Quebec History Marianopolis College

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L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Fishhooks Used By Canadian Natives



[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico . It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North American Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]



Starting from the simple device of attatching [sic] the bait to the end of a line, the progressive order of fishhooks used by the Indians seems to be as follows: (a) The gorge hook, a spike of bone or wood, sharpened at both ends and fastened at its middle to a line, a device used also for catching birds; (b) a spike set obliquely in the end of a pliant shaft; (c) the plain hook; (d) the barbed hook; (e) the barbed hook combined with sinker and lure. This series does not exactly represent stages in invention; the evolution may have been effected by the habits of the different species of fish and their increasing wariness. The material used for hooks by the Indians was wood, bone, shell, stone, and copper. The Mohave employed the recurved spines of certain species of cactus, which are natural hooks.


Data on the archaeology of the fishhook have been gathered from the Ohio mounds and the shell-heaps of Santa Barbara, Cal., unbarbed hooks of bone having been found on a number of Ohio sites and gorge hooks at Santa Barbara. The fishhook of recent times may be best studied among the N. Pacific tribes and the [Inuit] of Alaska. The Makah of Washington have a modified form of the gorge hook, consisting of a sharpened spine of bone attached with a pine-root lash to a whalebone. British Columbian and S. Alaskan tribes used either a simple hook of bent wood having a barb lashed to a point, or a compound hook consisting of a shank of wood, a splint of pine-root lashed at an angle of 45° to its lower end, and a simple or barbed spike of bone, wood, iron, or copper lashed or set on the outer end of the splint. [Inuit] hooks consisted frequently of a shank of bone with a curved, sharpened spike of metal set in the lower end, or several spikes were set in, forming a gig. Usually, however, the [Inuit] hook had the upper half of its shank made of stone and the lower half of ivory, in which the unbarbed curved spike of metal was set, the parts being fastened together by lashings of split quill. A leader of quill was attached to the hook and a bait of crab carapace was hung above the spike. This is the most complete hook known in aboriginal America.


Lines and poles varied like the hook with the customs of the fisherman, the habits of the fish, and the environment. The [Inuit] used lines of knotted lengths of whalebone, quill, hair, or sinew; the N. Pacific tribes, lines of twisted bark, pine root, and kelp; and other tribes lines of twisted fibre. Short poles or none were used by the [Inuit] and N. Pacific tribes. In other regions it is probable that long poles of cane or saplings were used. In some regions, as on the N. W. coast, a trawl, consisting of a series of hooks attached by leaders to a line, was used for taking certain species of fish. The Haida, according to Swanton, made a snap hook, consisting of a hoop of wood, the ends of which were held apart by a wooden peg. This peg was displaced by the fish on taking the bait, and the ends of the hoop snapped together, holding the fish by the jaw.


Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada , Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada , Ottawa , 1913, 632p., p. 167.

© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College