Tr’ochëk: Traditional Fishing Methods
Fishing at Tr’ochëk, 1894. Notice the dipnet on the back of the birchbark canoe.
Veazie Wilson photographer. V. Wilson, Glimpses of Alaska, Klondike and Goldfields, p. 42.
What my old man told me was that the people had fish traps at the mouth of the Klondike River, way before the white people came to this country… When the salmon comes up, the people speared it. They threw them, the salmon, to shore. The women were busy carrying fish and everybody shared.
Stanley Roberts, 1897
In the early days, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in built fish traps across the mouth of the Klondike River. Tr’o, the first part of the Hän names, Tr’ondëk and Tr’ochëk, refers to the “hammerstones” used to pound stakes into the riverbed. Branches were woven between the stakes forcing the migrating salmon to travel the length of the weir seeking an opening. The river current then forced the fish sideways at the weir and into one of several basket traps. The baskets had to be emptied regularly or the weight of the salmon could destroy the structure. People removed a load of salmon then allowed the fish to continue their upriver migration for several hours or overnight before resetting the traps.
People in canoes also scooped fish out of the river with large dipnets made from caribou babiche woven around a wooden frame. Observers on shore directed the fishers to spots where a riffle in the water indicated the presence of salmon below. The fisher thrust the net into the salmon’s path, twisted the top of the net to secure the catch and either pulled the salmon into the canoe or towed the net to shore. Elder Rowena Flynn told a story of how several people caught salmon at Tr’ochëk using a long net woven from spruce roots.