Lewis Clark and &
The true story of the greatest fishing trip ever
In preparing this book, excerpts from Lewis and Clark’s original journals have been used. The direct quotations have not been changed, except the words that they spelled in the common language of their time have been replaced by modern spelling. Except for these spelling changes the quotes are taken directly from the original journal entries. This book has been produced for the Federation of Fly Fishers by Robert H. Wiltshire, using much of the research and graphics developed by Seonaid Campbell in preparation of the “Undaunted Anglers: Fishing with Lewis and Clark” exhibit displayed at the Fly Fishing Discovery Center in Livingston, Montana. All original material copyright 2009 by the Federation of Fly Fishers
Cover photo: Fish by Joseph Tomelleri Figures of Lewis & Clark by Michael Haynes
Planning the trip
Have you ever gone on a long trip? Most of us have gone away for a week or so and know how much work it is to pack everything. When Lewis and Clark began planning their trip they didnâ€™t know how far they were going, what they would find or how long they would be gone. All they knew for sure was that it would be a long trip and that they would find many new things along the way. They planned to travel across the United States to try and reach the West coast. Today we can make this trip in hours in an airplane, but when they began no white American had ever crossed the Western U.S. and they had no idea of what to expect. Their mission was to explore, map and describe this great unknown area. Thomas Jefferson was President of the U.S. in 1803 when the Expedition was formed. In fact, it was his idea to have an expedition explore what was then called Louisiana. He selected Captain Meriwether Lewis to lead the group and told him to assemble the men and equipment he needed. Jefferson wanted a complete report of the geography, plants, animals and Indian tribes found along the way.
In the early 1800s transportation was very different and much slower than today. The only way to move anything around America was by using the power of human or animal muscles. Of course, this was very slow. Using boats on water was the fastest way to move anything and most new towns were founded near rivers so they could transport goods to ocean ports where they would be put on board ocean-going ships. President Jefferson hoped that rivers would connect the west coast to the east coast which would allow for the easy transport of food, materials and information. So, Lewis and Clark set off in boats and stayed on rivers as much as they could for the entire expedition.
Follow the rivers
Planning for the trip was a big challenge. They had no idea what to expect in the unknown territory. The experts believed that they would find no mountains higher than the Appalachians and that the weather would be the same as that of the Eastern U.S. They didnâ€™t know what types of plants, animals and fish they would find. They even thought they might encounter the prehistoric woolly mammoth! Figuring out what to take on a trip like this was a very tough job.
What should we pack?
They knew that they would have to gather all their food by hunting, fishing or trading with the Indians. So they brought plenty of gunpowder, fish hooks and trade goods. Records show that they purchased more than 2,800 fish hooks for the trip. Although some of these were used for fishing, most were given as gifts or trade items to the Indians they encountered.
Blue Beads for trading: Seonaid Campbell Indian Presents: National Archives
Back to School
President Jefferson instructed the Expedition to document every new discovery, including all plants, animals and geological features. This meant Captain Lewis needed to become an expert in many different fields. For nearly 10 months he studied under some of the greatest naturalists to prepare him to document the discoveries of the Expedition. During this time Captain Lewis learned how to properly describe new animals. With birds and mammals Lewis was able to preserve skins that could be returned for study. However, fish decompose rapidly and there was no practical method to preserve them for future study. Therefore, Lewis was forced to use drawings and words to describe the fish they discovered. One of the most important and difficult things that Captain Lewis had to learn was to determine his exact location. He had to calculate latitude and longitude at many points along the way. Calculating their latitude was complicated, but with the right instruments Lewis was able to make these observations. Measuring longitude was almost impossibly complicated. To calculate longitude correctly Lewis needed to know the exact time in both Greenwich, England and wherever he took the measurement. Since no clocks were available that could accurately track these times, Lewis had to learn to measure time by observing the movement of the moon against the stars. This required observations every 5 minutes for several hours each clear night.
Describing a fish
The first thing that Lewis did when describing a new fish was to note physical characteristics. In particular he noted: Body size, shape and color Number, size and shape of the fins Number, size and shape of teeth Size, number and type of scales Size and location of eyes Location and shape of mouth Other unique features Captain Lewis was very careful about making his observations and some of his fish descriptions were amazingly accurate. “A om
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Mouths and fins are important features to look at when describing a fish.
