Fishing has become a high-tech pursuit in recent decades. Nowadays, even recreational fishermen can use sonar, sophisticated lures and a variety of other new technologies and techniques to make their catch. In spite of all these new toys, however, the basic technology used to actually catch the fish has remained remarkably consistent over the millennia.
Spears have been used for millennia to hunt fish and aquatic mammals in much the same way they are used to hunt on land. The simplest devices are narrow spears or tridents which are thrown or stabbed downward to impale and retrieve prey. In the case of harpoons, the spear is attached to a rope that is used to chase the wounded whale until it is exhausted. Elastic bands or bows were also used to propel the spear, as they are today with the Hawaiian sling and pole spear varieties. Spear fishing is still done both as a sport and (in the case of whaling) a commercial activity.
Fish hooks are an even more important modern fishing technique with ancient roots. Long before they developed metal-working skills, various tribes would fashion hooks out of antlers, abalone shell, bone or whatever else was available. Like modern hooks, these ancient fishing tools could be surprisingly specialized and sophisticated. For example, the abalone circular fish hooks used by the Chumash tribe of California were specially shaped to snare nibbling, bottom feeding fish, according to Primitive Ways.
Ajumawi Fish Traps
Some ancient fishermen used architecture to create primitive hatcheries based on an understanding of fish behavior. The Ajumawi tribe of northeastern California hunted the Sacramento sucker in the Pit river using this method. They would create outer wall enclosures around cold water springs with an opening for fish to enter. Spawning fish would sense the water coming from the opening and instinctively swim against the flow of the water into the enclosure to lay their eggs. Once the fish were inside, the enclosure was closed with a stone, log or canoe and the people could spear or net the fish, or even scoop them up in baskets from the shallow water. After the fishermen took their catch, they would open up the trap to allow the fish to continue spawning.