Native Fishing Equipment
It is astonishing the number of salmon which ascend the Columbia yearly and the quantity taken by the Indians. . . . The Indians are quite expert in taking them.
Elkanah Walker to Reverend David Greene, 1839.
Native groups of the Columbia River Basin harvested salmon, eels, sturgeon and other fish from their rivers using a variety of methods. Equipment ranged from spears and gaffs to long-handled dipnets and weirs, depending on their efficacy at a particular fishing site. At rapidly moving water such as Celilo and Cascade falls, for example, Indians built scaffolds along the river bank that reached out over the rushing water. They often used a large dipnet -- a hoop net attached to a long handle -- to scoop fish from the water as they attempted to pass the falls. At slack water, Indians often used nets and canoes.
Indians continue to use traditional fishing equipment when they fish the rivers of the Columbia Basin. However, they also use modern equipment like gill nets and motor boats. In 1916, United States v. Seufert determined that the use of modern equipment does not impinge on the treaty-reserved fishing rights of native people. The judge declared that, "I see no reason why Indians may not be permitted to advance in the arts and sciences as well as any other people, and, if they can catch their supply of food fish by a more scientific and expeditious method, there exists no good reason they may not be permitted to do so."
The following pages provide brief descriptions of fishing gear taken from the journals of David Douglas, Isaac Stevens, and other historical figures.