On the water
August 31, 1803, was a very significant day for the Expedition for two reasons. First, this was the day they set off on water from Pittsburg taking the Ohio River downstream and from this day on they would live on the water. The second important thing that happened on August 31 is that Captain Lewis made his first journal entry. These journals became the permanent record of the Expedition and Lewis entered detailed descriptions of all he saw and experienced. It didnâ€™t take long before fish were being mentioned in the journals. In fact, it was just two days later on September 2 that Lewis made note of the catfish, bass, pike and sturgeon that he saw swimming in the clear waters of the river. These first days were a learning time for the men as they struggled to find the best way to load the boats, keep their goods dry, set comfortable camps and many other tasks that would be critical to their success.
Starting to fish
We don’t know for sure when fishing became part of the activities of the men. We do know that they began fishing for food while on the Ohio River when the journals tell of the capture of a giant 128 pound blue catfish. The members of the Expedition were very fond of eating fish, which was a good thing because fish would be an important part of their diet for the entire trip. From the “very fat” catfish of the Missouri River to the “excellent” salmon of the Columbia River, each species of fish was judged by how it tasted. They sampled many different types of fish and judged some to be better left in the rivers. In particular, Lewis wrote that the sucker was by “no means as good as the trout.” The Expedition had no trouble finding deer, elk, bison or other large animals to hunt. The plains they traveled through were filled with big game animals. So for their entire trip up the Missouri River, fish were a welcome addition that added variety to their diet.
The route of the Expedition took them up the Missouri River to the point where it turned into a series of small streams coming out of the formidable Rocky Mountains. They knew that they had to cross these rugged peaks to get to the ocean on the other side. Crossing the mountains was the most difficult part of the entire trip. They made the crossing in September and winter comes early to these high peaks. They found little grass for their horses and no game to hunt. Starvation was a concern and they even killed horses for food. Finally after 11 days crossing the mountains they reached a Nez Perce Indian village where they were offered dried salmon and some roots. Never were the men as grateful for salmon as they were then.
Salmon to the rescue
Too much of a good thing
The Expedition traveled down the Columbia River toward the Pacific at the peak of the salmon harvest and different Indian tribes were gathered to catch and preserve these fish. Lewis and Clark purchased 16 baskets (about 1,500 pounds) of dried salmon from one of the tribes. When the Expedition first tasted salmon they thought it was wonderful, but as the winter of 1805-1806 dragged on they became very tired of eating the same thing every day. Unfortunately, there was little game to hunt and the damp climate caused any meat to quickly go bad. If not for these salmon they would surely have starved to death during that winter. During the winter they had frequent contact with the native tribes who traded with them for fresh and dried salmon. The men tried every possible method of cooking the fish, mostly using recipes they got from the natives. Once they tried to create their own recipe by pounding dried salmon then boiling it in ocean water. This proved to be a serious mistake as none of the men wanted to eat the resulting meal.
Not just salmon
Salmon were not the only fish that they traded from the Indians. In February of 1806, they heard from the natives that a small herring-like fish was beginning to run into the Columbia River. A few days later Indian traders visited and brought with them some of these small fish. Lewis recognized them as a new species and his description of this fish, the eulachon, is one of the most reproduced pages from his journals. The eulachon came to the river in huge numbers and were netted out by the thousands. This tiny fish is very high in oil which was remarked on by Lewis when he described them as “luscious.” He commented that “they are so fat they require no additional sauce.” In fact, the eulachon are so fatty that when dried it is possible to light them on fire giving them the common name of “candle fish.”
From the Journal of Lewis
Measuring their lives Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
Lewis and Clark depended on the Indians they encountered to teach them about the new world around them. They quickly learned that the lives of the Columbia River tribes revolved around the fish in the river. The Indians knew all of the fish and when each would run into the river. The salmon runs were the most important and much of tribal life was dictated by these fish. However, the early spring run of the eulachon was an important food as were the sturgeon which arrived soon after. These great runs of fish arriving from the Pacific were like a calendar for the Indians and they taught Lewis and Clark to recognize some of the major events, including that they should not try to cross the Rocky Mountains until spring-run salmon were found in the shallow waters at the confluence of the Dick Walker/Alpha 1 Photography Snake and Columbia rivers. 11
Catching the fish
Through the course of the Expedition the men fished in almost every conceivable way. Hook and line was quite common. However, more effective methods were also used. There are a number of accounts of the men making “brush drags” which they used to capture fish in a stream. These “drags” were likely net-like weavings of willows and other supple branches. Their success using these “drags” was quite impressive. While camped along the Missouri, Clark led a party of men to a beaver-dammed stream where they reported capturing more than 300 fish of 7 different species using their “brush drag.” Not to be outdone by Clark, Lewis returned to the same place the next day and proceeded to catch 800 more fish!
