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SMOLT, young. GRILSE, first year.

Salmo salary LINNAEUS.

,, BLOCH, pt. i. pi. 20, female.
,, ,, ,, pt. iii. pi. 98, male in autumn.

,, ,, Salmon, PENN. Brit. Zool. vol. iii. p. 382.
,, ,, FLEM. Brit. An. p. 179, sp. 40.

Generic Characters. Head smooth ; body covered with scales ; two dorsal
fins, the first supported by rays, the second fleshy, without rays ; teeth on the
vomer, both palatine bones, and all the maxillary bones ; branchiostegous rays
varying in number, generally from ten to twelve, but sometimes unequal on the
two sides of the head of the same fish.

THE SALMON is so well known for its quality as an arti-
cle of food, as well as for the immense quantities in which
it is taken, that it requires no other claims to recommend
it strongly to our notice ; and probably, in no country

* The family of the Salmon and Trout.


of the world, in proportion to its size, are the fisheries so
extensive, or the value of so much importance, as in the
United Kingdom.

The history of the Salmon, and of the species of the
genus Salmo, in this work, will extend to a considerable
length ; and some doubts existing as to the extent of their
identity with the species of the Salmonida generally which
are taken in the rivers or lakes of other countries of Europe,
from the want of specimens with which to make actual
comparative examination, the account of the species here
inserted will be confined more particularly to a detail of
what is known of them in this country only.

Of the species existing in this country, the characters and
specific distinctions admit of considerable detail : too much
reliance has been placed upon colour, without resorting
sufficiently to those external indications, founded on organic
structure, which may with greater certainty be depended

In the scale of the relative value of parts affording cha-
racters for distinction, the organs of digestion, respiration,
and motion are admitted by systematic authors to hold
high rank ; and in the hope to induce sportsmen to become
zoologists so far at least as to enable them to determine
the various species they may meet with by a reference to
those external characters which are the most important,
the specific distinctions in the genus Salmo will be illus-
trated by referring to the number and situation of the
teeth, the form of the different parts of the gill-covers,
and the size, form, and relative situation of the fins.

The outlines here introduced represent a front view of
the mouth, and a side view of the head, of a common
Trout. Of the first figure on the left hand, No. 1 marks


the situation of the row of teeth that are fixed on the cen-
tral bone of the roof of the mouth, called the vomer :
Nos. 2, 2, refer to the teeth on the right and left palatine
bones ; and the row of teeth outside each palatine bone
on the upper jaw are those of the superior maxillary bones :
No. 3, refers to the row of hooked teeth on each side
of the tongue, outside of which are those of the lower
jaw-bones. The Trout is chosen as showing the most
complete series of teeth among the Salmonida; and the
value of the arrangement, as instruments for seizure and
prehension, arises from the interposition of the different
.rows, the four lines of teeth on the lower surface alternating
when the mouth is closed with the five rows on the upper
surface, those on the vomer shutting in between the two
rows on the tongue, &c.

The second figure represents, in outline, a side view of
the head, of which No. 1 is the preoperculum ; No. 2,
the operculum ; No. 3, the suboperculum ; No. 4, the
interoperculum ; No. 5, the branchiostegous rays : the four


last parts together forming the moveable gill-cover. The
different fins are sufficiently indicated by being coupled, when
referred to, with the name of the part of the body of the
fish to which they are attached.

The external appearance of the adult Salmon during
the summer months, when it is caught in the estuaries
of our large rivers, is too well known to require much
description. The upper part of the head and back is
dark bluish black ; the sides lighter ; the belly silvery
white ; the dorsal, pectoral, and caudal fins dusky black ;
the ventral fins white on the outer side, tinged niore or
less with dusky on the inner surface ; the anal fin white ;
the small, soft, fleshy fin on the back, without rays, called
the adipose, fat fin, or the second dorsal fin, is of the
same colour nearly as the part of the back from which
it emanates. There are mostly a few dark spots dispersed
over that part of the body which is above the lateral line,
and the females usually exhibit a greater number of these
spots than the males.

