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THE salmon was silver and brand spanking new, perhaps just a week out of the sea.

It was also had pristine fins, and it fought like a tiger.

The angler who caught it could have been forgiven for thinking at first that he had caught a springer.

But a closer look revealed that the fish in question was in fact a baggot - a late-running salmon full of spawn.

It was carefully unhooked and released as it should be, because it is illegal to kill such a fish.

Some baggots are egg-bound fish. This one, with any luck, would spawn shortly afterwards.

The problem for many novices is identification of what is a clean fish and what is considered to be unclean and therefore illegal to kill.

Baggots are easy to identify because their tummies will be distended and full of roe. Run your fingers gently along its belly and you will feel it soft and flabby.

By the same token, a male salmon in full breeding colour and sporting a kype on its bottom jaw, is also considered to be an unclean fish. It's called a kipper and, again, it must be returned.

The next category of unclean fish are called kelts. These are salmon which have spawned.

Many are so weak that they die after the rigours of spawning. But those which are healthy survive and can make it back to the sea.

A well-mended kelt can put up a terrific fight, and occasionally a fresh-run springer has come into the river so quickly that it's easily tired out in the strong current. The only way to tell what is a kelt and what is not, is by visual identification.

The difference between a kelt and a springer is unmistakable. The springer is firm fleshed, has a deep body, perfect tail and fins, and its vent will be tightly closed.

On the other hand kelts - which can be silver - are so thin it looks as if their heads are out of proportion to the rest of their bodies. The kelt's fins and tail will also be ragged, and its vent still open, because its egg-laying tube hasn't had time to recede into its body after spawning.

There is another tell-tale sign. The fresh-run salmon has red gills, whereas the kelt's are paler and have loads of maggots attached to them.

However, gill maggots alone aren't a determining feature. Sometimes springers which colour up after running early into the river, can develop maggots.

If you are in any doubt about the fish and can't get a second opinion, put it back carefully.

Try to carry a pair of artery forceps to unhook your kelt, baggot, or kipper. Never hold it up by the tail because this stretches the vertebrae and causes internal bleeding.

Instead, gently cradle it in your hands, and steady it on an even keel in the water for a few minutes until it revives and swims away.

A fish which is left to its own devices and turns on its side will die, which is a tragedy because it has a good chance of getting back down to the sea to get itself into good condition again.

DUMBARTON angler Gerald Gath - the small one in the photo - caught this massive sturgeon while fishing the mighty Fraser River in Canada.

The huge fish was measured at 88 inches long and then tagged before it was released.

Sorry we are not giving away champagne to go with your caviar catch Gerald. But you're getting something better - a fantastic rod and reel prize from top tackle makers, Daiwa, our Fish of the Week sponsors.
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 27, 2006
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