Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Pacific Smelt, Columbia River"
Includes ... Eulachon ... Pacific Smelt ... Candlefish ... Cowlitz River ... Sandy River ... The Golden Age of Postcards ...
Image, 2013, Columbia River, click to enlarge
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Glaucous-winged Gull and Pacific Smelt, Willow Grove, Washington. Willow Grove is approximately 10 miles downstream from the mouth of the Cowlitz River. Image taken March 20, 2013.


Pacific Smelt (Eulachon) ...
"Pacific Smelt" is the common name for the Eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus). The small 6-9 inch fish is bluish on its upper half with silvery white sides and belly. The body is long and thin with a large mouth and skinny head.

"The eulachon is an anadromous species, leaving the ocean to ascend rivers and streams to spawn. Adults enter fresh water and spawn from February to mid-May. Typically, males enter the rivers first, followed shortly by the females. Most spawning eulachon are three years old though they can live up to five years. Spawning is done in large masses and usually during the night. The females' eggs and the males' sperm are dispersed together into the water column and the fertilized eggs quickly attach to gravel, wood or the sandy bottom of rivers. Most adults die shortly after spawning. The 7,000 to 60,000 eggs per female hatch in five to six weeks. Because of its small size the larval eulachon are rapidly swept downstream and out into the estuaries and open ocean."


Source:    Pacific State Marine Fisheries Commission, 2013, Smelt factsheet


"Candlefish" ...
The Pacific Smelt (Eulachon) is also known as the "Candlefish" or "Oilfish". When dried and fitted with a wick, the fish can be burned like a candle.

Image, 2015, Woodland Bottoms, Woodland, Washington, click to enlarge
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Dead smelt along Columbia River, shown with 77mm Canon lens cap, Woodland Bottoms, Woodland, Washington. Nice spring day. Image taken March 4, 2015.
Image, 2016, Cowlitz River, Washington, click to enlarge
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Bucket of Smelt, Cowlitz River, Washington. Overcast gray chilly day. Image taken February 6, 2016.


Lewis and Clark and the Columbia River Smelt ...
On February 24, 1806, Lewis and Clark wrote their first description of the Eulachon, the "Pacific Smelt" (Thaleichthys pacificus).

"... This evening we were visited by Comowooll the Clatsop Chief and 12 men women & children of his nation ...   The chief and his party had brought for sail a Sea Otter skin some hats, stergeon and a [s]pecies of small fish which now begin to run, and are taken in great quantities in the Columbia R. about 40 miles above us [Cowlitz River] by means of skiming or scooping nets. ...   I find them best when cooked in Indian stile, which is by roasting a number of them together on a wooden spit without any previous preperation whatever. they are so fat they require no additional sauce, and I think them superior to any fish I ever tasted ..." [Lewis, February 24, 1806]

Endangered ...
Washington's Cowlitz River and Oregon's Sandy River, both tributaries to the Columbia River, have long been famous for their smelt runs where fishermen lined the banks and could reach their limit in one dip of their nets. Unfortunately the runs have declined and the Pacific Smelt is now on the endangered list.

According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife website (2013):

"... Once so abundant they were caught by the bucket load with dip nets, eulachon numbers have dropped precipitously since the 1940s when they entered the Columbia in such large numbers they literally choked tributaries like the Cowlitz and Sandy river with tremendous silvery schools of migrating fish. Their ability to reproduce in large numbers – one 6- to 8-inch adult female can produce up to 40,000 eggs – is crucial to their survival since they are prey for many other species, including humans. Since NOAA Fisheries listed eulachons for protection under the ESA on May 17, 2010, biologists have begun taking a closer look at them and what it will take to protect the species. ..."

Gulls, Eagles, and Scaup ...

