There are many species of fish that can be found in the Ribble. Below is a list and description of a few of the more common ones:
The Atlantic Salmon is one of the largest fish to be found in the Ribble Catchment. It weighs from 3lbs up to around 40lbs. The salmon enter the river at various times of the year “running” up our rivers to the small becks and streams to lay their eggs (spawn). In the winter they will gather in pairs in areas of good clean water and gravel and the female fish will dig a hollow, or redd, in the gravel using here tail, she will then lay here eggs in here, and alongside the male will shed his milt to fertilise the eggs. These eggs then hatch as alevins in the spring and remain in the gravel until they have absorbed their yolk sack. At this point they leave the cover of gravel and start to feed in open water and are known as fry. The fry become parr once they have spent their first winter in the river. After a second winter and up to 4 winters the parr then migrate to the ocean in the following spring. They then feed heavily on the rich food in the ocean (sometimes as far away as Canada), and after one winter some will return as Grilse, some remain for another winter and up to 4 winters in the ocean before returning as Salmon to start the cycle again. The salmon almost always return to the stream where they hatched as an alevin.
Salmon can be seen leaping water falls and weirs and sometimes they will leap out of the water in a pool for no obvious reason! After spawning in the winter the salmon are called kelts, and around 80% of kelts die. The carcasses of the kelts provide important food for invertebrates (and other animals along the river banks) which in turn provide food for the salmon fry.
The sea trout are very similar to the salmon, and you often have to look closely to tell the difference. However the Sea trout can be much smaller some even ½ lb in weight. They can grow up to 21lbs but this is very rare. In much the same way the sea trout lay their eggs in gravel, but generally smaller gravel than the salmon, and also in smaller becks. The eggs hatch, becoming alevins and parr the same as salmon, and head to the sea in the spring, some sea trout will return before the first winter, where as others will remain in the ocean for longer periods. The sea trout don’t travel as far in the ocean as salmon sometimes remaining within a few miles of the estuary of the river of their origin. Sea trout tend to run the rivers at night and are more elusive than the salmon in the day. However at night you can see them trying to riggle through very shallow water often with their backs out of the water. Much fewer sea trout die after spawning and it is not uncommon for sea trout to spawn several times.
Brown trout are closely related to Sea trout, in fact there is evidence to suggest they are the same species and that some sea trout parr remain in the rivers as brown trout and some go to sea, and they do interbreed with sea trout. They are much darker coloured than the sea trout with red spots on their flanks. They spawn in the same way as sea trout and do rely on small becks and will migrate distances within the river to spawn. Brown trout can often be seen in rivers feeding on insects on the surface, and occasionally leaping out to grab an insect.
Also known as the lady of the stream, is one of the most beautiful fish in our rivers. They have long dorsal fins like a sail, and silver flanks with iridescent purple stripes. The grayling unlike the trout or salmon, spawn in the spring. They also lay their eggs in a redd, that is more shallow than the trout. The eggs hatch much faster in warmer spring water and also tend to grow more quickly.
The eel is a long slender snake like fish. It has two pectoral fins and a joined dorsal and tail fin. It has a dark grey blue upper body and a lighter grey white under belly. It feeds mainly on other fish, hunting at night. It also has a migratory journey as part of it’s reproductive cycle. However it is almost in reverse to the salmon. The juvenile eels or Elver enter our rivers and streams and travel upstream, sometimes over land and out of water (Eels are capable of breathing through their skin and as such can withstand low oxygen conditions), In Freshwater they grow quickly and often can reach 90cm in length. They reach sexual maturity between 5 and 10 years old, at which point they migrate downstream to the ocean, where they head to the Sargasso sea to breed. The juveniles then hatch and use the gulf stream to travel back to Europe where they enter our river and streams.
The chub is a thickset fish that can grow up to 6lbs. They have large silver/gold scales and are easily distinguished. They inhabit rivers and streams with a good flow of water. Like the grayling and other coarse fish the chub spawns in the spring. It lays it eggs among weeds, woody debris and gravel. The eggs are sticky and cling to the various surfaces before hatching. They have only teeth in their throat however they can be voracious predatours feeding on the juvenile fish of other species, as well as worms, invertberates and other items they seek out in the river.
The Gudgeon is a smaller fish that inhabits slow moving rivers. It has a silver green back fading to a silver yellow belly. It’s mouth is downward pointing having evolved to feed on invertebrates and insects on the river bed. It spawns in May, laying stick eggs among gravel and water weeds. The fry feed on plankton.
The minnow is a small fish that resembles a trout of salmon fry. It is possible on inspection to tell the difference quite easily. They are a silver yellow with brown markings along the flanks. They live in fast flowing rivers and streams requiring good quantities of oxygen. They gather as huge shoals in the summer. Spawning occurs in late May, there eggs are shed amongst gravel, where they hatch and feed on minute planktonic food, the adults feed on invertebrates and algae.
The Barbel is a large fish inhabiting rivers with strong flows of water. This is fairly common in the lower parts of the Ribble. It is a muscular fish with a flat belly, rounded head and streamlined flanks, evolved perfectly for hugging the river bed. The scales are large and bronze green in colour. It has four barbs that hang down from it’s mouth which it uses to find food on the river bed and amongst detritus. It feeds on invertebrates, crustacean and snails. It spawns in early summer in gravel and loose stones.
These are small fish – rarely getting bigger than 10-12 cms. There bodies are slender and seemingly elongated. They have a brown/yellow mottled body and 6 barbs around the mouth. Stone Loach are nocturnal in nature feeding on the bottom of rivers and streams. Spawning occurs from April to July with two or three batches of eggs laid on the roots of waterweeds or directly on the river bed.
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There are three species of Lamprey; Sea, River and Brook. All resemble the eel but on inspection are quite different. They have 7 holes along the side of the head which are their gills, and a mouth which is circular and sucker like. The Sea and River Lamprey both spend time in the sea, feeding as adults before returning to river to spawn. They excavate redds in river beds and streams where they lay their eggs. The larvae live mostly buried in the river bed before metamorphasising into lampreys where they migrate to the ocean. They use there mouths to attach to fish where their teeth then cut a hole in the side of the fish so they can extract blood and flesh.
The brook Lamprey spawns in sand and gravel, and the newly hatched juvenile bury themselves in organic matter or silt where they feed on organic debris and bottom dwelling animals. The juveniles have no eyes or teeth, and metamorphasise into adults they do not feed. As a results the adults atrophie often making them smaller than the juveniles. Brook Lamprey also die after spawning.
Sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus): Lampreys are an ancient form of fish widely known for their mode of feeding. The sea lamprey undertakes the same migrations as salmon and are described as anadramous. Juvenile lamprey rear and develop in the silty fines of river beds for a period of 6-8 years (Falkus and Buller, 1975). After this period they migrate to the sea where they will feed parasitically upon mostly teleost fish prey until maturuity. The adults then return to spawn and complete their life cycle.
The lamprey pictured was approximately 80cm in length and around 5lbs in weight on the River Hodder on the 14th June. The spawning habitat would be described as pebble, cobbles material overlying bedrock with a smooth water flow within a depth of 30cm at low river level. Some rare spawning footage was captured shortly after the pictures taken. Three lampreys were witnessed to be working together to build a huge single redd with a radius of 3m. The male repeatedly attended and spawned with both of the females. Scrutinising the footage (via the links below) the lamprey appear to ‘feel their way around’ the substrate follwing the loss of their vision. Lamprey are known to die after spawning although no carcasses were discovered following the films.