Journals of Lewis and Clark: Fish

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The Journals of Lewis and Clark: The Fish
The following excerpts are taken from entries of the Journals of Lewis and Clark - Fish. A general description of the beasts, Fish and Fish, &c. found by the party in this expedition.

The fish, which we have had an opportunity of seeing, are, the whale, porpoise, skait, flounder, salmon, red char, two species of salmon trout, mountain, or speckled trout, bottlenose, anchovy, and sturgeon.

1. The whale is sometimes pursued, harpooned and taken by the Indians, although it is much more frequently killed by running foul of the rocks in violent storms, and thrown on shore by the action of the wind and tide. In either case, the Indians preserve and eat the blubber and oil; the bone they carefully extract and expose to sale.

2. The porpoise is common on this coast, and as far up the river as the water is brackish. The Indians sometimes gig them, and always eat their flesh when they can procure it.

3. The skait is also common in the salt water: we saw several of them which had perished, and were thrown on shore by the tide.

4. The flounder is also well known here, and we have often seen them left on the beach after the departure of the tide. The Indians eat this fish, and think it very fine. These several species of fish are the same with those on the Atlantic coast.

5. The common salmon and red char are the inhabitants of both the sea and rivers; the former are usually the largest, and weigh from five to fifteen pounds: they extend themselves into all the rivers and little creeks on this side of the continent, and to them the natives are much indebted for their subsistence: the body of the fish is from two and an half to three feet long, and proportionably broad: it is covered with imbricated scales, of a moderate size, and gills: the eye is large, and the iris of a silvery color: the pupil is black, the rostrum or nose extends beyond the under jaw, and both jaws are armed with a single series of long teeth, which are subulate and inflected near the extremities of the jaws, where they are also more closely arranged: they have some sharp teeth of smaller size, and some sharp points placed on the tongue, which is thick and fleshy: the fins of the back are two; the first is placed nearer the head than the ventral fins, and has several rays: the second is placed far back, near the tail, and has no rays. The flesh of this is, when in order, of a deep flesh-colored red, and every shade from that to an orange yellow: when very it is almost white: the roes of this fish are in high estimation among the natives, who dry them in the sun, and preserve them for a great length of time: they are of the size of a small pea, nearly transparent, and of a reddish yellow cast; they resemble very much, at a little distance, our common garden currants, but are more yellow. Both the fins and belly of this fish are sometimes red, particularly the male: the red char are rather broader, in proportion to their length, than the common salmon: the scales are also imbricated, but rather larger; the rostrum exceeds the under jaw more, and the teeth are neither so large or so numerous as those of the salmon: some of them are almost entirely red on the belly and sides; others are much more white than the salmon, and none of them are variegated with the dark spots which mark the body of the other: their flesh, roes, and every other particular, with regard to the form, is that of the salmon.

6. Of the salmon trout, we observe two species, differing only in color; they are seldom more than two feet in length, and narrow in proportion to their length, much more so than the salmon or red char. The jaws are nearly of the same length, and are furnished with a single series of small subulate straight teeth, not so long nor as large as those of the salmon. The mouth is wide, and the tongue is also furnished with some teeth: the fins are placed much like those of the salmon. At the great falls we found this fish of a silvery white color on the belly and sides, and a bluish light brown on the back and head; the second species is of a dark color on its back, and its sides and belly are yellow, with transverse stripes of dark brown; sometimes a little red is intermixed with these colors on the belly and sides towards the head. The eye, flesh, and roe, are like those described of the salmon: the white species found below the falls, were in excellent order, when the salmon were entirely out of season and not fit for use. They associate with the red char, in little rivulets and creeks: the Indians say that the salmon begin to run early in May. The white salmon trout is about two feet and eight inches long, and weighs ten pounds: the eye is moderately large, the pupil black, with a small admixture of yellow, and iris of a silvery white, and a little turbid near its border with a yellowish brown. The fins are small in proportion to the fish; are bony but not pointed, except the tail and back fins, which are pointed a little: the prime back fin and ventral ones contain each ten rays, those of the gills thirteen, that of the tail twelve, and the small fin placed near and above the tail has no bony rays, but is a tough flexible substance, covered with smooth skin. It is thicker in proportion to its width than the salmon: the tongue is thick and firm, beset on each border with small subulate teeth, in a single series: the teeth and the mouth are as before described. Neither this fish nor the salmon are caught with the hook, nor do we know on what they feed.

7. The mountain or speckled trout are found in the waters of the Columbia within the mountains: they are the same with those found in the upper part of the Missouri, but are not so abundant in the Columbia as on that river. We never saw this fish below the mountains, but from the transparency and coldness of the Kooskooskee, we should not doubt of its existence in that stream as low as its junction with the southeast branch of the Columbia.

8. The bottlenose is the same with that before mentioned on the Missouri, and is found exclusively within the mountains.

9. The anchovy, which the natives call olthen, is so delicate a fish that it soon becomes tainted, unless pickled or smoked: the natives run a small stick through the gills and hang it up to dry in the smoke of their lodges, or kindle small fires under it for the purpose of drying: it needs no previous preparation of gutting, and will be cured in twenty-four hours: the natives do not appear to be very scrupulous about eating them when a little foetid.

Accounts of the Shellfish

Accounts of the Animals

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