Historical Fisheries

  • Spokane River Salmon

    Salmon from the Spokane River, five miles below Spokane.

  • Spokane River Late 1920s or Early 1930s

    Fish caught in the Spokane River below Little Falls Dam (late 1920's or early 1930's).

  • Chinook Kettle Falls in 1930s

    Chinook salmon caught at Kettle Falls in the 1930's.

  • Spokane River 1939

    Chinook caught below Little Falls Dam on the Spokane River in 1939. Caught by Christina LeBrett's father.

  • Kettle Falls Salmon Baskets 1848

    Kettle Falls Fishery 1848. Painting by Paul Kane. Note salmon baskets.

  • Kettle Falls Encampment 1848

    Kettle Falls Encampment 1848. Painting by Paul Kane. Note salmon drying sheds.

  • Kettle Falls Fishery 1848

    Kettle Falls Fishery 1848. Painting by Paul Kane. Note basket trap constructed of red osier dogwood.

  • Kettle Falls Fishery 1930's

    Kettle Falls fishery, 1930's.

  • Kettle Falls Basket Trap 1930's

    Kettle Falls basket trap, 1930's.

  • Spokane River Fish at Market

    Fish caught in the Spokane River. Pictures a woman at the Spokane Fish Market.

Fish Species

  • Walleye Measure

    Measuring a walleye.

  • Kokanee 2


  • Rainbow Trout

    Rainbow Trout

  • Juvenile Rainbow Trout

    Juvenile Rainbow Trout

  • Large Walleye

    Large walleye.

  • Sea Lamprey

    Sea lamprey clinging to rocks at Kettle Falls (1935).

  • Kokanee


Historical Fisheries

Historically, large runs of anadromous salmon ascended from the Pacific Ocean to numerous spawning grounds in the Upper Columbia River, including the Spokane River and the Kettle Falls areas. The returning salmon provided a subsistence fishery for many local Indian tribes including the Spokane Tribe, the Colville Confederated Tribes (San Poil, Colville, Wenatchi, Sinkiuse, Peskwaus, Methow, and Nespelem tribes), the Kalispel Tribe, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, and the Kootenai Tribe. Fish species harvested varied by season, but the majority of the harvest included Chinook salmon (spring and summer), steelhead (fall, late winter, and spring), Coho salmon (fall), and a silver salmon (either sockeye or whitefish) (Scholz et al. 1985). There was also a robust resident fishery which included rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, bull trout, whitefish and kokanee (a land-locked variety of sockeye salmon).

The Spokane River was an exceptional producer of both anadromous and resident fish. There were eleven primary and numerous other sites on the Spokane River where various Tribes congregated to harvest salmon. David Douglas, the noted botanist who explored the Columbia Basin camped on the Little Spokane River on August 3rd and 4th, 1826. Douglas noted:

the natives constructed a barrier across the Little Spokane, placing it at an oblique angle so that the current would not wash it away. After the traps filled with salmon, the Indians would spear them. Seventeen hundred salmon were taken this day, now two o'clock (cited in Scholz et al. 1985)

Major fishing sites on the Spokane River included: the confluence of the Spokane and Columbia Rivers, Blue Creek, Sandy Spit (15 miles upstream from the mouth), Little Falls, Chamokane Creek, Tum Tum, Confluence of the Little Spokane and Spokane rivers, mouth of Deep Creek, Bowl and Pitcher to Spokane Falls including Hangman Creek, and 10 miles up Hangman Creek. From the Spokesman Review, September 21, 1900:

A 50 pound and a 52 pound chinook were taken by hook and line at the mouth of the Little Spokane River" [in September, 1900] (Scholz et al 1985).

Kettle Falls was another major site for salmon harvest on the upper Columbia River. Bohm and Holstine (1983) provide a summary of the Kettle Falls site:

This important fishery appears to have been continuously occupied for almost 9,000 years. The oldest artifacts date back to 7000 B.C. During the period from 2400 to 1200 B.C. the site experienced a pronounced increase in human activity. This is reflected in a significantly greater number of artifacts such as fish [primary salmon] bones" (cited in Scholz et al. 1985).

Indian Agent Paige (1866) wrote in a letter to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs,

Kettle Falls, in the immediate vicinity of the old Fort Colville trading post, is one of the most productive salmon fisheries in the Territory, and is the resort of many hundred Indians during the fishing season." (cited in Scholz 1985).

