Eel Fishing at Klamath River Estuary

We are at our last stop in California on our gradual way up the west coast for our summer trip to Alaska.  Near the campsite is a circular drive to the ocean, so we decided to take the drive.

As we are heading round the bend we see something ahead on the shoulder, simultaneously we both think is that a bear? No it can’t be! Oh yes it is!

So I stop and get a few clicks in.

Brown bear, Klamath, CA

Brown bear, Klamath, CA

As the bear heads down the slope out of view we continue our trip.  At the furthermost point we turn the bend and look down on the Klamath River as it meets the Pacific Ocean.  There are large shingle banks each side of the river strewn with “driftwood”, not the normal driftwood we have seen, these are whole tree trunks.  Then some of the driftwood on the far bank starts to move and through the bins we see they are sea lions basking in the sun.

Sea Lions Basking,  Klamath River Estuary, CA

Sea Lions Basking, Klamath River Estuary, CA

We head down to the entrance for the river estuary and a group of Yurok Indians are heading out, some in thigh waders, all with curious looking homemade hooks.  We ask and are informed that they are going eel fishing.  Wow, neither of us have witnessed this before.  So we head out too, me armed with my Nikon!

The eel fishermen had a discussion, probably where best to catch then dispersed to stand in the shallow edge of the river or ocean.

Yurok Indian eelers Klamath River Estuary, CA

Yurok Indian eelers Klamath River Estuary, CA

The river is very strong and we see some sea lions are out there competing with the fishermen and they are riding the current from the river, diving, coming up with eels hanging out of their mouths while maintaining station.

Sea lions fishing,  Klamath River Estuary, CA

Sea lions fishing, Klamath River Estuary, CA

Suddenly the nearby fisherman hooks an eel, starts whirling it around his head as he moves up the beach a little to deposit it in his keep net.  We asked about the practice and were told that as the hooks do not have barbs, the circling motion is to keep the eel on the hook otherwise it would simply wriggle off.

Eeler watching for his prey, Klamath River Estuary, CA

Eeler watching for his prey, Klamath River Estuary, CA

Hooked, Klamath River Estuary, CA

Hooked, Klamath River Estuary, CA

Swinging the eel on the hook,  Klamath River Estuary, CA

Swinging the eel on the hook, Klamath River Estuary, CA

Eel to the keep net, Klamath River Estuary, CA

Eel to the keep net, Klamath River Estuary, CA

Research afterwards told us that the Yuroks have been doing this for centuries at the Klamath River estuary.  In fact these are not eels but eel like parasitic fish called a Pacific lamprey.  They have sucker mouths with sharp teeth and latch onto the sides of salmon.  They do not kill the host, but take a circle of the flesh, as witnessed when the salmon are caught.

While we were there most of the fishermen caught several eels.

On our walk back we watched a Peregrin Falcon (Falco peregrinus) on his driftwood perch on the beach, until he took off.

Peregrin Falcon (Falco peregrines) leaves his driftwood perch, Klamath River Estuary, CA

Peregrin Falcon (Falco peregrines) leaves his driftwood perch, Klamath River Estuary, CA

Gear: Nikon D4s, Nikkor 80.0-400.0mm f.4.5-5.6 VRIII, Nikkor TC-17 EII, Lexar Digital Film

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7 Responses to Eel Fishing at Klamath River Estuary

  1. Pingback: Yurok Indians Eel Fishing | Richard King's PhotoBlog

  2. Nancy Mossip says:

    But the Indians eat them? They don’t sound very appetizing. I don’t think other North Americans eat them but I could be totally wrong. Great pictures and great adventure. Hope you are both well. Just got back from a week in Nunavut. Nice to be in the warmth and with pansies. Take care. Hugs. Nancy

  3. Marj Olsson says:

    Gorgeous nature pictures, your usual high calibre of commentaire, some insight into native ‘fishermen’ but yuck… Eels with teeth! Can’t imagine they taste any good.
    Carry on, you adventurous duo.

  4. Lenore says:

    What a cool find! I love these bits of local culture. Looking forward to your Alaskan trip.

  5. Godfried (Fred) Schwering says:

    Richard and Louise, I am really enjoying the photos and the comments.

  6. Margaret Riley says:

    So did you feast on eel????

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