While the improvised â€œdragsâ€? the men used early in the trip were quite effective, it was on the Columbia River that they learned how effective nets could be for catching fish. Here they watched the native Indians Columbia Gorge Discovery Center use a variety of nets to capture spawning salmon. Working in areas where the upstream movement of the fish is slowed by steep rapids, the Indians would sweep their long-handled nets into the water and come up loaded with giant salmon. Although dip netting was the most common method used by the Indians, they also made extensive use of spearing, seine netting, fish traps and hooks. The men of the Expedition tried all of these methods and soon discovered that many took skills that they had never learned. Consequently, the men mostly fished with hook and line, but were not afraid to use any technique that worked. In fact, one occasion they caught a fine large salmon by shooting it with a rifle. Diarmid Campbell
Fishing for more than food Although feeding the men was a primary reason for fishing, the journals are full of stories of the men fishing just for fun. One man in particular, Silas Goodrich, was noted by all for his expertise in catching fish. Goodrich was the official fisherman of the group and he would often be sent to catch fish for the others. Lewis described him as “our fine fisherman” and “remarkably fond of fishing.” Lewis was an avid angler as well, and he reports several times that he was unsuccessful in catching fish until Goodrich showed him what to do. While the fish Lewis caught would certainly feed the men, there is no doubt that Lewis fished just for the joy of fishing. On June 15, 1805, Lewis wrote in his journal, “I amused myself in fishing and sleeping away the fatigues of yesterday.” There is no doubt that Lewis and many of the other men took great pleasure from fishing.
Fishing for science
While most of the fish the men encountered were noted for their use as food, there was another important task for Lewis and Clark: identifying fish for science. Since this was part of their mission, they spent time documenting the new fish they found. At times, like with the eulachon, the description was extensive and accompanied by detailed drawings. However, a few of the other fish were not nearly so well described. One of the mystery fish descriptions was provided by Lewis on August 22, 1805, when he wrote, â€œI now for the first time saw ten or a dozen of a white species of trout. They are of a silvery color except on the back and head where they are of a bluish cast. The scales are much larger than the speckled trout but in their form, position of their fins, teeth and mouth etc. they are precisely like them.â€? With this description he was undoubtedly describing a new species. However, it is hard for us to tell if the fish was a grayling or a whitefish.
Upper fish: whitefish Lower fish: grayling Fish illustrations: Joseph Tomellari
The Expedition documented the discovery of at least 14 new fish species. They are: channel catfish sauger goldeye westslope cutthroat trout Arctic grayling northern pike minnow steelhead peamouth white sturgeon eulachon skate flounder coho salmon sockeye salmon chinook salmon
The fish discoveries of Lewis & Clark
In addition, the men found other new species but did not add enough detail to their descriptions for us to know for sure what these were. As an example, at Fort Clatsop, where the men spent the winter on the Oregon coast, Lewis wrote this: â€œa species similar to one of those noted on the Missouri within the mountains, called in the Eastern states, bottle-nose.â€? This is undoubtedly a new sucker species but since the Columbia is home to largescale, mountain and bridgelip suckers there is no way to tell which he was describing.
Fish illustrations: Joseph Tomellari
Channel catfish were the first new species that the Expedition encountered. While the blue catfish they fished for on the Ohio River were long known, Lewis reports catches of the channel catfish beginning in Iowa and continues to document them as the party moved up the Missouri into Montana. Remarking on their color, deeply forked tail and excellent flavor, these were a highly sought fish for food. In the early 1800s channel catfish were found across much of the middle of the United States. Since that time they have expanded their range with their introduction to new waters to provide both a sport and food fish. Channel catfish remain a popular food fish and it is good to know that their populations are secure.
Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)
On June 11, 1805, Lewis wrote that Silas Goodrich had caught a fish â€œabout 9 inches long of white color, round and in form and fins resembles that white chub common to the Potomac. The fish has a smaller head than the chub and the mouth is beset both above and below with a rim of fine sharp teeth; the eye moderately large.â€? This was the first description of the sauger, a fish closely related to walleye and perch. Sauger feed on other fish and the sharp teeth Lewis noted are a distinguishing characteristic. Lewis also noted the large eyes which allow the fish to see in the dark and in muddy waters. Sauger are found in long river systems where some individuals will travel 250 miles to reach their spawning grounds. Traveling long distances is important to the fish, but the development of dams on many of their rivers makes it tough for them to survive. Today sauger are found in far fewer places than they were when Lewis first described them. Besides the dams, they are threatened by competition for food and habitat with other fish and hybridization with walleyes. In Montana, their range is only about half of what it was when the Expedition arrived.
Westslope Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarki lewisi)
“Goodrich caught half a dozen very fine trout…from sixteen to twenty three inches in length, precisely resemble Joseph Tomellari our mountain or speckled trout in form and position of their fins, but the specks on these are deep black instead of red….Have generally a small dash of red on each side behind the front ventral fins.” When Lewis wrote these words he provided the first account of the westslope cutthroat trout, probably the most celebrated of all of the fish discoveries. The Expedition frequently fished for these trout and often commented on their excellent flavor. In the years after the Expedition, scientists would discover that there were actually 14 different types of cutthroat trout found throughout the West. All of these have been popular with anglers and are highly sought after game fish today.
Unfortunately, human development has been disastrous for the westslope cutthroat trout found in the Missouri River. Since their discovery their numbers have steadily decreased to the point that they now occupy less than 3% of their historic range in the Missouri. Hybridization, over-fishing, habitat destruction and other human activities have driven this fish to the brink of extinction. We all have to work together to make sure that these fine trout are preserved for future anglers.
John Fraley, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
What would Lewis and Clark find today?
If Lewis and Clark appeared today do you think they would recognize much of what they saw 200 years ago? Besides the obvious things like cars, trains, cities and lots of people, they would have trouble recognizing much of the natural countryside that they traveled through. The mighty waterfalls of the Columbia and Missouri rivers are now buried by massive dams. The bison herds that blackened the prairies are long gone and, in the water, many of the fish they discovered are hard to find. The most dramatic losses are the salmon runs that were such a major part of life in the Pacific Northwest. Today many rivers have no wild salmon returning from the ocean and the once uncountable fish that climbed up the Columbia and Snake rivers have trickled to just a few. The white sturgeon has suffered a similar fate while the Arctic grayling is almost gone from Montana. However, it is not all bad news. Some of our native fish are doing well and with the help of dedicated fishery biologists some are making a comeback. Although today few people depend directly on the fish for their livelihood, many people are fighting to make sure that 200 years in the future we have as many or more of these great fish as we do today. You can help to make our world better for the fish of Lewis and Clark and for all of us by learning to live in harmony with the planet. Conserve energy, recycle and always check to make sure that things you do donâ€™t harm the planet. Letâ€™s all protect the treasures that Lewis and Clark first discovered. 20
There are lots of ways to learn more about the Lewis & Clark Expedition and also about fish and fishing. Your library is sure to have many good books and information. The Internet is a great source for information. Here are just a few web sites to get you started on your own journey of discovery. Information about Lewis and Clark http://www.nps.gov/lecl/ http://www.nationalgeographic.com/lewisandclark http://www.lewis-clark.org Information about fish and fishing http://www.fedflyfishers.org http://www.sierraclub.org/lewisandclark/fishing_guide/ http://fwp.mt.gov/fishing/default.html
lmost everyone has heard of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but few realize that it was the greatest fishing trip ever taken. From 1803 â€“ 1806, a small group of 33 people explored the unknown western United States. Staying on major rivers, the Expedition traveled more than 3,700 river miles from the junction of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers to the mouth of the Columbia River where it reaches the Pacific Ocean. By the end of the trip they discovered 178 different plants and 122 animals that had never been described before. This total included 14 different fish species, but it is likely they discovered fish they did not record. Fishing was one of their main activities as they fished for sport, fished for food and fished for science. There is no doubt that they experienced fish and fishing in a way that no one ever had or ever will again. Join us as we take a brief look at this remarkable expedition and learn about the fish and fishing of Lewis and Clark.
The true story of the greatest fishing trip ever - the Lewis and Clark expedition