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PISCATOR.-The Salmon is accounted the king of freshwater fish; and is ever bred in rivers relating to the sea, yet so high, or far from it, as admits of no tincture of salt, or brackishness. He is said to breed or cast his spawn, in most rivers, in the month of August: some say, that then they dig a hole or grave in a safe place in the gravel, and there place their eggs or spawn, after the melter has done his natural office, and then hide it most cunningly, and cover it over with gravel and stones; and then leave it to their Creator's protection, who, by a gentle heat which He infuses into that cold element, makes it brood, and beget life in the spawn, and to become samlets early in the spring next following.
1 Their usual time of spawning is about the beginning of September; but it is said that those in the Severn spawn in May.-H. The spawning season varies in different rivers and from different causes (see Yarrell's 'Fishes," vol. ii. p. 1-70, and Supp. 1-8, where all that relates to the salmon is elaborately treated). In the Tweed, salmon are found to spawn from the end of September till the beginning of November. They are also known to spawn at different times in the same river. This may account for their running up rivers, of all sizes, in summer and autumn.-ED.
The Salmons having spent their appointed time, and done this natural duty in the fresh waters, they then haste to the sea before winter, both the melter and spawner: but if they be stopped by flood-gates or weirs, or lost in the fresh waters, then those so left behind, by degrees grow sick and lean, and unseasonable, and kipper, that is to say, have bony gristles grow out of their lower chaps, not unlike a hawk's beak, which hinders their feeding; and in time, such fish so left behind pine away and die. It is observed, that he may live thus, one year, from the sea: but he then grows insipid and tasteless, and loses both his blood and strength; and pines and dies the second year. And it is noted, that those little salmons called skeggers, which abound in many rivers relating to the sea, are bred by such sick salmons that might not go to the sea; and, that though they abound, yet they never thrive to any considerable bigness.3
But if the old Salmon gets to the sea,-then that gristle which shows him to be a kipper, wears away; or is cast off, as the eagle is said to cast his bill; and he recovers his strength; and comes next summer to the same river, if it be possible,-to enjoy the former pleasures that there possest him; for, as one has wittily observed, he has-like some persons of honour and riches, which have both their winter
1 This gristly tusk, or "gil," is only found in male salmon generally about spawning time, and some weeks afterwards, and disappears as the fish get into condition, and reappear in the following breeding season. The use of it is not accurately known. Browne thinks it is a temporary defence against other fish that would devour the spawn, but Ephemera is of opinion, after much observation, that its use is for making furrows in the gravel bed of the river in which the female deposits her milt.—ED.
"Particularly the rivers of Yorkshire, Devonshire, and Dorsetshire about May."-Browne.
3 This is now found to be incorrect. Skeggers are the one-year old produce of healthy and not of sick salmon. Mr. Yarrell adopts the following terminology:-Salmon of the first year is a Penk; of the second year, till he goes to the sea, a Smolt; and after its return, in the autumn, Salmon Peal, or Grilse.-ED.
4 The migration of the salmon, and divers other sorts of fishes, is analogous to that of birds; and Mr. Ray confirms Walton's assertion, by saying, that "Salmon will yearly ascend a river four or five hundred miles; only to cast their spawn, and secure it in banks of sand till the young be hatched and excluded; they then return to sea again." See Ray's Wisdom of God in the Creation, p.80.
summer, and the
and summer-houses-the fresh rivers for salt water for winter, to spend his life in; which is not, as Sir Francis Bacon hath observed in his " History of Life and Death," above ten years. And it is to be observed, that though the salmon does grow big in the sea, yet he grows not fat but in fresh rivers; and it is observed, that the farther they get from the sea, they be both the fatter and better.1
Next, I shall tell you, that though they make very hard shift to get out of the fresh rivers into the sea; yet they will make harder shift to get out of the salt into the fresh rivers, to spawn, or possess the pleasures that they have formerly found in them: to which end, they will force themselves through flood-gates, or over weirs, or hedges, or stops in the water, even to a height beyond common belief." Gesner speaks of such places as are known to be above eight feet high above water. And our Camden mentions in his "Britannia," the like wonder to be in Pembrokeshire, where the river Tivy falls into the sea; and that the fall is so downright, and so high that the people stand and wonder at the strength, and slight, by which they see the salmon use to get out of the sea into the said river; and the manner and height of the place is so notable, that it is known, far, by the name of the salmon-leap. Concerning which, take
1 Later researches have established that it is in the sea and not in the fresh water that salmon fatten. They are in their primest condition immediately after their return from the sea, and then gradually lose their brightness, and become comparatively lean.-ED.
