On the Northwest Coast, a variety of fish hooks were used to harvest fish, with the size and form often dependent on the species targeted. Prior to the introduction of iron with European contact, fish hooks were made of wood or stone with bone points lashed to them. A variety of forms were used for different fish and different fishing conditions. The hooks often had cedar or spruce root barbs attached to them. Wooden fish hooks can sometimes be found in waterlogged archaeological sites, but more often, the bone point is the only part of fish hooks that preserves throughout time.
To troll for salmon a single, baited bone hook was attached to a stinging nettle or kelp line and drawn behind a moving canoe. The lines were weighted approximately midway with a small stone sinker attached with cedar withes or cherry bark, while a human hair leader line was sometimes attached between the hook and the fishing line. Depending on the depth of the water and the characteristics of the salmon species being fished, these lines could be up to 18 meters long and were very labour-intensive to manufacture.
Sturdy fishing lines were made of twisted or knotted cedar bark, seaweed (bull kelp) or nettle fibres and attached to fishing hooks. Fishing lines have been recovered from waterlogged archaeological sites.
Lures were used to entice fish such as cod or dogfish to the water’s surface so they could be speared with a leister or caught in a net. Willow wood lures were carved in the shape of a fish and attached to a pole or a spear. The lures were pushed into the water and released, allowing them to float back to the surface. The fish would follow the lure as it was raised to the water’s surface, and were then caught.
Toggling harpoons were used by the Coast Salish for fishing and marine mammal hunting. The harpoons were constructed from long cedar, hemlock or Douglas-fir shafts with a detachable spear bone or stone tip attached to one end. The toggling harpoon could have up to three separate prongs on the end of the head depending on the fish species being caught and the physical characteristics of the fishing grounds. When the harpoon was thrust into a fish, the flared points of the harpoon head lodged securely into the salmon. At the same time, a stinging nettle or cedar bark fibre line would act as a shock absorber as the harpoon head broke away from the pole. This two-foot line allowed for the exhausted salmon to be easily manoeuvred into the canoe or onto shore while minimizing the chance of losing the fish or the spear. Bone toggling harpoon heads are found archaeologically in BC beginning over 3000 years ago.
Fishing spears were wooden shafts with pointed bone or antler hooks or barbs securely hafted to the shaft end. Compared to a toggling harpoon with the expanding valved point, a fish could more easily free itself when speared with a harpoon with a fixed barb. Fishing spears were thrust either from a canoe or by standing in the water. The spear tip or pieces of the prongs or barbs of harpoons and spears are often found archaeologically and have been recovered in sites as old as 10,000 years.
< Back | Introduction | Artifacts 1 | Artifacts 2 | Next >