These colours, differing but little, are, however, in a
great degree common at the same period of the year to
the three species that are the most numerous, as well as
the most valuable ; namely, the true Salmon, the Bull-
Trout, and the Sea or Salmon Trout ; which are also fur-
ther distinguished from the other species of the genus Salmo
by their seasonal habit of moving from the pure fresh
water to the brackish water, and thence to the sea, and
back to the fresh water again, at particular periods of the
year. Further specific distinctions are therefore necessary ;
and those that will be pointed out as existing constantly
in these species will, it is hoped, enable observers to iden-
tify not only each of these, but also the other species of the
genus, at any age or season.


The vignette above represents the form of the different
parts of the gill-cover in the three species just named ;
of which the figure on the left hand is that of the Salmon,
the middle one is the gill-cover of the Bull-Trout, and
that on the right hand is the gill-cover of the Sea or
Salmon Trout : the differences are immediately apparent
when thus brought into comparison.

In the Salmon, the posterior free edge of the gill-cover,
as shown in the left-hand figure, forms part of a circle ;
the lower margin of the suboperculum is a line directed
obliquely upwards and backwards : the line of the union
of the suboperculum with the operculum is also oblique,
and parallel with the lower margin of the suboperculum ;
the interoperculum is narrow vertically, and its union with
the operculum is considerably above the line of the junc-
tion between the suboperculum and the operculum. The
teeth of the Salmon are short, stout, pointed, and re-
curved : as stated in the generic characters, they occupy
five situations at the top of the mouth ; that is, a line of
teeth on each side of the upper jaw, a line on each palatine


bone, with a few only on the vomer between the palatine
bones : the teeth on the vomer seldom exceeding two in
number, sometimes only one, and that placed at the most
anterior part ; no other teeth extending along the vomer as
in the Salmon-Trout, and more particularly so in some
of those Trout that do not migrate.

The inner surface of the pectoral fin is in part dusky :
the tail very much forked when young ; the central caudal
rays growing up, the tail is much less forked the second
year, and by the fourth year it is become nearly or quite
square at the end.

The descriptions of the gill-covers of the other species
will be given in the account of the fish to which they
belong ; but it may be remarked here, that looking at
the form of the three gill-covers, it will be obvious that a line
drawn from the front teeth of the upper jaw to the longest
backward projecting portion of the gill-cover, in either spe-
cies, will occupy a different situation in respect to the
eye ; that the line will fall nearest the centre of the eye
in the first, that of the Salmon, and farthest below it in the
second, that of the Bull-Trout.

As further specific distinctions in the Salmon, I may
add that, according to Dr. Richardson, the csecal appen-
dages are in number from sixty-three to sixty-eight; and
several observers have stated the number of vertebrae to be
sixty, which I have repeatedly found to be correct.

Commencing, then, with the true Salmon, which ascend
the rivers, in the state as to colour before mentioned, sooner
or later in the spring or summer months, it is observed
that some rivers are much earlier than others, the fish
in them coming into breeding condition and beginning
to spawn at an earlier period.

Rivers issuing from large lakes afford early Salmon, the


waters having been purified by deposition in the lakes :
on the other hand, rivers swollen by melting snows in
the spring months are later in their season of producing
fish, and yield their supply when the lake rivers are be-
ginning to fail. " The causes influencing this," says Sir
William Jardine, to whom I am indebted for much valuable
information on the Salmonida, as well as many specimens,
" seem yet undecided ; and where the time varies much
in the neighbouring rivers of the same district, they are
of less easy solution. The Northern rivers, with little
exception, are, however, the earliest, a fact well known
in the London markets ; and going still farther north,
the range of the season and of spawning may be influenced
by the latitude. 11 Artedi says , "in Sweden the Salmon
spawn in the middle of summer."

