Platform Fishing & Dipnetting
Historically, hemp twine was used to tie nets, which were then bound to wooden hoops. Pliant green branches were curved into a hoop and secured to a pole with sinew, and the binding was then sealed with pine pitch. The long poles were stripped pine saplings selected for their straightness and length.
Nets made today have the same overall design, but use modern materials. They are tied with the same knots as ancient nets, but the hemp twine has been replaced with steel-reinforced plastic net wire on steel hoops. Many poles are still made from pine saplings, but it’s not uncommon to see bamboo, aluminum, or even fiberglass poles mounted to the nets.
Modern Fishing Techniques
The Columbia Basin’s major waterways have been transformed from giant, free-flowing rivers to a series of long lakes in the past 70 years. With this change of conditions has come a necessary change in the way that tribal fishers catch salmon. While ancient methods are still used to harvest fish, tribal fishers have adopted other modern techniques that exploit modern realities.
Set nets (also called bag nets) are similar to the hoop nets used by platform fishers. They are essentially a large net bag, held open by a hoop. These nets are set out in the river with weights marked with floats. (These floats can be seen year round, as they are left with the weight, not the net.) When salmon swim through the hoop, they are trapped in the net. The fisher leaves the nets out for several hours then pulls them into the boat, along with any salmon that have been caught.
Words of our Elders
We used to fish for salmon off the big rocks on the Imnaha River [in NE Oregon]. There were times when we would catch a chinook that was so big that all you could do was lay down on your belly on the rock and just hold on while the salmon tried to get away.
— Wildfred Scott, Nez Perce
Dipnetting at Celilo
My father’s grandmother always told him never to fall asleep near a stream or a pond, because Dragonfly would come by and sew his eyes shut. This simple reminder, much more effective than a simple “be careful near the water,” is reinforced every time he sees a dragonfly. —Elmer Crow, Nez Perce