Thomas Doty – Storyteller

Klamath River Fish Dams


A "Deal" with the Salmon People

Before the arrival of Europeans along the Klamath River, native people built fish dams by placing large boulders across the width of the river. This allowed for both a resting place for salmon on their upriver spawning journeys as well as a good place to fish. The fish dams arose out of an Old Time "deal" with the Salmon People: we will help perpetuate your species in exchange for you providing us with food.

This bargain of reciprocity was also dramatized at the yearly Sacred Salmon Ceremony. No salmon were taken at the height of the spring run while the first salmon dried on a rack. This might take several days and allowed thousands of salmon to leap the falls and swim past the fishermen to spawn upriver.

This photo shows one of the Klamath River fish dams, though it is lower than it was in the old days. Many of the traditional dams were broken down as log rafts were floated downriver to the mills in the 1800s. A few years ago, fish and wildlife agencies built small fish dams along creeks that flowed into the Klamath to help restore the salmon runs ... and it worked!