Today I’ll complete my description of making a Northwest Coast Native style halibut hook. To catch up, start here.
The incredibly rich and innovative cultures of the Tlingit, Haida, and other Northwest Coast Natives are intimately tied to Nature. Almost every item created among these nations is beautifully decorated. These carvings, paintings, and weavings add value to the item, lend pleasure to their use, and invoke help from the spirit world in accomplishing the task to which the item is applied.
As I stated at the beginning of this series, I did not set out to create a Native artifact, but to build a tool using their technology. Nevertheless, I chose to decorate the hook for a number of reasons. First of all, I wished, in my own personal way—no matter how inadequate—to honor those who created this marvelous tool. I also take enough pride in my construction to wish to celebrate it through decoration. Finally, there’s a very practical reason. Like most fish hooks, this one must lure the prey with sight as well as bait.
For this last reason, I chose a common subject for Native style halibut hooks, the octopus. Octopus is a favorite halibut food. I don’t know how well a halibut might be able to see (and scientists tell us some fish can see quite well) but if they look for identifying features of their prey, I wanted them reproduced on my hook.
I feel I do not have the skill required to duplicate Northwest Coast Native formline art, so I don’t attempt to do so. Instead, I drew a more or less realistic octopus around the curve of the V arm.
Traditionally, Native carvers decorated the arm of the V that faces the ocean bottom when in use. In photos, you’ll see that arm at the top of the hook, as I’ve been displaying the hook upside down, hanging from the leader which will rise from the weight on the ocean floor when in use. The halibut, forever gazing upward with both eyes on the top of its head, might see my decoration as an octopus, and strike.
I didn’t dare try to carve my decoration onto the hook. After all the work of constructing it, I didn’t want to risk spoiling it with clumsy carving. Instead, I drew an octopus on the light-colored alder wood of the hook with a black Sharpie waterproof pen.
Once complete, I hung my hook under the roof eaves outside, where it dried slowly, without splitting. Now, all I need to do is wait for good fishing conditions. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, halibut fishing should begin to get good in June, but August is commonly considered prime halibut fishing season in our region. At that time, I’ll hopefully have some success stories for you.