Things you may not know about the fish around Wales

Salmon

Salmon have lots of different names, depending on their stage of development. 

A hen salmon lays between 800-900 eggs for every pound of her weight and the eggs are fertilised by the cock salmon swimming over them before she covers them with gravel.  The eggs hatch in spring and the tiny salmon or alevins are provided with a yolk sac which is gradually absorbed by the growing fish.  After spawning the adult salmon are known as kelts and return to the sea.  Many will die before they reach the sea, but a few will return to the same spawning grounds in later years.

Meanwhile the alevins grow and feed in the river, they then become known as parr, a trout-like fish that has a series of dusky mauve marks along its sides.  As a parr it remains in the river for a year or more and its colour gradually changes to silver.  The parrs congregate in considerable numbers, then they are known as smolts and they move toward the sea, where the major part of their growing and feeding is done.

After a year at sea they sometimes return to the same river in which they were born and the grilse, as the year old salmon are known, weigh anything from 4-9 pounds.  Many won't return for two or more years and these fish are then much heavier and larger than the grilse.  The Wye is particularly famous for its large salmon, many of which have been at sea for four or more years.  The surviving salmon always return to the rivers of their birth.

Sea Trout or Sewin

These fish have a similar life cycle as the salmon and their flesh is also similar although lighter in colour.  In some rivers, notably the Dyfi (the Dovey), the Tywi (the Towy) and the Conwy, the netting of sewin is as important if not more so, than the fishing for salmon.  The Towy is particularly noted as a sewin river.  Oddly though, there are many rivers in Wales where hardly any sewin are caught.  They are found in the River Usk but sewin are almost unknown in the adjacent River Wye.

How to catch the fish?

Hand netting - used by a lone fisherman in both river estuaries and along the coast.  Great agility and skill is needed because the fisherman, wading in shallow water, has to be quick to catch a salmon as it makes its way upstream. The best known hand nets is the lave-net which consists of a net attached to a Y-shaped frame.  To use the lave-net, the fisherman stands in shallow water with the net ready to intercept the salmon as it rushs upstream.  Once the fish is in the net, a wooden knocker or "priest" is used to kill it.  The "priest" is essential for all salmon fishermen and is made of apple or holly wood, about 12 inches long and attached to an lanyard which the fisherman has round his wrist.

Stop-net - this is a bag-like net suspended between two poles that form a V-shaped frame.  These nets may also be called compass nets because of their resemblance to a pair of compasses.  Fishing against the tide, the boats take up its station against the poles driven into the bed of the river or moored to a steel cable fixed to the shores of the river.

Seine-netting - this is a wall of netting usually 200 metres or more in length and dropping to a depth suitable to the river.  It should stand in the water as vertically as possible.  As the net is hauled in, the two ends of the net are brought close together making a narrow bag of the middle of the space where the fish are concentrated.  The salmon and sewin caught in the net are killed with the knocker and the net is rearranged on the boat transom  for the next shot.  Seine netting has been used for centuries.  In 1883 as much as half a tonne of salmon was caught in one day  in the lower reaches of the River Teifi and sent to London.

Besides the ones we've already discussed, there are wade-nets, drift- nets, and salmon traps.  Many of these nets have been used for centuries by fishermen, some even by those fishing from coracles.

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