Benton County Pioneer Life

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Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area

Fishing Spotty in Old Days/Newcomers Bit Often

Tri-City Pioneer
Tri-City Herald, Sunday, 15 October 1961

The fishing in the early Tri-City region was quite limited. The largest fish were sturgeons. They were caught by means of set lines which were usually located near the mouth of the Snake River. These set lines were placed in position by fishermen in skiffs who attended them daily. They collected the sturgeons that were caught, baited the hooks and kept everything in repair.

Because of the lack of proper facilities, much of value in the sturgeons was lost. Nothing was done with the sturgeon’s roe from which caviar is made or with the sturgeon’s bladders, a source of isinglass. Suckers and chubs were very plentiful but they were so bony and poor tasting that the pioneers ate few of them. Whitefish were often caught by cutting holes in the ice and fishing in the holes. These first had very few bones. Their meat was white, firm and delicious.

Salmon fishing was one of the pioneers’ greatest sports in the Tri-City area. Its season usually began the last week of September and lasted through October. Salmon fishing was done by trolling with skiffs. The pioneers’ fish line was a hundred foot mason’s chalk line. His fishhook was a spoon hook to which was attached three sturdy fishhooks well hidden by red feathers. The pioneer took the steel wheel from his wheelbarrow and tied it to the painter of the skiff for an anchor. He fastened one end of the fish line to the center seat of the skiff and with care played out his fish line. He took a loop of the line around his leg and sat down on the middle seat of the skiff to row. When he got a strike it would jerk his leg. He would then throw his anchor overboard, move near the stern seat and pull in the salmon hand over hand, carefully coiling the fish line on the stern seat of the skiff. He did not play with the salmon, but kept the line taut. He lifted the salmon into the skiff and killed it by striking it on the back of the head with a large willow club. Then he threw the fishhook into the water again, raised the anchor and started rowing while the line played out to its full length.

The pioneer fisherman did not need a fill gaff, landing net or a fishing rod and reel. He enjoyed playing jokes on the city anglers when they fished in his region. These anglers would ask him for the secrets of his fishing success. He would answer “It’s my bait. Today the salmon are biting very good on hard-baked biscuits.” Many an angler rowed his boat mile after mile and hour after hour towing a water soaked hard-baked biscuit on his hook before he found out that bait was never used in these waters to catch salmon.

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