This section is from the book "American Game Fishes", by W. A. Perry. Also available from Amazon: American Game Fishes: Their Habits, Habitat, and Peculiarities; How, When, and Where to Angle for Them.
Possibly one reason why there has been such a wide divergence of opinion about the life-history of the Salmon is, that there is nothing constant about them, except their periodical visits to the sea and river, and these vary, not only with climatic conditions, and the extreme diversity in the length of rivers, but they are always liable to be disturbed by extraneous contributory causes, such as sudden meterological changes, erratic movements of the small fish and fry on which they chiefly feed, raids of porpoises and seals, which split the schools up into fragments, or drive the whole body off temporarily. In the Arctic rivers there is only a mid-summer run of Salmon. There is no autumn run, for the rivers are frozen tight by the end of September. In many Laurentian rivers there are a spring, summer, and autumn run, because the rivers are kept in full supply of cold water from the reservoirs of melting snow at their sources. In rivers of extreme length, like the Columbia, Yukon, and others of the Pacific coast, the spring run of Salmon does not go back to the sea, for obvious reasons. If the fish have five hundred miles or more to ascend, they cannot afford to lose time by running in and out. High falls especially retard their progress. To surmount these they are obliged to climb their rugged abutments, which are full of pockets and crevices and projections, over which the lateral overflow is constantly spilling in greater or less quantity; and it is not altogether an impossible feat for a Salmon to mount a very high fall by these gradual steps, stopping betimes to rest his muscles and moisten his gills in the little basins which present themselves conveniently at hand. But they will not essay this side-passage until they have persistently attempted to leap the breast of the fall; hence, some careless observers have maintained against all reason, common sense, and mathematical demonstration, that Salmon leap falls sixteen feet high and upwards! However, up the fish must go, impelled irresistibly by the instinct of procreation, which demands that they shall reach the upper waters. The time of spawning often varies in the same river, and is determined by the period at which impregnation has taken place. A portion of the run, therefore, being riper than the rest, spawn sooner, and, having fulfilled their mission, return at once to the sea, while their less fortunate belated kindred must continue their pilgrimage, perchance to headwaters; for so long as their great work remains unaccomplished, they will press on until stopped by insurmountable obstacles. Gravid fish must halt in whatever part of the river the crisis overtakes them. Such as are obliged to continue on to the upper spawning-beds arrive in sorry plight, mutilated, crushed, and almost shapeless. Fortunate are those which have vitality enough left to be able to return to the sea. Indeed, so great is the mortality, that it has been generally believed that they never return at all.
Speckled Trout are found in almost all eastern Salmon streams, and the angler who chances to try his luck in them will often pick out of the riffs fish of varying size which he looks at twice, being in doubt of their identity. Some of them are half-pound fish, with a row of six intense carmine spots on each side, and others are but finger-long, flanked with five dusky vertical bars. He thinks they are a new kind of trout, but they are really adolescent and baby Salmon, called Smolts and Parr. When the Smolt goes to sea, as he does his second year, he will gain a pound a month in the salt water, and after a luxurious absence will return to his birthplace in the blue and silver livery of a Grilse, and very much like an adult in appearance. As a Grilse he tarries in the upper pools till spring, and again returns to the sea a full-grown Salmon, grows fat and ponderous, and again ascends as a breeding fish of thirty to fifty pounds in weight. There is no doubt of this wonderful growth. Marked fish have been known to treble their weight in a twelve-month.
Late spawning fish generally drop down the river with the "June rise" in a most emaciated and ravenous condition, and are often picked up by the angler, greatly to his disgust, for their stomachs have shrunk entirely away, their skin hangs in flabby folds, their scales have all sloughed off, and they seem to be nothing but back, head, and tail. Such objects are called "Kelts," and they play havoc with everything that has fins, destroying great quantities of small Salmon in their ravenous raids for food.
Very different is the first-run Salmon, just from the sea, with his plump and shapely form, broad shoulders, and glistening armature of blue and silver scales, leaping for joy at his escape from the dangers of the passage, and dallying with the pleasures and incidents of the wray. To catch one of these magnificent fish, to have him on your line, for an hour at a time, to be intimate with him, as it were, is an experience which no one can appreciate who has not been through the ordeal: for an ordeal it is, of the most trying sort. In his "Pleasures of Angling," Mr. George Dawson describes his sensations on capturing his first Salmon, in a most realistic way. It seems he had raised his fish once, and looked him full in the face, as one glares at a ghost, as he came to the surface with great cavernous mouth wide open, and eyes which bulged far out into the air; and he had gone through all the feelings of faintness peculiar to similar occasions, with nerve twinges, electrical thrills, etc., when, having pulled himself together, he had a second rise. "I had marked the spot," he says, "where the fish had risen, had gathered up my line for another cast, had dropped the fly, like a snow-flake, just where I desired it to rest, when, like a Hash, the same enormous head appeared, the same open jaws revealed themselves, a swirl and a leap and a strike followed, and my first Salmon was hooked with a thud! which told me, as plainly as if the operation had transpired within the range of my vision, that if I lost him it would be my own fault. When thus assured, there was excitement, but no flurry. My nerves thrilled and every muscle assumed the tension of well-tempered steel, but I realized the full sublimity of the occasion, and a sort of majestic calmness took the place of the stupid inaction which followed the first apparition. My untested rod bent under the pressure in a graceful curve; my reel clicked out a livelier melody than ever emanated from harp or hautboy, as the astonished fish made his first dash; the tensioned line emitted yEolian music as it stretched and stiffened under the strain to which it was subjected; and for fifty minutes there was such giving and taking, such sulking and rushing, such leaping and tearing, such hoping and fearing, as would have 'injected life into the ribs of death,' made an anchorite dance in very ecstasy, and caused any true angler to believe that his heart was a kettle-drum, every sinew a Jew's-harp, and the whole frame-work of his excited nerves a full band of music. And during all this time my canoe-man rendered efficient service in keeping even pace with the eccentric movements of the struggling fish. 'Hold him head up, if possible,' was the counsel given me, and 'make him work for every inch of line.' Whether, therefore, he took fifty yards or a foot, I tried to make him pull for it, and then to regain whatever was taken as soon as possible. The result was an incessant clicking of the reel, either in paying out or in taking in, with an occasional flurry and leap which could have been no more prevented than the on-rushing of a locomotive. Any attempt to have suddenly checked him by making adequate resistance would have made leader, line, or rod a wreck in an instant. All that it was proper or safe to do was to give each just the amount of strain and pressure it could bear with safety-not an ounce more nor an ounce less-and I believe that I measured the pressure so exactly that the strain upon my rod did not vary half an ounce from the first to the last of the struggle. Toward the close of the fight, when it was evident that the 'jig was up,' and I felt myself master of the situation, I took my stand upon a projecting point in the river, where the water was shallow and where the most favorable opportunity possible was afforded the gaffer to give the struggling fish the final death-thrust, and so end the battle. It was skillfully done. The first plunge of the gaff brought him to the greensward, and there lay out before me, in all his silver beauty and magnificent proportions, my first Salmon. He weighed thirty pounds, plump, measured nearly four feet in length, was killed in fifty minutes. It is said that when the good old Dr. Bethune landed his first Salmon, 'he caressed it as fondly as he ever caressed his first-born.' I could only stand over mine in speechless admiration and delight-panting with fatigue, trembling in very ecstasy.