2 Mudie, in the "British Naturalist," describes, from personal observation, some of the situations of extraordinary salmon-leaps. Of the fall of Kilmorae, on the Beauly in Invernesshire, it is said, "that the pool below the fall is very large; and as it is the head of the river in one of the finest salmon rivers in Scotland, and only a few miles distant from the sea, it is literally thronged with salmon, which are continually attempting 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 themselves by the violence of their exertions to ascend." We are told that by the side of the leap, on a flat piece of rock, a kettle was kept boiling, and the salmon frequently, on missing their spring, fell into this kettle and were boiled alive. The Frasers of Lovat, who were lords of the manor of Beauly, used to entertain their friends on such occasions, under a canopy erected near the stream.-YARRELL.
this also out of Michael Drayton,' my honest old friend; as he tells it you, in his "Polyolbion."
As when the salmon secks a fresher stream to find,
This, Michael Drayton tells you, of this leap or summersault of the salmon.
And next, I shall tell you, that it is observed by Gesner and others, that there is no better salmon than in England, -and that though some of our northern counties have as fat, and as large,3 as the river Thames, yet none are of so excellent a taste.
1 An excellent poet, born in Warwickshire, 1563. Among his works, which are very numerous, is the "Polyolbion," a chorographical description of the rivers, mountains, forests, castles, &c., in this island. Though this poem has great merit, it is rendered much more valuable by the learned notes of Mr. Selden. The author died in 1631, and lies buried among the poets in Westminster Abbey.-H.
2 Summersault, or summerset, from soubresault, Fr. a high leap, n which the heels are thrown over the head. To throw a summerset, is a phrase common with tumblers.-H. Drayton's notion of the salmon-leap, which prevails almost universally even to the present day, is found to be more poetical than true. The salmon is said never to curve itself or put its tail into its mouth for the purpose of leaping, but to derive its saltatory force from its powerful fins.-ED.
3 The following interesting article of intelligence appeared in one of the London journals, April 18, 1789 :-"The largest salmon ever caught, was yesterday brought to London. This extraordinary fish measured upwards of four feet from the point of the nose to the extremity of the tail, and three feet round the thickest part of the body; its weight was seventy pounds, within a few ounces. A fishmonger in the Minories cut it up at one shilling per pound, and the whole was sold almost immediately."-H. Hofland
And as I have told you that Sir Francis Bacon observes, the age of a salmon exceeds not ten years; so let me next tell you, that his growth is very sudden: it is said, that, after he is got into the sea, he becomes, from a samlet not so big as a gudgeon, to be a salmon, in as short a time as a gosling becomes to be a goose. Much of this, has been observed; by tying a ribband, or some known tape or thread, in the tail of some young salmons, which have been taken in weirs as they have swimmed towards the salt water; and then by taking a part of them, again with the known mark, at the same place, at their return from the sea, which is usually about six months1 after; (and the like experiment hath been tried upon young swallows; who have, after six months'absence, been observed to return to the same chimney, there to make their nests and habitations for the summer following:) which has inclined many to think, that every salmon usually returns to the same river in which it was bred; 2 as young pigeons, taken out of the same dove-cote, have also been observed to do.
And you are yet to observe further, that the he-salmon is usually bigger than the spawner; and that he is more kipper, and less able to endure a winter in the fresh water than she is yet she is at that time of looking less kipper, and better -as watery, and as bad meat.
And yet you are to observe, that as there is no general
mentions one of seventy-four pounds, which was caught at loch Awe, hooked one day and not landed till the next. We have heard that Professor Wilson caught a salmon with a fly, in Scotland, which weighed sixty-four pounds. But the largest on record came into the possession of Mr. Grove, fishmonger, of Bond-street, in 1821. This weighed eighty-three pounds. Salmon of great weight used formerly to be taken in the Thames; but we believe not for more than twenty years. Human ingenuity has of late years come to the aid of Salmon in facilitating its passage over the steepest falls. Mr. Smith, of Deanston, invented in 1840 an intersected stair-ladder (figured in Mr. Yarrell's work), by which the fish can ascend any fall step by step. And in the late Paris Exposition (1855) the model of one was exhibited which had been used with much success in Ireland, and up which even minnows had been seen to ascend.-ED.
1 On an average Salmon return to their native river within three months, and frequently in two.-ED.
2 That this is undoubtedly the case, has been proved of late years, by the practice of marking salmon and then turning them again into the river from which they were taken, and in which they have been found the following year.-ED.