Un­der­stand­ing the sal­mon life cy­cle

South Shore Breaker - - LOCAL - CAR­ROLL RAN­DALL REEL TIME dacara@east­link.ca

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 dacara@east­link.ca.

Car­roll Ran­dall

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.

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