Starting mid-summer, the salmon fisheries typically lasted for 60 days. It has been estimated that Kettle Falls supported a harvest of 1,000-2,000 salmon per day, Little Falls 1,000-1,400 per day, Little Spokane River 1,000 per day, Spokane Falls over 1,000, and the Sanpoil River 250 per day. The minimum annual catch was 150,000 salmon on the Spokane River and 90,000 at Kettle Falls, plus 60,000 at other sites for a total harvest of approximately 300,000 fish per year. This does not include the fall salmon fishery, the winter/early spring steelhead run, or other ancillary fisheries on resident fish such as whitefish and sturgeon (Scholz et al. 1985).

Post Dam Fisheries

The construction of Little Falls Dam on the Spokane River in 1911 blocked migrating steelhead, Coho, and kokanee from their spawning tributaries above the dam. Chinook, which spawned in the main channel both upstream and downstream of the dam, continued to return but in reduced numbers (Scholz et al. 1985). The construction of Grand Coulee Dam in 1939 permanently eradicated all anadromous fish (including salmon and lampreys-see photo) from the upper Columbia River.

After the impoundment and elimination of salmon, a fishery survey in 1963 found native fish such as peamouth, northern pikeminnow, suckers, shiners, kokanee, and rainbow trout dominated the fish community (Earnest et al. 1966; Scholz et al. 1986). A variety of non-native fish had also been introduced, many illegally, including carp, yellow perch, smallmouth bass, pumpkinseed, lake whitefish, brook trout, walleye and bullheads. By 1973, yellow perch and walleye comprised 32% of the catch suggesting a shift in dominance in the fish community to walleye (Harper et al. 1981).

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a comprehensive limnology and fisheries study on Lake Roosevelt between 1980 and 1982 (Beckman et al. 1985). They determined that the Lake Roosevelt recreational fishery primarily consisted of walleye with a limited rainbow trout fishery in the lower reaches.

Walleye are opportunistic piscivores (feed on fish), and have been known to feed on yellow -perch, rainbow trout and kokanee. Walleye were illegally stocked into Lake Roosevelt in the 1950's. Between 1980 and 1982, walleye harvest ranged between 108,000 and 128,000 fish per year (Beckman et al. 1985). A decline in yellow perch abundance initiated a concern that the walleye fishery could collapse. Additionally, the average size of walleye harvested by anglers decreased from 18.5 inches in 1973 to 14.1 inches from 1980 to 1983 (Beckman et al. 1985). A collapse in the fish population would shift the age and size structure of the spawning population to the point where it could not replace itself (WDFW 1994). In 1995 the Washington Department of Game (now Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) initiated the closure of the walleye spawning areas between April and May in the Spokane Arm, below Little Falls Dam, Sanpoil River, and Kettle River. They also reduced the bag limit to 8 fish, and set a minimum size of 16 inches to allow all walleye to reproduce at least once before harvest.

The Washington Department of Game stocked nearly 7.5 million kokanee in Lake -Roosevelt from 1942 to 1945 (Scholz et al. 1985). A report by the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries indicated that "sizeable kokanee populations were present in the lake. In 1966, 35,000 kokanee were captured in Crescent Bay and transplanted below Chief Joseph Dam." (Snyder 1967; Stober et al. 1977; Scholz et al. 1985). This report indicated reservoir conditions were favorable for kokanee in the mid 1960's. In 1968, construction began on Grand Coulee Dam's third powerhouse. When complete, the third powerhouse substantially increased power production at Grand Coulee Dam, and thereby creating new hydro dynamics within the reservoir. Some fisheries biologists have been concerned that the increased water flows associated with the third powerhouse has increased entrainment of salmonids through the dam.

The rainbow trout fishery was noted as "mediocre" by Earnest et al. (1966). In the early 1980's, migrating adult rainbow trout averaging 16.2 inches were captured in the Sanpoil River (Beak Consultants 1980; Scholz et al 1985). A population of approximately 9,113 rainbow trout existed in Blue Creek, tributary to the Spokane River (Scholz et al. 1985). Historically, rainbow trout inhabited tributaries of the reservoir. Before the mid 1980s, little historical data has been documented for rainbow trout in Lake Roosevelt.

Fisheries investigations have concluded reservoir operations (large winter drawdown and short water retention times) negatively affected salmonid reproduction and limited juvenile rearing habitat. However, a large food base of zooplankton existed and was capable of supporting a substantial number of adult rainbow trout and kokanee salmon. Continued research in the early 1980's determined artificial production as a viable alternative to restore and enhance kokanee salmon and rainbow trout in Lake Roosevelt and Banks Lake (impounded waters by Grand Coulee Dam) (Scholz et al. 1986).