Thursday, 15 September 2016

Life of a Salmon

Adult salmon change their appearance from silver to darker colours during their stay in fresh water. Those that have changed to the spawning livery are referred to as "coloured salmon". Those that survive spawning again change their appearance back to bright silver as they prepare to return to sea. The silver is caused by excretion of a substance called guanin beneath their scales which protects them from salt water by stopping their bodies absorbing excessive quantities of salts. This is but part of a process called osmo regulation for that purpose. Salmon migrate to the sea as smolts and return a number of years afterwards.

Those that come back to the river after one winter are classed 1SW those that have stayed a little longer but not another winter have a '+' added to their class i.e. they are 1SW+ All 1SW fish are called grilse. A fish that has spent two winters in the sea is classed 2SW and most of the spring salmon belong to this class. Really large salmon spend more time in the sea before maturity and may be 3, 4 or 5SW.

After spawning salmon are called 'kelts' or "black salmon". Those weakened fish start to drop downstream and begin eating to recover condition. Female fish are the most likely to survive spawning because they head downstream immediately after laying their eggs. Males keep scouting around the redds looking for new females and fighting amongst themselves to mate with them, consequently the huge majority of them perish in the rivers and provide a source of protein that is appreciated by future generations as it recycles through insects etc. Kelts are very easily caught and occasionally beginners mistake them for 'clean' fish, a term used to describe a fish that has entered the river and has not yet spawned, and usually a specimen that is in reasonably bright condition. By contrast kelts and fish that are near to spawning are described as unclean fish.

One further confusion remains the 'baggot' or 'rawner' both terms are used to describe fish that shed their spawn late or not at all. Such fish are occasionally caught in springtime on the early rivers and indeed some salmon may spawn as late as March month. Baggots can be distinguished by their soft flesh, distended bellies and sometimes open vents.

No doubt over the years many of them have been accidentally kept as clean fish because they are clearly not kelts and indeed some fishermen were known to favour killing them. They must not be killed because it is morally and legally the wrong thing to do.

Photos Compliments of Fly Angler Simon Toussifar Copyright Protected

Kelt- thin and lanky in appearance. This fish is bright silver and preparing to migrate back to the sea. (C) Pic. Safely Released. 

Fresh run salmon - deep and well conditioned, silver in appearance, firm flesh and a strong fighter. Does not feed in fresh water and is a challenging quarry (C) pic. a kept fish.
Coloured female salmonDark coloured, distended belly heavy with eggs and the vent beginning to open are sure signs of the latter stages of preparation for spawning (C) pic. Safely Released.