Lifecycle of the Salmon
Wild Atlantic salmon vary in appearance during their lifetime.
Until the early 19th century the life cycle was not understood
and documented, and Parr and Smolt were assumed to be different
species of fish.
EGGS - Pea-sized orange eggs are deposited in riverbed
gravel in autumn, and hatch the following early spring. As the
eggs develop, the eyes of the developing wild salmon can be seen
through the semi-transparent membrane.
ALEVIN - The partly transparent alevin hatch and remain
hidden in the riverbed gravels, feeding from the attached yolk
sac. They are about 2 cm or less than 1 inch in length.
FRY - Wriggling up from the gravels, fry begin feeding on
microscopic life in the stream. They eventually reach a length
of 5 to 8 cm./2 to 3in. before transforming into parr.
PARR - The vertical markings, called 'parr marks' appear,
with a single red dot between. Parr remain in the river for 2 to
6 years, depending on water temperatures and food availability.
SMOLT - At a length of 12 to 24 cm/4.7 to 9.5 in. a
springtime transformation of the parr takes place into smolt. A
silvery sheen replaces the parr marks, and internally they
undergo a complex transformation to survive in saltwater. On the
downstream journey the odors of the smolt's native river are
imprinted on its memory, to be recalled when it returns to
Salmon terms you might
not have known or understood!
Salmon – A fish which has been to sea for more than one
Kelt – a fish which has spawned and is starting its
return to the sea. Generally caught at the beginning of the
season it is likely to be lean, have gill maggots, a distended
vent and have some damage to the bottom of the tail (from
cutting redds). A well mended kelt is likely to look like a lean
Grilse – a fish which has been at sea for one winter
(single sea winter), early season it will be smaller than a
salmon at around 2 -3lb in May but by October it could be 12 –
15lb in weight. Scales readings are the only true way to tell.
Baggot – a female fish which hasn’t spawned and has
remained in the river. It will have a soft belly and be a
slightly off-silver colour. Baggots are usually caught in the
Rawner – a male salmon which hasn’t spawned and has
remained in the river. Rawners are usually caught in the spring.
Springer – a salmon that has entered the river early in
the year to spawn in the autumn. These are very beautiful and
highly prized fish.
Stale fish – a fish which has been in the river for some
time and has lost its silver colour. It will get darker in
colour the longer it remains in the river and the closer it gets
Anadromous – the word used to describe any species of
fish which lives at sea but enters fresh water to reproduce.