Image, 2015, Columbia at Kalama River, Washington, click to enlarge
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Gulls following the smelt run, resting on sandbar in the Columbia River at the mouth of the Kalama River. Approximately 1,000 gulls in view. Nice spring day. Image taken March 6, 2015.
Image, 2014, Lewis River, Washington, click to enlarge
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Bald Eagle with Pacific Smelt, Lewis River, Washington. Weather was gray and overcast. Image taken March 14, 2014.
Image, 2013, Columbia River, Portland, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Lesser Scaup, female, with Pacific Smelt, Columbia River, east of the Interstate 205 Bridge, Oregon side. Weather was gray and overcast. Image taken April 9, 2013.
Image, 2013, Columbia River, Portland, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Lesser Scaup, female, with Pacific Smelt, Columbia River, east of the Interstate 205 Bridge, Oregon side. Weather was gray and overcast. Image taken April 9, 2013.


Smelting and the Sandy River ...
"A commercial smelt fishery has operated from time to time in the Sandy River at Troutdale. The accompanying photographs [note: not included here] were taken in 1907 and 1922 respectively. In 1927 one of the outfits, Knarr and Sons, sold 53 1/2 tons of the small fish to the Bonneville Hatcheries and the following year 23 tons.

In 1957 a half million pounds of smelt were taken from the Sandy by commerical fishermen - most of them destined for cat food. Then in 1958 the smelt suddenly disappeared and did not make another run until 1971. They had returned to their former large numbers by 1977 when 800,000 pounds were taken by commercial fishermen. In 1979, the last year for which figures were available [note: 1980 publication], 600,000 pounds were taken. Ten commercial outfits operated on the Sandy during the 1977 season, among them the largest vessels were 25 foot gillnet boats, the smallest were 16 foot aluminum rowboats. The smelt do not penetrate far upstream, and the Troutdale bridge at River Mile 3.1 is the upper limit of commerical boat fishing. The runs generally last about three weeks each spring."


Source:    James E. Farnell, Ph.D., Research Analyst, 1980, "Sandy and Hood River Navigability Studies", Division of State Lands, Salem, Oregon, July 1980.


Penny Postcard, Smelt Fishing, Sandy River, Oregon
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Penny Postcard: Smelt Fishing, Sandy River, Oregon
Penny Postcard, "SANDY RIVER, Oregon". Caption on back reads: "Dip netters catching their limit of smelt, during the annual run, as the fish fight their way to their spawning grounds. This scene taken not far from Portland." Color by C.H. Ebeling. Published by Western Color Sales Inc., Portland, Oregon, #K1806. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.


Sandy River, March 2015 ...

Image, 2015, Sandy River, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Smelt fishing, Sandy River, Oregon. Nice spring day. Image taken March 7, 2015.
Image, 2015, Sandy River, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Smelt fishing, Sandy River, Oregon. Nice spring day. Image taken March 7, 2015.
Image, 2015, Sandy River, Oregon, click to enlarge
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Smelt fishing, Sandy River, Oregon. Nice spring day. Image taken March 7, 2015.


Smelting and the Cowlitz River, 2018 ...
No smelt-dipping on Cowlitz this year.

"OLYMPIA — For the first time in five years, the Cowlitz River will not open to smelt dipping.

A commercial test fishery conducted last month in the Columbia River showed that area smelt abundance is too low to warrant a recreational fishery this year, state fishery managers said.

Laura Heironimus, a fish manager at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said gillnet boats participating in the test fishery near the mouth of the Cowlitz River landed less than 130 pounds of smelt after eight days of fishing.

“That’s well below the 250-pound average daily catch benchmark for opening a recreational fishery,” Heironimus said. “We also didn’t see the frenzied activity by birds and sea lions last month that usually occurs during a healthy smelt run.”

Eulachon, more commonly known as smelt, were listed in 2010 as a threatened species from Washington state to the Mexican border under the federal Endangered Species Act. In 2014, after a three-year closure, WDFW opened a two-day sport fishery on the Cowlitz River in conjunction with a commercial test fishery designed to monitor the smelt population.

