Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic Salmon

Common name: Atlantic Salmon

Scientific name: Salmo Salar (in Latin, “leaper” or “jumper”)

Appearance: Silver and white in open water, with a few dark spots above the lateral line, Atlantic salmon darken to a yellowish brown in fresh water, to the point where they could be mistakenfor brown trout. However, the salmon’s forked (as opposed to square) tail remains adead giveaway.

Distribution: The Atlantic salmon occurs on both sides of the North Atlantic Ocean. On the western side it ranges from the Ungava Bay, Hudson and Davis straits, and southern Greenland southward in most rivers along the Labrador coast, Newfoundland, Quebec, and the Maritime Provinces to the Connecticut River (where it has been reintroduced), between 40 degreees to 60 degrees latitude.
Atlantic salmon faced extinction in previous eras due to pollution, illegal netting, and destruction of spawning areas. However, careful management, stricter environmental regulations, stocking, and construction of fish ladders to help salmon get around dams and other artificial obstructions to their spawning areas have helped the fish rebound.

Spawning: The Atlantic salmon is an anadromous species, that is, it spawns in freshwater streams, the adults return to sea and the young remain in fresh water for 2 or 3 years. When the fish are about 15 cm in length, the young salmon (smolt) migrate to sea where they may live for 1, 2 or more years before returning to fresh water to spawn.

In Canada, Atlantic salmon spawn in October and November. The actual date depends on the region. Marine salmon move into estuaries and, thence, to fresh water in spring, summer, or early autumn, the approximate time being characteristic for each river. The ability of salmon to surmount falls and other obstacles in the river in order to reach the spawning grounds has been a source of wonder for centuries.

As the adults prepare for spawning, the head of the male undergoes transformation. The head elongates and the lower jaw becomes enlarged and hooked at the tip, forming a kype. The actual nesting site is chosen by the female, usually a gravel-bottom riffle area above or below a pool. While the male drives off other males and intruders, the female, on her side, uses her caudal fin like a paddle and excavates a nesting depression (the redd). Adult female salmon can deposit from 600 – 800 eggs per pound of body weight. The eggs are usually a pale orange in color and measure 5 – 7 mm in diameter.

The first wave of salmon to arrive at spawning grounds make for the best sport fishing, as later arrivals are often sluggish with eggs and milt.

Angling: In most countries, states, and provinces, only fully mature atlantic salmon may be legally caught. If you happen to catch an immature salmon (known as smolts in the ocean and grilse in rivers & streams, typically weighing less than 20 pounds) you should release it immediately.

Salmon are big, heavy, and vigorous fighters, requiring heavy-duty rods and reels. Fully mature Atlantic salmon can weigh nearly one hundred pounds, with the record rod-and-reel catch, caught in Norway, tipped the scales at over seventy-nine pounds.A heavy, sinking lure is the best bet for catching salmon in deep waters during the pre-spawn phase, while lighter tackle is better during the spawn, when salmon feed near the surface of rivers and streams. Salmon are relatively slow to anger compared to trout, and hence may require several presentations before a strike is triggered. Darker-colored lures are generally more effective in clear waters on bright days and brighter lures in murky waters on gray days. Salmon feed during all stages of their life – pre-, during-, and post-spawn. While it is uncertain whether post-spawn salmon actually feed on their return trip to the ocean, their instincts remain and strikes can still be triggered.