Salmon — they’ve fed families ever since they began to swim upstream and Native peoples became the first to feast on their firm flesh.
In some tribal communities, they were–and still are--an integral part of survival. “Every year tens of thousands of Alaska Natives harvest, process, distribute, and consume millions of pounds of fish, wild animals, and plants through an economy and way of life called ‘subsistence,’ constituting a way of being and relating to the world,” according to CulturalSurvival.org.
An Army Corps of Engineers study of subsistence fishing within the Great Lakes/Ohio River/Upper Mississippi River–home to 37 tribes–showed 16 of them engaged in subsistence fishing in the Great Lakes Basin with an annual average catch value of $15,000.
There are a number of methods designed to put salmon on the dinner table–from large commercial fishing boats with nets and long-lines to the sportsmen’s standard hook-line-sinker as well as a process called snagging or snag fishing.
In the Lower 48, possibilities for subsistence fishing by snagging salmon are varied–totally outlawed in places like California and Washington state, prohibited with exceptions in several other states while places like Illinois allow foul hooking as long as a required license and stamp are purchased. Folks at the Colorado Division of Wildlife explain their participation by noting that snagging helps reduce carcass waste from fish already headed for that great spawning spot in the sky.
In northern New Mexico, there’s even a salmon snagging season that begins in early October at several lakes (Navajo, Eagle Nest, Heron, El Vado, and Abiquiu) where kokanee die after reproducing. Snagging–up to 12 fish a day in possession–is allowed as long as anglers intend to make use of fish that otherwise would be wasted. “It’s a long-standing tradition and a great way to stock the freezer,” according to New Mexico Department of Game & Fish (NMDGF) biologist Marc Wethington in an interview with the Santa Fe New Mexican.
“This isn’t fishing for sport, it’s fishing for sustenance,” says department contact Marty Frentzel. “It allows people to make use of a resource that otherwise would go to waste.”
Kokanee in New Mexico are stocked and landlocked fish. As they reach adulthood, the urge to merge becomes strong and they school up in a futile effort to swim upstream and spawn…but there is no ‘upstream.’ It’s sort of an ‘all-dressed-up-but-no-place-to-go‘ situation because salmon typically need a river to spawn, not a lake.
An ancillary benefit here however comes from the fact that NMDGF crews actively capture eggs from spawning fish–up to 6 million ova–that are then brought to Los Ojos Hatchery where they produce about 4 million salmon fry. Eggs are collected, sorted, and fertilized and the salmon hatchlings are used to restock the state’s deep-water lakes. “About a third of the fry are stocked periodically through late March,” says the hatchery’s Peter Thompson.
Snagging, like other methods of fishing whether for subsistence or sport, is controlled by a wildlife regulating agency in each state and the legality issue should be confirmed prior to any activity.
As a practical method of catching fish for food, snagging is not complicated. Snatch fishing is achieved by pulling the fishing line out of the water very quickly as movement is felt with the intention of piercing the fishes flesh with the hook.
Adds eHow.com: “The technique requires a methodical approach to maximize success. The belly hook uses a large treble hook dragged along the bottom. When a change in line tension is noted, set the hook by swinging the rod in a sideways, sweeping motion.”
For regulations and other information about the snag fishing season in New Mexico, click here.