was the first day of my fifth grade year, but I was not going to
be in class. At 5:00 a.m. while my classmates slept, waiting to
start yet another year of school, I had already had breakfast and
bundled up for the opening of the Silver (Coho) Salmon run. We made
a beach seine set, right around a school of Silvers. I had never
seen so many fish. We had 1500 fish in that set, and one lone chum
for good measure. Growing up, this was my life. My summers were
spent beach seining and roundhauling as much as I could. Each year,
I would miss the first week of school, which always seemed to coincide
with the start of the Silver run. And as the fishing seasons continued
into November, the weather worsened, and I would beg to go fishing
with dad. It is a way of life for my family, for many families,
at Tulalip and all along the Puget Sound. For many, it was a living.
Tulalip fisherman Clyde Williams recalls early fishing in the
40s and 50s.
We moved to the beach the day after school got out. We
would buy our shoes at the commissary; everyone had Navy shoes.
We were beach seining. We lived on the beach. Next to me was Stan,
Bernie, and the Cheers. When we were fishing, if there was something
wrong with our net wed have to stretch it out at low tide
and rehang it.
Just about everybody around here had a smoke house, back when
we lived down there at the big house. We fished all day to fill
the smoke house. Thats when everybody stayed at the big house.
All the women would butcher fish all day long, wed have to
go out there as kids and pack wood in for the smokehouse, and we
were the ones that had to keep the fire up. Theyd always tell
us dont you pile too much wood on youll burn the
smokehouse down. We tended fires all day, we had to go check
the fire every hour, make sure it was still burning. Even all night
wed have to go out there. Theyd leave it in there for
two days, and that was enough.
Fishing really took off. Everybody was catching fish, and then
we went further out, changing from seining, to gillnetting, to roundhauling.
Wes Charles and Chuck James brought the gillnetting to Tulalip.
They were the first ones. A lot of people dont know that anymore.
Roundhauling was really something different. Bernie and Herman were
the first ones to go out there; they roundhauled by hand for years
before they did it with power. All of those guys used to get two
or three hundred kings in a set. There was a state gillnetter that
used to shoot at us. Other state boats tried to ram our boats and
run up our nets chopping them all up.
Tulalip fisherman Stan Jones remembers fishing growing up in
the 40s and 50s, and the struggle that grew through the 60s as the
state began enforcing new laws, leading up to the Boldt Decision.
Stan stepped away from fishing serving 44 years on Tulalip Tribal
Council and was a key player during the Boldt Decision.
Dad always had a net in the back of the house, in the
back room. He hung his nets in there, sewed every mesh out of linen.
Once when he was out I went in and tried to sew his net; he came
home and cut all my work out and redid it. We just had short nets,
dad stayed on shore or up in the river.
When dad was sick, me and my brother Junior, wed take
the boat out and fish. Once up in the river we had about 25 or 30
We couldnt fish during the day, so we fished at night.
The state fisheries officer John LaPlant, he used to come by and
harass us. If youre gonna be here, put some lights on
your boat, hed say. Then the other rule was we couldnt
be more than 600 hundred feet offshore, so we just had little short
nets. They were always coming by to see how far we stretched our
nets out. If they thought you were too far, they arrest you right
off the boat, and let your boat and net go adrift.
Growing up, I heard these stories constantly. I almost feel
like I was there, like I knew John LaPlant. I grew up in a post
war era. Playing in the backyard there were many parts to boats
and old fishing equipment, old corks scattered from hanging nets,
and there was the old smokehouse. Grandpa used to smoke fish, not
like the old days. Fishing and smoking fish though, thats
when the stories came out.
I learned the shores of Tulalip by the fishing landmarks and
family grounds. Dad always says things like, Run this end
of the net up there into Roy Henrys grounds.
I didnt know then, but I was learning about who we were,
who we are, and the struggle to protect that. Dad would point out
places on the shoreline, telling some fish stories. Even if we werent
fishing, maybe driving around Tacoma or up across Deception Pass,
Dad was always telling fishing stories. If grandpa was with us we
had twice the stories. Amidst the stories, there was talk about
the regulations and the law, and the fish wars. Today, I realize
that the life I live fishing, like many others, was hard fought
to protect. It is so much more as well. It is our identity, it defined
our parents and grandparents, and it is our way of life.