- Indians fished with spears, bows and arrows, nets and seines, weirs or
wattlework fish traps, with the bare hand, and by drugging fish with some
poison. They also caught fish with hook and line.
Fishhooks were fashioned from wood, bone,
shell, copper, and certain types of cactus thorns. Some hooks were
barbed. An interesting kind of hook, called a snap hook, consisted
of a wooden hoop, the ends of which were held apart by a peg. This
peg was loosened by the fish taking the bait and the ends of the hoop snapped
together, holding the fish by the jaw. Lines were made from twisted
bark and from babiche.
Not all Indians fished. Among the
Navajo, Apache, and Zuñi tribes the eating of fish was forbidden
by custom. But those tribes that used fish for food would utilize
almost anything that came from the water, from shellfish to salmon, as
well as eels.
The greatest amount of fishing was done
in the Northeast. During the "salmon run," entire tribes would turn
out for fishing. the fish were caught by hand, scooped into nets,
clubbed, or speared. In some places they were speared from canoes
and even platforms which were built out over the water. The fish
were dried, pounded, and mixed with roots and berries and packed for future
The candlefish, caught by the northwestern
Indians, was so oily that when dried and a wick placed in it, it served
as a candle or lamp.
Captain John Smith, in his history of Virginia,
tells that on one occasion the fish were so numerous in the water of the
Potomac River that he had difficulty landing his boat. The Indians
of this section used weirs, or wattlework fish traps.
Some Indians used sticks split on the end
and caught fish by "pinching." In winter, holes were cut in the ice
and the fish were caught when they surfaced. The Cherokee, Iroquois,
and other tribes placed poisonous barks in streams to drug fish, so that
they could be easily gathered up. Some tribes used fires and torches
along the shore or in canoes to attract the fish, which were then speared
or taken in nets.
Salmon and herring eggs were a great delicacy.
In collecting herring eggs Indians laid weighted branches under water.
The herring deposited their eggs on these branches, which were then brought
up and the eggs dried right on them. later the dried eggs were scraped
off and made into a kind of sausage, by stuffing them in casings made of
the intestines of animals.
The Eskimo were great fisherman, and lived
principally on sea mammals, particularly the seal. They had what
was probably the most elaborate fishing gear of any Indians, but the harpoon
was their most common fishing implement.
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