Fly Fishing in Native America

Copyright 2011, Kenneth H. Lokensgard

Following is a short blurb inspired by my academic work and adapted from another project:

Members of individual Native American nations have lived in particular places for hundreds or even thousands of years.  Over the course of generations, they have carefully observed the vitality of their natural environments, and they have attributed that vitality to the presence of the various seen and unseen beings animating their worlds — all endowed with life and volition by their creator.  Living successful and happy lives in such worlds means maintaining positive relationships with these other beings.  Hunting, fishing, and agricultural activities, as well as the many rituals that surrounded those activities, therefore requires Native Americans to show the utmost respect for the animals and plants upon whom they depended so strongly for life.

Historically, the Blackfoot Peoples of Montana and Alberta depended primarily upon bison and other four-legged animals for subsistence.  Not surprisingly then, even today, spirits of the bison are welcomed and honored in nearly all of their ceremonies and in their smaller day-to-day rituals.  In addition to honoring the bison, the Blackfeet honor Ihtsipaitapiy’op, the creator, who gave these animals life and set them upon the Blackfoot landscape.  For in so doing, he ensured the survival of the Blackfoot Peoples.

In the pre-reservation era, the Blackfeet rarely fished.  Nevertheless, they still afforded the fish a degree of respect similar to that they afforded the bison.  This is because they considered the fish to be the primary food of other spirit beings, who inhabited the many bodies of water in Blackfoot Country.  These beings were powerful and potentially dangerous water serpents.   So, it was especially important for the Blackfeet to avoid offending them.

Many of the fish in Blackfoot Country have been replaced by or interbred with other species over the last hundred some years.  For instance, native cutthroat trout have interbred with rainbow trout introduced by white settlers.  The settlers felt that rainbows were more a more sporting gamefish.  Native arctic grayling, on the other hand, are nearly extinct.  They have been outcompeted for food by more aggressive rainbows and other introduced species, and they have been impacted heavily by the recent development of the landscape.

Today, many more Blackfeet fish than did in the past.  In the late 1800’s, when the bison disappeared, some Blackfeet probably fished out of necessity, in order to supplement their changing diets.  More recently, some Blackfeet have begun to fish not only for food, but for sport as well.  A Blackfoot elder suggested to me that this is more acceptable now than it might have been historically, since the fish themselves are now largely different – these fish are no longer the same creatures upon whom the powerful  water beings relied for food.  Still, even as new inhabitants of Blackfoot country, the introduced and hybrid trout deserve the basic respect due to any being with whom the Blackfeet share their world.  Fishing with Blackfoot friends, I have witnessed this respect, and the awareness of the larger natural world that informs it. 

A river associated with the ancient establishment of Blackfoot Country.

2 Responses to “Fly Fishing in Native America”

  1. Ken Porter Says:

    My Aunt Lucille Meinicke and her son Art Schmidt owned the Lucky Bug Shop in Butte


    • Kenov Says:

      Thanks, Ken. Do you know what years they were in operation? Also, do you know anything about the production of their flies and rods?


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