainage), we counted and measured American eels at the Millville Dam eel pass, where annual study periods were determined by the timing of the eel pass installation during spring or summer and removal during fall. Daily American eel counts were analysed with negative binomial regression models, with and without a year (YR) effect, and with the following time-varying environmental covariates: river discharge of the Shenandoah River at Millville (RDM) and of the Potomac River at Point of Rocks, lunar illumination (LI), water temperature, and cloud cover. A total of 17 161 yellow-phase American eels used the pass during the seven annual periods, and length measurements were obtained from 9213 individuals (mean = 294 mm TL, s.e. = 0.49, range 183–594 mm). Data on passage counts of American eels supported an additive-effects model (YR + LI + RDM) where parameter estimates were positive for river discharge (β = 7.3, s.e. = 0.01) and negative for LI (β = −1.9, s.e. = 0.34). Interestingly, RDM and LI acted synergistically and singularly as correlates of upstream migration of American eels, but the highest daily counts and multiple-day passage events were associated with increased RDM. Annual installation of the eel pass during late spring or summer prevented an early spring assessment, a period with higher RDM relative to those values obtained during sampling periods. Because increases in river discharge are climatically controlled events, upstream migration events of American eels within the Potomac River drainage are likely linked to the influence of climate variability on flow regime.