" It has been suggested that this variation in the season
depended on the warmth of the waters ; and that those
Highland rivers which arose from large lochs were all
early, owing to the great mass and warmer temperature
of their sources, that the spawn there was sooner hatched.
There are two rivers in Sutherlandshire which show this
late and early running under peculiar circumstances. One,
the Oikel, borders the county, and springs from a small
alpine lake, perhaps about half a mile in breadth ; the other,
the Shin, is a tributary to the Oikel, joins it about five
miles from the mouth, but takes its rise from Loch Shin,
a large and deep extent of water, and connected to a chain
of other deep lochs. Early in the spring, all the Salmon
entering the common mouth diverge at the junction, turn
up the Shin, and return as it were to their own and warmer
stream, while very few keep the main course of the Oikel
until a much later period."

Dr. Heysham, in his Catalogue of Cumberland Animals,


has supplied similar evidence. " The Salmon," it is there
observed, " is plentiful in most of our rivers, in all of which
they spawn ; but they evidently prefer, during the winter
and spring, the Eden to the Esk, the Caldew, or the
Peteril. Although the Esk and the Eden pour out their
waters into the same estuary, and are only separated at the
mouths by a sharp point of land, yet there is scarcely an
instance of a new Salmon ever entering the former until
the middle of April or beginning of May. The fishermen
account for this curious fact from the different temperature
of these two rivers ; the water of the Eden, they allege,
being considerably warmer than the water of the Esk ;
which is not altogether improbable, for the bed of the Esk
is not only more stony and rocky than the Eden, but is
likewise broader, and the stream more shallow ; consequently
its waters must be somewhat colder in the winter season.
It is an undoubted fact, that snow water prevents the Salmon
from running up even the Eden : it is probable this cir-
cumstance may have considerable effect in preventing them
from entering the Esk till the beginning of summer, when
the temperature of the two rivers will be nearly the same.
The Peteril joins the Eden a little above, and the Caldew at
Carlisle ; yet up these rivers the Salmon never run unless
in the spawning season, and even then in no great num-

The number of fish obtained in the spring in a proper
state for food is small compared with the quantity procured
as the summer advances. During the early part of the
season, the Salmon appear to ascend only as far as the river
is influenced by the tide, advancing with the flood, and
generally retiring with the ebb, if their progress be not
stopped by any of the various means employed to catch
them, which will be explained hereafter. It is observed


tliat the female fish ascend before the males ; and the young
fish of the year, called Grilse till they have spawned once,
ascend earlier than those of more adult age. As the season
advances, the Salmon ascend higher up the river beyond the
influence of the tide : they are observed to be getting full
of roe, and are more or less out of condition according to
their forward state as breeding fish. Their progress forwards
is not easily stopped ; they shoot up rapids with the velocity
of arrows, and make wonderful efforts to surmount cascades
and other impediments by leaping, frequently clearing an
elevation of eight or ten feet, and gaining the water above,
pursue their course. If they fail in their attempt and fall
back into the stream, it is only to remain a short time qui-
escent, and thus recruit their strength to enable them to
make new efforts.

These feats of the Salmon are frequently watched with
all the curiosity such proceedings are likely to excite. Mr.
Mudie, in the British Naturalist, describes from personal
observation some of the situations from which these extra-
ordinary efforts can be witnessed. Of the fall of Kilmorac,
on the Beauly, in Invernesshire, it is said, " The pool below
that fall is very large ; and as it is the head of the run in one
of the finest Salmon rivers in the North, and only a few
miles distant from the sea, it is literally thronged with
Salmon, which are continually attemping to pass the fall,
but without success, as the limit of their perpendicular spring
does not appear to exceed twelve or fourteen feet : at least,
if they leap higher than that they are aimless and exhausted,
and the force of the current dashes them down again before
they have recovered their energy. They often kill them-
selves by the violence of their exertions to ascend ; and
sometimes they fall upon the rocks and are captured. It
is indeed said that one of the wonders which the Erasers of

VOL. IT. c



Lovat, who are lords of the manor, used to show their guests,
was a voluntarily cooked Salmon at the falls of Kilmorac.
For this purpose a kettle was placed upon the flat rock on
the south side of the fall, close by the edge of the water,
and kept full and boiling. There is a considerable extent of
the rock where tents were erected, and the whole was under
a canopy of overshadowing trees. There the company are
said to have waited until a Salmon fell into the kettle and
was boiled in their presence. We have seen as many as
eighty taken in a pool lower down the river at one haul of
the seine, and one of the number weighed more than sixty

