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Observations of the Salmon; with Directions how to Fish for him.
ISC. 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.
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. 'Tis 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 'tis 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.
But if the old salmon gets to the sea, then that gristle, which shows him to be 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 possessed him; for (as one has wittily observed) he has, like some persons of honour and riches, which have both their winter and summer houses, the fresh rivers for summer, and the 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.
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 a 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 sleight 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 this also out of Michael Drayton, my honest old friend, as he tells it you in his Polyolbion:
And when the salmon seeks a fresher stream to find,
That, bended end to end, and started from man's hand,
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 as the river Thames, yet none are of so excellent a taste.
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 ribbon, 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 months 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, as young pigeons taken out of the same dovecote have also been observed to do.
And you are yet to observe farther, 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 rule without an exception, so there are some few rivers in this nation that have trouts and salmons in season in winter, as it is certain there be in the
river Wye, in Monmouthshire, where they be in season (as Camden observes) from September till April. But, my scholar, the observation of this and many other things, I must in manners omit, because they will prove too large for our narrow compass of time, and therefore I shall next fall upon my directions how to fish for this salmon. And for that, first you shall observe, that usually he stays not long in a place (as trouts will), but (as I said) covets still to go nearer the spring head; and that he does not (as the trout and many other fish) lie near the water-side, or bank, or roots of trees, but swims in the deep and broad parts of the water, and usually in the middle, and near the ground; and that there you are to fish for him, and that he is to be caught as the trout is, with a worm, a minnow (which some call a penk), or with a fly.
And you are to observe that he is very seldom observed to bite at a minnow (yet sometimes he will) and not usually at a fly; but more usually at a worm, and then most usually at a lob or garden-worm, which should be well scoured, that is to say, kept seven or eight days in moss before you fish with them: and if you double your time of eight into sixteen, twenty, or more days, it is still the better; for the worms will still be clearer, tougher, and more lively, and continue so longer upon your hook; and they may be kept longer by keeping them cool and in fresh moss, and some advise to put camphor into it.
Note also, that many used to fish for a salmon with a ring of wire on the top of their rod, through which the line may run to as great a length as is needful when he is hooked. And to that end, some use a wheel about the middle of their rod, or near their hand; which is to be observed better by seeing one of them, than by a large demonstration of words.
And now I shall tell you that which may be called a secret : I have been a-fishing with old Oliver Henley (now with God), a noted fisher both for trout and salmon, and have observed that he would usually take three or four worms out of his bag, and put them into a little box in his pocket, where he would usually let them continue half-an-hour or more before he would bait his hook with them. I have asked him his reason, and he has replied: "He did but pick