Courtesy of the Library of Congress


Most fishermen used gill nets to fish on the lower Columbia. Set by fishermen working out of small boats, these walls of netting snared fish by the gills as they swam upstream. Other types of gear—purse seines, stationary traps, and fishwheels—were also used on the river, but Scandinavian fishermen favored the gill net.


Lent by Iris Hamm

Gill Net Mesh Board

A typical Columbia River gill net from 1880 was made of linen. It was 900 feet long and required 300 cedar corks and about 150 lead weights to keep the net hanging properly in the water. Knitting the nets, mending tears, and hanging cork and lead lines were all hand work. Gillnetters used mesh boards like this to make sure the mesh opening was the right size.

This mesh board was carved in 1881 by Erick Martin, a Columbia River gillnetter born in Stavanger, Norway, in 1851. The different types of wood and the bone inlays reflect Martin’s skills as a craftsman and his occupational pride.


Needles and Twine

Fisherman used these netting needles and twine to make and repair gill nets on the Columbia River.

Lent by Kent and Irene Martin


Columbia River Salmon Boat, 1876

The first commercial salmon boats used on the Columbia were sturdy sailing craft, and most were owned by canneries. Like this model, they were rigged with a simple spritsail and had a round bottom. These 25-foot-long open boats proved ideal for setting and fishing gillnets in the powerful waters near the mouth of the river.

Gift of Livingston Stone


Night on the River

When staying on the river overnight, the two-man crew of a gillnetter rigged the sail over the deck for protection against the elements.


Cannery Basket

Cannery workers made the tin cans for packing the salmon. The cans were stored and carried in baskets like this.

Lent by the Columbia River Maritime Museum

From R. D. Hume, Salmon of the Pacific Coast, 1893

Courtesy of the Columbia River Maritime Museum