For the past two years, the recreational dip-net fishery on the Cowlitz River has been limited to a six-hour period on a single day.

“We know people really enjoy this fishery, but we can’t open it in good conscience knowing the abundance is so low,” Heironimus said. “The smelt population appears to be declining again after gaining some ground, so it’s hard to say whether we’ll be able to open a fishery next year.”"


Source:    "Chinook Observer", March 6, 2018.


Cowlitz River, February 2016 ...

Image, 2016, Cowlitz River, Washington, click to enlarge
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Smelting, Cowlitz River at Gerhart Gardens Park, Longview, Washington. Overcast gray chilly day. Image taken February 6, 2016.
Image, 2016, Cowlitz River, Washington, click to enlarge
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Smelting, Cowlitz River, Longview, Washington. Overcast gray chilly day. Image taken February 6, 2016.
Image, 2016, Cowlitz River, Washington, click to enlarge
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Smelting, Cowlitz River, Longview, Washington. Overcast gray chilly day. Image taken February 6, 2016.
Image, 2016, Cowlitz River, Washington, click to enlarge
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Smelting, Cowlitz River, Longview, Washington. Overcast gray chilly day. Image taken February 6, 2016.
Image, 2016, Cowlitz River, Washington, click to enlarge
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Smelting, Cowlitz River, Longview, Washington. Overcast gray chilly day. Image taken February 6, 2016.
Image, 2016, Cowlitz River, Washington, click to enlarge
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Cooler of Smelt, Cowlitz River, Washington. Overcast gray chilly day. Image taken February 6, 2016.
Image, 2016, Cowlitz River, Washington, click to enlarge
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Cooler of Smelt, Cowlitz River, Washington. Overcast gray chilly day. Image taken February 6, 2016.


From The Early Newspapers

  • 1873 ... "Cowlitz River Is Alive With Smelt"
  • 1883 ... St. Helens "Grand Time For Smelting"
  • 1887 ... Astoria "Smelt Of '87"
  • 1901 ... "No Smelt In The Cowlitz"
  • 1901 ... "Genuine Fish Yarn"
  • 1901 ... "Smelt School Located"
  • 1902 ... "Smelt Runs Still Heavy"
  • 1905 ... "Big Run Of Smelt"
  • 1910 ... "Smelt Are Few"
  • 1910 ... "Cowlitz Full Of Smelt"
  • 1910 ... "Smelt Fishing On The Cowlitz"
  • 1913 ... "Smelt Fishing Fine"
  • 1915 ... "Kelso Prepares for Smelt Run"
  • 1915 ... Lewis River
  • 1917 ... "Smelt Run On In Sandy"
  • 1917 ... "Smelt Run Is Heavy"
  • 1918 ... "Sandy River Still Black With Smelt"
  • 1919 ... "Annual Smelt Run In Sandy Started"


1873 ... "Cowlitz River Is Alive With Smelt"
"The Cowlitz river is alive with smelt -- the fish kind. Ten or fifteen minutes with a net will fill a barrel with them."


Source:    "The Albany Register" (Albany, Oregon), February 21, 1873, courtesy Oregon Historic Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2018.


1883 ... St. Helens "Grand Time For Smelting"
"Tuesday eve was a grand time for smelting. The St. Helenites smelt the battle from afar, and went out in all kinds of vessels like Jonah to take in the miniature whales. They just scooped them up sans ceremony."


Source:    "The Columbian" (St. Helens, Columbia County, Oregon), March 16, 1883, courtesy Oregon Historic Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2018.


1887 ... Astoria "Smelt Of '87"
"The first consignment of Columbia river smelt of '87 was received in this city yesterday afternoon, and the little fish were eagerly snapped up at fifteen cents a pound. They were unusually late in arriving this spring, and for a time it was feared that the old boss smelt had put a pocket veto on the annual appropriation for traveling purposes."


Source:    "The Daily Morning Astorian" (Astoria, Oregon), March 9, 1887, courtesy Oregon Historic Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2018.


