more: once upon a salmon…


(An excerpt from the journal of David Salmond Mitchell, 1925).

“Killing sockeye for food on the spawning beds is not a bit worse than killing them in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Some people who believe it is right to kill them in the Straits, are shocked at such an “outrageous crime” as to kill them in the spawning beds.”

“The atmosphere was heavy with the stench, through which flew gulls that had followed up the river over 300 miles from the Fraser’s mouth, to feast upon the dead salmons’ eyes. After big runs the mouths of streams were hardly approachable for the stench; for miles beyond the deep bars of dead salmon, the shores were strewn.

On the 14th of December, 1905, we steamed through the awful stench into the wide bay at the mouth of the Lower Adams River . With mouths tightly closed we communicated only by signals. The shore was banked with a wide deep double bar of putrid salmon, extending around the bay until it  faded out of view in the distance.

The parallel furrows in this bar of dead spent salmon, marked the interval between the two separate storms, that had piled on the beach these spawned out fish, swept by the current out of one of the three mouths of the Lower Adams River, while the level of the lake was gradually falling. The difference between the lake’s high water in June, and low water in mid-winter, being from 11 to 14 feet.

We dropped a stern anchor, and crossing the slippery, putrid mound of rotting fish, in hip rubberboots, passed a bowline to a big cottonwood tree ashore.

The Indians had all cleared out from the reserve. The water in the connecting channel between Great and Little Shuswap lakes was not fit to use; boiling only aroused the flavour. We kept our fire on, in case of sudden storm, and filled our boiler there.

On leaving we found our anchor rope slippery with slime like a the jelly.

Our journey back with a tow was fifty-two miles, interrupted half way by sheltering in a bay over night. On the following day we could smell the Eagle River when passing five miles away with the wind right.

During this journey since leaving Adams River we had filled the boiler many times, but on our arrival at Kualt, people who came aboard, got right off again, owing to the stench of dead fish coming with the steam from our pipes.

We could not detect it ourselves then, and our engineer told them:
“At Adams River the stench is so strong, that you can lean against it.”

compliments of David Ellis

2 thoughts on “more: once upon a salmon…

  1. Al Huger

    Thanks for that. The Adam’s and the watershed around it are my home waters. To read of how a dominant return year looked over a 100 years ago is as fascinating as it is heart breaking. This year will illustrate that, provided the return is notable enough to even view.


  2. salmon guy Post author

    your welcome and thank-you for the comment Al.
    You’re exactly right – heartbreaking – is a good way to describe it. In my younger years I remember the book Pacific Salmon which had a pictures of Adams River sockeye. Truly spectacular.
    Similar stories from where I grew up on Haida Gwaii…

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