Tr’ochëk: Changing Fishing Methods
Emptying a fish wheel.
Yukon Archives #2156, Vancouver Public Library Coll.
Preparing salmon for a community feast.
Soon after the gold seekers arrived, traditional birchbark canoes were replaced by pole boats and, from about the 1920s, outboard motor boats.
From early in the 20h century, First Nations people began using store-bought nets. The Hän people of the Dawson area also began using the fish wheel, a technology developed on the lower Yukon River about 1904. According to anthropologist Cornelius Osgood, the development of the fish wheel “did for fishing what the power-driven washing machine did for laundering.” River currents turned the wooden wheel set within a frame. Paddles scooped up the fish then, when the fish were raised out of the water, they were funnelled into cruise boxes on either side of the wheel. The wheel had to be fairly close to the riverbank, otherwise it turned too fast and wouldn’t catch anything. Fishers checked the fish wheel regularly to ensure that sticks or other objects, even an extra large salmon, didn’t jam its operation.
With modern nets and fish wheels, fishing locations changed from solely at the mouths of creeks and rivers, where we could build traps, to eddies within the main river.
To learn more, see the story Fish Camp Stories (PDF) from the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Interpretive Manual.