The fish having at length gained the upper and shallow
pools of the river, preparatory to the important operation of
depositing the spawn in the gravelly beds, its colour will
be found to have undergone considerable alteration during
the residence in fresh water. The male becomes marked on
the cheeks with orange-coloured stripes, which give it the
appearance of the cheek of a Labrus ; the lower jaw elon-
gates, and a cartilaginous projection turns upwards from the
point, which, when the jaws are closed, occupies a deep
cavity between the intermaxillary bones of the upper jaw ;
the body partakes of the golden orange tinge, and the
Salmon in this state is called a red-fish. The females
are dark in colour, and are as commonly called black-fish ;
and by these terms both are designated in those local and
precautionary regulations intended for the protection and
preservation of the breeding fish.

The process of spawning has been described by various
observers. " A pair of fish are seen to make a furrow, by
working up the gravel with their noses, rather against the
stream, as a Salmon cannot work with his head down stream,
for the water then going into his gills the wrong way, drowns


him. When the furrow is made, the male and female
retire to a little distance, one to the one side and the other
to the other side of the furrow : they then throw themselves
on their sides, again come together, and rubbing against each
other, both shed their spawn into the furrow at the same
time. This process is not completed at once ; it requires
from eight to twelve days for them to lay all their spawn,
and when they have done they betake themselves to the
pools to recruit themselves. Three pairs have been seen
on the spawning-bed at one time, and were closely watched
while making the furrow and laying the spawn."*

The following extracts are made from a valuable paper
by Dr. Knox, published in the Transactions of the Royal
Society of Edinburgh.

" November 2. Salmon are observed to be spawning
in the various tributary streams of the Tweed which join
that river from the north, and a pair are watched. The ova
observed to be deposited near the sources of the stream on
the 2nd of November, and covered up with gravel in the
usual way."

" February 25, or a hundred and sixteen days after
being deposited, the ova, on being dug up, are found to be
unchanged. If removed at this time, and preserved in
bottles filled with water, the developement of the egg may
be hastened almost immediately by being put into warm
rooms : it is not necessary to change the water. The fry so
hatched, i. e. artificially, cannot be preserved alive in bottles
longer than ten days ; they eat nothing during their con-

" March 23. The ova now changing ; the outer shell
cast ; the fry are lying imbedded in the gravel, as fishes

* Ellis on the Natural History of the Salmon.


somewhat less than an inch in length, being now twenty
weeks from the period of their deposition."

"April 1. On reopening the spawning-bed, most of
the fry had quitted it by ascending through the gravel.
During a former series of observations I have found the
ova imbedded in the gravel unchanged on the 10th of
April, and as fry or fishes, but still imbedded in the gravel,
on the 17th : they were taken that year, with fly, as Smolts,
on the 22nd of April, about the size of the little finger."

Some specimens of Salmon fry now before me, with a
portion of the ovum still attached to the abdomen of each
fish, measure one inch in length : the head and eyes are
large ; the colour of the body pale brown, with nine or
ten dusky grey marks across the sides. These dusky
patches, longer vertically than wide, are common, I have
reason to believe, to the young of all the species of the
genus Salmo. I have seen them in the young of the
Salmon, Bull-Trout, Salmon-Trout, Parr, Common Trout,
and Welsh Charr. I have never had an opportunity of
examining the young of the Northern Charr, or the Great
Lake-Trout ; yet I have no doubt but that, when only two
or three inches long, they also are marked in the same
manner. In a specimen of the young of the Salmon six
inches long, these transverse marks are still observable when
the fish is viewed in a particular position in reference to the
light ; and if the scales are removed, the marks are much
more obvious. In a Parr of the same length these marks
are still more conspicuous ; they are also very distinct in
the Common Trout and in the Welsh Charr for a consider-
able time ; and as far as my own examination has gone,
these lateral markings observable in the fry of the species of
Salmo are lost, or become indistinct, sooner or later, depend-
ing on the ultimate natural size attained by the particular


