Fishing Nets


This photo shows Celilo Village residents Jimmy George, left, and Charley Quittoken, right, holding up fishing nets once used to catch salmon at Celilo Falls.

Netmaking has long been an important art among Columbia River Indians, who have relied on the river’s abundant salmon runs for millennia. Columbia River Indians traditionally made many different kinds of nets to catch salmon and other fish. The two nets shown above are dipnets, the most commonly used net at Celilo Falls prior to the construction of The Dalles Dam in the 1950s.

There are two kinds of dipnets. Movable dipnets are continually dipped into the water and swept downstream until a fish is caught. Set dipnets, on the other hand, are stationary. They are set up to catch fish falling back from a falls or strong current, as well as in eddies where fish rest.

Dipnets are effective only in turbulent waters where fish, concentrated by narrow channels and swift currents, are unable to see them. When The Dalles Dam was completed in 1957, the best dipnetting sites upstream of the dam were flooded, effectively destroying the traditional fishery at Celilo. Today, most Indian fishermen in the area are forced to use more expensive gillnets deployed from boats.

Further Reading:
Hewes, Gordon. “Fishing.” In Handbook of North American Indians: Plateau, edited by Deward Walker. Washington, D.C., 1998.

Stewart, Hilary. Indian Fishing: Early Methods on the Northwest Coast. Seattle, Wash., 1977.

Written by Cain Allen, © Oregon Historical Society, 2004.


Map It


Related Historical Records

Indians Fish at Celilo Falls // CN 007237
Indians Fish at Celilo Falls

Celilo Falls was an important center for native trade, culture, and ceremony. For at least 11,000 years, tribes throughout the region, and from as far away as the Great Plains, came to Celilo Falls to trade and celebrate the annual fall and spring returns of salmon. In the early ...

Looking Downstream to Celilo // CN 004857
Looking Downstream to Celilo

This undated photograph shows non-Indians fishing for salmon along the free-flowing and meandering Columbia River just upriver from Celilo Falls. Writing on the photograph indicates that the fishers are horse seining, a fishing strategy that caught large amounts of salmon by using horses to haul nets through the river toward ...

Umatilla Settlement, 1952
Umatilla Indians Compensated for Celilo Flooding

This photograph shows representatives of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation signing a financial compensation agreement for the inundation of Celilo Falls fishing sites by The Dalles Dam.  Standing from left to right:  Richard H. Betts, Superintendent of the Umatilla Reservation, and J. W. Elliott, former ...

Women Dry Salmon at Celilo Village

This photograph shows Warm Springs tribal members Edna David (left) and Stella McKinley (right) drying salmon at Celilo Village. It was taken by an Oregon State Highway Travel Division photographer in the early to mid-1950s.

Work was traditionally divided by sex and age among the Native societies of the Columbia ...

Related Oregon Encyclopedia Articles


This entry was last updated on March 17, 2018