The salmon is by far the most prized of all British game fish. It is a powerful and enigmatic species that make for excellent eating.
Although salmon can be found in all rivers dotted all around the British Isles, they are quite rare in a lot of places. Salmon much prefer perfectly clean and pollution-free water systems in which they travel upstream to breed.
There are some noted English rivers that do have a run of salmon – but your best bet would be to head to Scotland, Ireland or even Wales as here the run of salmon is far more prolific.
The average weight of a salmon is around the 6-12lb mark, with the British record standing at a massive 64lb.
The salmon is trout-like in appearance with its long and lean shape, powerful and large tail, and small adipose fin just above the tail.
Salmon can be quite easily confused with the sea trout, but looking closely at the tail you’ll find the salmon’s is concave while the sea trout’s is almost square.
The tail root of the salmon – called the wrist of the tail – is quite slender compared to that of the sea trout. The salmon’s tail wrist is quite rigid, therefore the fish can be lifted clean out of the water by the tail once it has been despatched – you couldn’t do that with a sea trout!
The colour of a salmon changes quite massively throughout its life cycle… When the salmon leaves the sea to enter freshwater it will be steel-blue/grey across the back and have silvery flanks with asterisk-shaped spots along the back and upper flanks. The scales will be easily removable and the fish may well be covered in sea lice. These drop off the fish after only a few days.
The longer the fish remains in freshwater before spawning, the darker it becomes. Many salmon, at this stage, develop brown or red spots too and they all take on a grey-bronze colour. The males develop a pronounced kype.
Salmon which have spawned will be much thinner than their un-spawned counterparts. These salmon, that are trying desperately to return to the sea to feed, are known as kelts. These fish MUST be returned to the water unharmed.
Salmon do not feed upon entering freshwater, but at sea they will feast upon crustaceans, small fish and prawns – their favoured food.
To catch a salmon requires a lot of skill and to present a bait or a lure in the right place at the right time – triggering the salmon’s instinct to snap at the bait and take it.
The best baits to catch a salmon are worms, shrimps, prawns and, of course, fly tackle and flies.
Salmon breed between October and January in the extremely shallow, clean and clear reaches of upland rivers.
The females dig out a depression in the river or stream bed – called a bed – and deposit their batch of large orange eggs. The males, who have found long and hard for the prime spots, using their kypes as weapons, immediately fertilise the eggs. The females then cover the eggs by thrashing the gravel with their tails.
After some three or four months the eggs hatch. These alevins are equipped with their own yolk sac to provide enough nourishment to continue growing into the next stage of the life cycle, known as parr.
Parr are 3-5 inches long. They gather in shoals for protection. They continue feeding on whatever insect life they can locate until they reach around 8 inches.
At this stage the parr lose their brown-grey colouration across the backs and blue spots along the flanks and take on a silver colouration.
These fish begin the arduous journey downstream to enjoy one, two or even three years feasting on the plentiful supply of prawns, shrimps and crustaceans in the sea. When they undertake this migration salmon are called smolt.
Young salmon of one year old that return to freshwater to breed are known as grilse.
Fresh Run Salmon
Cock in breeding dress
Hen in Breeding Dress