Spear Fishing

Learn how Native Americans used spear fishing to catch fish.

Besides farming and hunting, Native Americans did a lot of spear fishing.  Fish was a big part of some of their diets year-round.  Because fishing poles weren’t around several hundred years ago, the male native Indians went spear fishing and the women used a simple system of a string with a hook on the end. Women were not allowed to use spears to fish because it was the job for the males in the tribes.

Winter and Spring were the optimal times for spear fishing.  In the winter, the lakes froze over so the Native Americans would cut a hole in the ice in order to fish from it.  They used hand crafted lures often made from wood or bone that crudely resembled something that the fish would eat like minnows or other small critters.  Next, they lay prone and covered their heads as they looked through the hole in the ice.  By blocking out the outside light, the natives had a better view of the fish swimming by. Depending on the size of fish they were catching, they had different types of implements for spear fishing.  The shafts of these spears were all made from wood, whatever type was indigenous of the area.  For the tips, they used a variety of materials.  Metal, copper in particular, was a popular tip as was bone.  A tip with three prongs was often used for small fish.

When ice on the nearest bodies of water melted, the Native Americans would ride out in their canoes to go spear fishing.  Usually done at night, they used fire torches to illuminate the water’s surface.  They also traversed shallow waters, sometimes standing for long periods of time, just to spear fish at just the right moment.

These days, traditional spear fishing has fallen out of favor for the more versatile fishing rod and reel.  There are, however, more modern methods of spear fishing using powered spear guns and employing scuba diving too. This type of fishing is heavily regulated however due to environmental concerns.

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