Fly Fishing For Atlantic Salmon - Their Life
The Atlantic Salmon (salmo salar) means "salmon the leaper". They are anadromous
fish. That simply means they migrate up freshwater rivers from the sea to spawn. The
salmon spawn in the Fall in the same rivers they were born in. It's usually late October or
November when the actually spawning takes place. After they enter the rivers to spawn,
they don't eat. Their body chemistry is such that they deteriorate to aid in the egg and
The typical Atlantic Salmon averages between 5 to 20 pounds but they can get much
larger. Atlantic Salmon enter the rivers anywhere as early as April and as late as
November. Those that enter early are called Summer run salmon and those that enter
the rivers late in the year are called Fall run salmon. Most of them probably enter the
rivers in May and June. A big factor in the timing is the water level of the river. Generally,
they enter the rivers to spawn after the water levels rise.
Prior to the spawn, the male matures sexually and develops a elongated head and Kype
on his lower jaw. The female digs out a redd that's about six inches to a foot deep in
loose gravel. She does this by fanning her tail. The male fertilizes the eggs with milt.
When the eggs hatch into little Atlantic Salmon the following Spring, they are first called
alevin. After about a month after these tiny salmon get through the gravel they begin to
feed. These little salmon are usually just called fry or fingerlings. About a year after the
hatch, the fingerlings change to what's called parr and have distinctive marks on their
sides. The parr are about 7 or 8 inches long.
The Atlantic Salmon remain in the freshwater rivers usually from two to four years. The
small parr salmon undergo another name change and are called smolt. They loose the
marks along their sides and become a silver color. Their bodies begin to adapt to the
saltwater environment and the smolt migrate out of the freshwater rivers into the sea.
This seaward migration usually occurs during the months of May and June.
Most of these salmon, from both coast of the Atlantic Ocean, migrate to the waters off
Greenland although some go to other coastal areas. The mostly eat squid, prawn, and
caplin and gain weight relatively fast. They may stay in the saltwater for as long as three
years and as short as a year but they eventually migrate back to the same river they
were born to spawn. Almost unbelievably, this can take them over 2500 miles of open
seas. The fish that return to the rivers within a year are usually about two to five pounds
and are usually males. These salmon are called grilse. Those that stay at sea for two or
more years are called salmon. They usually weight between eight and thirty-five pounds.
You will find that some rivers have both grilse and salmon that return and others have
only one or the other - grilse or salmon.
Most everyone knows that salmon die after spawning but not all know that Atlantic Salmon
usually live after the first spawn. Some go back out to sea just as soon as they finish
spawning and others stay in the river through the Winter. These salmon are called kelts
and sometimes, black salmon. It is thought that these fish do not eat the entire time they
are in the river, which can be up to a few months. They return to sea, get well and return
to the rivers to spawn again. They can spawn as many as three or four times.
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