This section is from the book "American Game Fishes", by W. A. Perry. Also available from Amazon: American Game Fishes: Their Habits, Habitat, and Peculiarities; How, When, and Where to Angle for Them.
In 1879, while employed as an engineer on a tug belonging to a cannery, myself and a friend took a boat and a net one evening, and made a "drift." The result was four hundred and forty-three Saw-qui, that would average eight pounds. As the boatmen had concluded their labors for the day and had gone home, we were in a plight. Our skiff would not hold one-half the Salmon, and was soon loaded to the gunwale. We drifted down the river, and fortunately met a small steam-launch that took us in tow, and brought us safely to the cannery wharf, where our Salmon were secured and counted. We received one cent each for them, and considered ourse'lves well paid; but the next day the net-tender put in a bill for twelve dollars damages, claiming that we had torn and almost ruined his net. We paid the bill, and ever since we have considered that we "lost money on de goods."
Various methods of taking the Pacific Salmon are by the fish-wheel, "of all diabolical inventions the most infernal," the net, the trap, the spoon, and the bait-hook. But I will only describe here the methods of catching Salmon by hand.
When the sultry June sun shines on the Cascade Mountains, the melting snow causes the river to rise rapidly. The Indians watch closely for this event, and the various tribes gather in the deep, narrow canyon where the river runs. The drying-sheds of these people have stood in the same places since the unknown ages, and every year the same families return to the same sheds. These sheds, or scaffolds, are crudely, yet strongly, built. No nails or pins are used. Posts are set firmly in the ground, to the tops of which beams are firmly lashed with ropes of bark, and strong poles laid from one rafter to another. Sometimes there will be a complete net-work of beams and rafters, the whole capable of sustaining many tons of Salmon. This skeleton building is then covered and sided up with bark, and noble Mr. Lo is ready for business.
When the morning sun warms the air, he arises, gives himself a shake, and his toilet is made. Taking his dip-net from the side of the bark rancherie, where he has slept, he ambles down to the river, takes his position on a jutting rock, and begins to drag his net down the stream. The hoop of this net is usually thirty inches in diameter, and the net about four feet deep. It is attached to a handle about twelve feet long. The current of the Frazer is very swift, and in order to fish successfully Mr. Lo has to exert himself in a manner not at all to his liking.
It is a picturesque sight to watch one of these Indians fishing-his brown, nude figure pictured against the dark basaltic rock throwing and withdrawing his net, and if successful, the blue and orange of the great Salmon struggling in the net which glitters in the sun like an interlacing of diamond cords. The fish is cast violently on the rock, and a war-whoop thrills the air. Almost instantly, a squaw, as nude as the fisherman on the rocks, appears and gets the Salmon. In a short time a fire is blazing in the rancherie. The Salmon is split in two, and on a hoop is roasting before the fire. By the time the Salmon is cooked, the fisherman may have a hundred lying on the rock. He then shoulders his net, and returns to the rancherie, having all the fish that can be cured that day. After disposing of the cooked Salmon, he curls himself up under the shade of some rock, and sleeps away the greater part of the day. When he dies, a great wooden Salmon is erected on a pole over the place where he sleeps in the Memaloose house. May he never be resurrected!
The squaw, when she finishes eating the fragments of Salmon that her lord has left, proceeds to the rock and carries the fish to the rancherie. She then cleans and splits them and hangs them on the rafters. The eggs are thrown into a hole in the corner of the rancherie. Wrhen they ripen to a peculiar degree of nastiness, they are bailed out and molded in a press into blocks, dried, and kept to be the food of Tyees, on occasions of great state. The Salmon are smoked on the rafters, then taken down, baled, and then hoisted up into Salmon-houses, that are built high up in the branches of trees. In former days, if any of these Indians offended an officer of the Bay Company, he would find out the location of their Salmon houses, and would send a missionary, armed with a pair of telegraph-climbers and some arsenic, who would investigate the contents of the bales. It is enough to say that some rancheries were "to let" before the next spring; and there would be a demand for wooden Salmon in the Memaloose house.
A still easier method of taking the Salmon, practiced by these Indians, is by trapping them as they ascend the smaller rivers and creeks. A row of stakes, split from the red cedar, is driven across the stream. In the center of the stream the stakes take the form of a loop. Resting on the bottom of this loop, and inclining upward at an angle of twenty-five degrees, is a cradle about four feet wide and twenty-five feet long. The Salmon encounter the stakes in the stream, and follow the line until they enter the loop, and from there force themselves up the slanting incline until they drop into the cradle. This cradle, though lightly made, is strong, being wickered up with vine-maple. During the day-time some one is continually on the watch, and as soon as a Salmon is floundering on the inclined platform, it is at once removed by the watcher with a peculiar gaff-hook, which I will describe later.
Near the trap, on the bank, stands a bark-covered smokehouse, such as I have described as in use on the Frazer, with the same horrid smelling receptacle for eggs. In the morning the trap presents an interesting appearance. The cradle is full of struggling, writhing, flapping Salmon. The Kisutch, the Saw-qui, the Keta, and too often hundreds of beautiful Mountain Trout, are heaped together in the cradle. As soon as the Indians awake they rush out, and with shouts of glee toss the contents of the trap on the bank, perhaps to rot untouched, and the trap, always set, is ready for another multitude of victims.