June Hogs (salmon)

Imagine a single salmon weighing eight-five pounds or more. These summer-run Chinook salmon, named "June hogs" for their hog-like fatness from back to belly, once plowed the waters of the Columbia from the estuary to the upper reaches of the river in British Columbia. They were prized by lower-river gillnetters, native peoples, and sport fishers.

One of the many summer Chinook populations was in the Spokane River, where the fish were a staple in the diets of the Spokane and Coeur d'Alene tribes. Grand Coulee Dam, completed in 1941, wiped out those fish populations and all other upper-Columbia salmon and steelhead, as the dam blocked access to more than 1,100 miles of spawning habitat.

June hogs had economic and cultural importance in Oregon. For millennia, mid-Columbia tribes who caught the fish at Celilo Falls used them for food but also for spiritual, ceremonial, and trade purposes. The fish were also prized by canning companies on the river. Francis Seufert, a fish canner at The Dalles, wrote: "Because of their size, when you packed them into cans, only one slice...was necessary to fill the can."

The river still yields the occasional large Chinook, forty or fifty pounds, destined perhaps for the Hanford Reach of the Columbia or the mountains of Idaho in the Snake River drainage. But even so impressive a modern fish cannot match the weight of its ancestors. 

Author


Further Reading

Seufert, Francis. Wheels of Fortune.  Portland: Oregon Historical Society, 1980.

Ulrich, Roberta. Empty Nets: Indians, Dams, and the Columbia River. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1999.


Related Articles

Gillnet diagram.
Gillnet fishing

A gillnet is used by fishermen throughout the world to catch various species of fish, and scientists frequently use gillnets as a sampling tool to assess fish populations. The nets may be used in salt or fresh water and may be stationary (set net) or mobile (drift net). The Magnuson-Stevens ...

Oregon Chub
Oregon Chub

Oregon chub (Oregonichthys crameri) are small minnows that exist only in the Willamette Valley of western Oregon. This species was formerly distributed throughout the Willamette Basin in off-channel habitats, such as beaver ponds, oxbows, backwater sloughs, and flooded marshes.

In the last hundred years, these habitats have disappeared because of ...

Salmon returning upstream on the Yakima River, a tributary of the Columbia
Salmon

“Salmon” originally meant Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), a species native to the North Atlantic rim and Arctic Ocean above Western Europe. In 1792, however, the taxonomist Johann Julius Walbaum applied the name to a group of fishes native to the watersheds of the North Pacific and Arctic in eastern Asia ...


This entry was last updated on March 17, 2018