Cherry Salmon • The First Stage  --Vol.46--

An Appetite

Every time I got cherry salmon I tried to solve my long unanswered question. I wondered whether cherry salmon eat bait after they come up the river from the sea.

Since early times most anglers had accepted the opinion that cherry salmon never eat bait after they swim up the river, just like salmon. It had also explained why we never succeed in catching cherry salmon in the river.

But I had long doubted that opinion. Salmon in Japan, living in the Pacific Ocean, have a completely different life style from Atlantic salmon. Ours stay in the river for a very short period. The young of them, hatched and brought up in the river, leave it as soon as they become big enough to swim down to the sea and they stay there for long. After they mature they come back to the river to spawn. They come upstream not to live there but just to spawn in fresh water. After they spawn they are doomed to die. That means they have only to live for a short time for spawning. They do not mind without bait.
Yamame trout could lead their whole life in the river. For what female fish go down to the sea and become cherry salmon? To spawn a larger amount?

They are caught with fly or lure not because they eat it as bait but because they try to remove an obstacle to spawning. Anyway, they bite fly or lure, so the hook is stuck in their mouth and we catch them.

However cherry salmon have a different life style from other Pacific salmon. They stay in the river for more than a year before going down to the sea, where they grow up. Then they come up the river in much earlier than their spawning season, like Atlantic salmon, Steelhead or sea trout.

But one thing is very different. Cherry salmon die after spawning unlike Atlantic salmon and so on.

At first I believed that cherry salmon eat nothing after coming up the river like other kinds of salmon because they die after spawning. But they have to live in the river for half a year from spring till autumn. Furthermore, not a few of them swim up river earlier than cherry blossom season. It is unnatural that they eat nothing for such long months. They must eat something. It was my conclusion. But all my research showed cherry salmon eat nothing.
When does a cherry salmon change into a yamame trout after swimming up the river?
Inside of the stomach of cherry salmon. In addition to some pieces of algae, there were a lot of nymphs.

What bait do cherry salmon eat?

Do cherry salmon coming up the river eat anything or not? If they eat, what kind of bait? Do they change immediately after they swim up or gradually? I had no answer but just guessed. If I have right answers they will be a great help to decide how to fish and what fly to choose. I wanted to know all means.

Even if cherry salmon eat nothing after they come up the river, they will keep the life style in the sea for a while like Pavlov's dog. It was why I chose Aquamarine, which fortunately was very successful. But at that time I did not exactly know why.

Now that I caught 4 cherry salmon I checked inside their stomachs. The first one had nothing in it. The second one had some scrap but I was not sure what it was. Checking the third and forth ones made me surprised. Their stomachs had not only some scrap of algae but also a lot of nymphs. Most of them were as small as size 12 or 14 hook.

What poor meal they have! Imagine how big they are and how much they eat in the sea. They try perfect slimming? Anyway, I knew they eat. A large number of nymphs in their stomachs meant that they caught and ate quite often. That suggested that we should catch more by devising a new method.

Double-Trophy-Size Yamame Trout

A lot of baits are flowing in high water of the snow melting season. Yamame trout and char eat a lot and grow up. Why don't cherry salmon eat although they grow up no more?
Black caddis larva eaten by cherry salmon. It was quite natural cherry salmon went thinner.

I remembered how I fished in the first snow melting water of spring. In daytime when the temperature rose snow started melting and flowed into the river. Clear water in the morning suddenly became high and muddy. Immediately fish half-sleeping in the mountain stream started moving and devoured the bait.

How about cherry salmon? Judging from the fact my cherry salmon had a lot of nymphs in their stomachs I thought they get back their appetite. If my guess is right, a good fishing chance will come when snow melting water makes the river rise or when nymphs are hatched as the water becomes warm.

I also guessed that fishing point and method are the same as for yamame trout, their young. Only difference is that cherry salmon keep moving upstream to prepare for spawning.
A cherry salmon changed into a yamame trout day by day. If it lives in the river it will not able to keep this big body.

I guessed in this way or that. People who said cherry salmon eat nothing after they come up the river mentioned that there was nothing in their stomach and their digestive organs became atrophied in summer.

But I thought that empty stomach means they are not so keen on eating anything hard to digest.

If they swallowed a Japanese dace it would take ages to digest it and we would often find indigestive bait in their stomach. But probably they do not have such a strong appetite. On the contrary, nymphs are instantly digested. If we catch them by a gill net nothing will remain in their stomach when they are caught.

As for atrophy of their digestive organs, it looked quite natural. Big stomach suitable in the sea is too big in the river. They only need that of a small yamame trout. In spawning season a smaller one is enough for them.
Cherry salmon swim upstream, overcoming many difficulties.

Coming Upstream

In the end why do cherry salmon come up the river in much earlier than their spawning season? The young of cherry salmon are called yamame trout. Probably yamame trout are doomed to go down to the sea but there are a lot of landlocked ones, too. Landlocked ones are found more and more in the southern area, whereas cherry salmon are more and more in the northern area. There is scarce rich bait in the northern rivers, where yamame trout cannot become big even if they live long. Yamame trout lay about 300 pieces of spawn but cherry salmon 10 times more. Spawning a lot is the most important for reproduction. Therefore, female yamame trout hurry to go down to the sea and come upstream as cherry salmon with a lot of spawn, whereas male ones remain small in the river, waiting for cherry salmon to come back.
A yamame trout brought up in the river with rich bait. It somehow reminds us of a cherry salmon.

Yamame trout live deeper and deeper in source area in the southern land. Therefore, cherry salmon need more time to come upstream and more water to swim up fast current. In addition, they have to get to the upper reaches before the water becomes warm in summer. They cannot bear the high water temperature in the middle reaches. That is why they start coming upstream in spring when a large amount of cold water flows into the river and arrive at the upper reaches in time of the spawning season in autumn. As the water temperature goes up earlier in southern area, so they start coming upstream earlier there. As for salmon, they spawn in the middle reaches, so they do not need to come upstream very early. In addition, the young of salmon go down to the sea quickly before the water becomes warm. So salmon do not have to come up the river deep in the mountain where cold water is flowing in summer.

A few years later those guesses turned out to be right. Cherry salmon grow up in the sea and come up the river. Then they are changed from the sea fish to the river ones. In the end they become giant yamame trout. That is why I call them double-trophy-size yamame trout.

-- To be continued --
2002/03/31  KEN SAWADA
Tranlated into English by Miyoko Ohtake