species : thus, they are soonest lost in the Salmon and in
the Bull-Trout, and are borne the longest in the Common
Trout and Parr ; indeed, I have never seen the Parr, at any
age or size, without some trace of the remains of these
markings. It is this similarity in markings and appearance
of the fry which has caused the difficulty in distinguishing
between the various species when so young; and experi-
menters, believing they had marked young Parr only, have
been surprised to find some of their marked fish return as
Grilse, young Bull-Trout or Whitling, Salmon-Trout, River-
Trout, and true Parr.

There are striking examples in other animals of this
similarity in the markings, or family likeness, in the young
of the various species of the same genus, however different
may be the colours of the parent animals. The young of
the lion and the puma are as much marked for a time as the
young of the tiger and leopard, or, indeed, of any of the
other cats, whether striped or spotted ; and the young of all
deer are said, and many are known to be, spotted, though it
is also known that the greater number of the adult animals
are perfectly plain.

To return to the Salmon. The adult fish having spawn-
ed, being out of condition and unfit for food, are considered
as unclean fish. They are usually called Kelts ; the male
fish is also called a Kipper, the female a Baggit. With the
floods of the end of winter and the commencement of spring
they descend the river from pool to pool, and ultimately gain
the sea, where they quickly recover their condition, to ascend
again in autumn for the same purpose as before ; but always
remaining for a time in the brackish water of the tide-way
before making either decided change ; obtaining, it has been
said, a release from certain parasitic animals, either external
or internal, by each seasonal change ; those of the salt


water being destroyed by contact with the fresh, and vice

The fry are observed to collect in small pools and mill-dam
heads preparatory to quitting the river. The specimen from
which the figure on the page was taken was obtained in the
Thames, in which river they are occasionally caught in the
season, with other fry of Salmonida, by fishermen who work
at night with a casting-net on the gravelly shallows for Gud-
geons to supply the London fishmongers.

My own specimens of the young of the Salmon having
been preserved in spirits, and the colours thereby affected,
the following description is from Dr. Heysham's Catalogue
before referred to, premising that some differences in colour
may be expected in specimens from different rivers.

" Length seven inches and a half ; circumference three
inches and one-eighth : head dark green ; gill-covers fine
silvery white, marked with a dark-coloured spot ; belly and
sides up to the lateral line of the same silvery colour ;
back and sides down to the lateral line dusky, inclin-
ing to green ; sides above the lateral line marked with
numerous blackish spots ; along the lateral line, and both a
little above and beneath it, several dull obscure red spots :
dorsal fin has twelve rays, marked with several blackish
spots ; pectoral fin has twelve rays, of a dusky olive colour ;
ventral fin eight rays of a silvery white ; anal fin ten rays of


the same colour. When the scales were carefully taken off
with a knife, the obscure red spots became of a fine vermi-
lion, and were nineteen in number; and ten obscure oval
bars of a dusky bluish colour appeared, which crossed the
lateral line. In a young fry which has not acquired scales,
these bars are very distinct."

Whether the river be considered an early or a late river,
the descent of the fry is said to take place much about the
same time in all. It begins in March, and continues through
April and part of May. It rarely happens that any Salmon
fry are observed in the rivers late in June. The Smolt, or
young Salmon, is by the fishermen of some rivers called a
Laspring ; and various couplets refer to the fish, as well as to
the time and circumstances under which the descent is

The last spring floods that happen in May,
Carry the Salmon fry down to the sea.

And again,

The floods of May
Take the Smolts away.

But the uncertainty of popular or provincial names is a
source of great perplexity to the naturalist. The Laspring
of some rivers is the young of the true Salmon ; but in
others, as I know from having had specimens sent me, the
Laspring is really only a Parr ; and it must also be recol-

Online LibraryWilliam YarrellA history of British fishes (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 29)