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1906::Fishing the Salmon Run on the Columbia River

Updated: Aug 17, 2022

Fishing for canneries meant fishing for large production... any way they could.


1906::Netting the salmon run on the Columbia River.

"Netting the Salmon Run"

Photo Clip: Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News (1906)


Net fishing was once the most common commercial fishing method employed on the rivers of the Pacific Northwest. On a flowing river during a salmon run, it had great success. Nets were often staked at the river's bend where the rushing water would naturally flow. Fish reaching these nets at the bend would be funnelled into a holding area. When enough fish had gathered, a net lying on the riverbed beneath them was lifted and the fish hand-picked out of the nets by the fishermen. It was a simple yet destructive method of catching large quantities of fish for the canneries. By the time this photo was taken in Washington State in 1906, commercial net fishing had been restricted if not banned on lakes and rivers in British Columbia just north of the border.


1906::Netting the salmon run on the Columbia River with the help of horses.

"Fishing With Horses"

Photo Clip: Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News (1906)


If the water was shallow enough, horses were used to drag one end of a large fishing net across the river. When enough salmon had swum into their net, the horses were guided back across the river where fishermen were waiting to remove the fish enveloped in the net.


1906::A fish wheel in use on the Columbia River.

"The Fish Wheel"

Photo Clip: Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News (1906)


Although the origins of the fish wheel is unknown, it is thought that it may have historical roots in China or Japan. Its commercial use in North America has been traced back to the early 1800s.


The design of a fish wheel was simple. Its function was dependent on the movement of the river's water. Its success depended on placing it where the water was shallow and the current was swift. Water pressure against the wheel would set it in motion like the wheel of a paddle boat. As the wheel was pushed downward on one end, its upward movement on the other side scooped the upstream swimming fish that had been funnelled towards the wheel. The scooped fish in the wheel's paddle travelled up and around the wheel until the downward motion threw the fish into a trough waiting for it on the scow. The fish wheel could catch hundreds of fish at a time, making it one of the simplest ways to catch salmon. But it was also one of the most destructive to the natural fishing habitat of the river. For this reason, commercial fish wheels had been restricted or banned by 1906 just north of the border in British Columbia. Washington and Oregon would soon follow suit.


1906::Fish Wheels banned everywhere.

"Wheels Banned Everywhere But the Far North"

Photo Clip: The Oshkosh Northwestern (1977)


In the fifty years before their Columbia River ban in 1926, it was estimated that the use of commercial fish wheels had caused the removal of 100 million pounds of fish. But the ban didn't bring about a sudden end to its use. In fact, it took at least twenty years to have them permanently removed. By 1977, commercial fish wheels had been banned everywhere except Alaska and the Yukon.


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