Sturgeon Harpooning

Sturgeon fishing is a very skilled and laborious process. The harpoon point used by sturgeon fishers is known as a composite point, as it is quite complicated to create and more difficult to maintain. It is made of several pieces that are bound together and attached to a rope, which is used to pull in the sturgeon once harpooned. The harpoon point is made of a bone or stone tip, with bone barbs on two sides of the point. Generally, harpoon points are loosely attached in pairs to the two branches of a special shaft that is shaped like a "Y". In addition, stiff feathers are fixed to the shaft, extending slightly further than the harpoon point. The "Y" sections are attached to straight sections that are lowered into the water, extending the length of the harpoon up to 13 metres.

Sturgeon fishing took place in the deeper parts of the Fraser River, where it is known that the sturgeon lie on the bottom of the river, facing upstream. Patient fishers stood in their boats, with a paddler advancing the boat, gently feeling along the bottom of the river with the feathers (fixed to the shaft), searching for the large bump in the river bottom that was a sturgeon. It was important that this tactile search be done with feathers, as using the tip of the harpoon would poke the sturgeon, causing them to swim away. Once a fisher had felt the sturgeon on the bottom of the river, he drove the two harpoon points into the sturgeon and pulled the shaft and Y-shaped section off the harpoon tips, relying on the cordage that was fixed to the tips to "reel" the sturgeon back to the boat.

As the sturgeon was such a large fish, it was likely that it would start swimming away from the boat, dragging the fishers with it. Sometimes the fishers would drop large stone anchors off the boat to slow the fish down. Once the sturgeon was tired, they could pull the fish to the boat and club it on the side of the head.

Transporting the caught sturgeon was difficult. Fishers had several methods of transport, which included manually hauling the fish into the boat, capsizing the boat and turning it back over with the fish in it (then bailing the boat), or paddling with the fish being towed behind. These activities were very difficult, due to the size and weight of the fish.

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