Understanding the salmon life cycle
For those of us who love to salmon fish, the season is upon us. Two of my favourite rivers are open for fishing, the Margaree River and River Phillip. Remember to check with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for pool closures and restrictions before you make plans for a fishing trip.
I am not sure how many of you know what a salmon goes through to survive and return to our rivers to spawn. Once a salmon hatches from its egg, the little fish lives in that area of the brook or river for a few years. This small fish (salmon fry) must avoid being eaten every day from invasive species, trout, birds and mammals. If they do survive when they have grown to nine to 12 inches (they are now called a smolt), they will migrate out of the rivers and make their way to the estuary and beyond.
If the smolt is lucky, it will make its way to the coast of Greenland and spend one or two winters eating and growing. When the fish come back to the river after one year, they are around one to two kilograms and are called a grilse. If the fish stay a second year off Greenland, they will return at three to five kilograms and are then called a salmon.
At the same time, the smolt are leaving the river; the grilse or salmon that made it to the rivers to spawn start to leave as well. So for the months of April and part of May, there is a great number of fish heading to the ocean. As you can imagine, there are a lot of predators who know this is happening and are lining up for a feast of salmon. As a matter of fact, less than one per cent of the fish leaving the river ever return. So, you see, it is important to protect every salmon big or small.
I want to spend a little more time on the salmon migration. Once a salmon decides to start its migration back to the river it was born in, it stops eating.
Many of these fish will make it back to their river in early spring. Salmon spawn in late fall so as the fish arrive at their river, if the water conditions allow it, they will start to migrate up the river. Many of these fish will find a safe place and stay, for a day, a week or several months. The fishermen call these areas of the river “salmon pools.” It is where the salmon gather during their migration. On the Lahave River, for example, there are close to 100 named pools and many more that are unnamed.
It is very important that you remember that salmon do not eat on their upward migration. When fishing, you are trying to trigger a strike from the salmon by either annoying them or presenting a fly that looks like something they might eat.
In late fall, the salmon will go to the area where they were born and create a type of nest called a ‘redd,’ where the female will lay her eggs and the male will fertilize them. Both fish will then find an area in the river where they can spend the winter. When the water reaches a certain temperature, the fish then start the migration down the river, and for the first time in over a year, they start eating again. These fish are called kelts or slinks, which represents their body shape.
Slink, as we call them, have lost a great deal of weight and are very long and lean. Because they are so hungry, they are easy to catch. So, if you are fishing rivers in the spring, read up on catch and release techniques.
Finally, I want to share my favourite flies for the Margaree River. If the water is low, I use a #14 Silver Rat and a #14 Blue Charm. If the water is normal to high, I use a lime green or purple marabou. A General Practitioner is also a good fly for the Margaree River.
As you can see by the picture above, you don’t need fancy or expensive gear. Just a good pair of waders and some warm clothes will enable you to fish. A few hours of lessons to learn how to cast, and a lifetime of practice, and you will be ready. If you spend time with someone who knows the river and salmon fishing, your chance of hooking a salmon is pretty good.
Carroll Randall owns and operates dacarafishin out of Lunenburg County and is a Nova Scotia Licensed Fishing Guide. He offers guided fishing adventures and fishing schools. To book a trip or to find out more, call 902-212-1508 or email email@example.com.
From right to left: Carroll Randall, his wife Dawn Randall and their friend, Brenda Robertson, are geared up and ready to head to the Margaree River salmon pools.