1901 ... "No Smelt In The Cowlitz"
"An old smelt fisherman from the Cowlitz River is spending a few days in the city, hoping to be summoned home by news that the smelt have entered that river. He says that, although smelt have been caught in the Columbia since early in December, they have not yet started up the Cowlitz to their spawning grounds, consequently the gill netters are having things their own way. He is of opinion that the gill nets which are being used all the time are breaking up the schools and preventing the smelt from getting up the river. As a result the price of smelt has been kept at 10 cents per pound most of the time. Within the last few days some persons have been catching a good many smelt with dip nets across the Columbia just opposite the mouth of the Cowlitz and the schools are expected to enter that stream any day. The delay in the arrival of the smelt has been a serious loss to the fishers on the Cowlitz, who catch them by the ton, by the carload and by hundreds of tons. Considerably more than 100 tons of smelt were sent to this city last Spring from the Cowlitz. They are shipped from the Cowlitz to all parts of the country, and the income from the business amounts to considerable. A report was published a short time ago to the effect that the smelt had entered the Sandy River, but the Cowlitz man says this was not true. Smelt used to visit the Sandy, but have not done so for years. The Cowlitz is the only tributary of the Columbia which they frequent, just why no one knows. When the schools enter that river they are attacked on all sides and large catches are made. Often many tons are caught, for which there is no market, and the fish go to waste. If this goes on it will soon be necessary to take steps for the protection of the smelt, or this favorite and delicious little pan fish will be exterminated."


Source:    "The Morning Oregonian", February 25, 1901, courtesy Oregon Historic Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2018.


1901 ... "Genuine Fish Yarn"
Genuine Fish Yarn.

"Steamboat men report the Columbia alive with smelt all the way from the Cowlitz down to Cathlamet Bay. Myriads of gulls are seen along the river feeding to repletion on smelt, which are spread across the whole river, and in many places can be seen swimming close to the surface, as if the river was full of them. In the Cowlitz tons of the silvery little fish are being scooped up by fishermen and shipped to all parts of the Northwest, and here in Portland men are seen standing on street corners selling four pounds of smelt for 10 cents. ... The sturgeon used to thin out the schools of smelt as a very large sturgeon would take a barrel of them at a meal, and keep eating all day and all night, and since the sturgeon were practically exterminated the smelt have increased. There are now nearly as pelntiful as the salmon were in the good old days when Munchausen Knaggs owned the middle river, when the chinook obstructed navigation and choked the narrow places in the river, so that emigrant teams drove across on their backs."


Source:    "The Morning Oregonian", March 9, 1901, courtesy Oregon Historic Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2018.



1901 ... "Smelt School Located"
Smelt School Located.

"There was a sharp decline in the price of Columbia River smelt yesterday from 20 cents to 10 cents per pound. One smelt fisherman, instead of waiting for the school to enter the Cowlitz, decided to try dippping for them in the mightly Columbia. He found the head of the school about five miles below the mouth of the Cowlitz. Before the fish found out what he was affter he had scooped in 800 pounds of them. Their arrival in the market here brought down the price. If the weaterh keeps fine the smelt will be in the Cowlitz in a few days, and then there will be smelt to burn, and they will be shipped all over the country."


Source:    "The Morning Oregonian", December 12, 1901, courtesy Oregon Historic Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2018.



1902 ... "Smelt Runs Still Heavy"
Smelt Runs Still Heavy.

"... Last year there were as many or more salmon than ever before, and this year the same is true of the smelt. Years ago smelt did not make their appearance here in the market till about the middle of March, as no one fished for them but Indians, and they only fished with dipnets after the fish were running up the small rivers and could be caught from the banks. Now white men are out with seines, prospecting for the first school of smelt, as the first bring 50 cents and even 75 cents per pound. The result is that smelt were in market last Thanksgiving day, and were quite plentiful early in December. Since that time, nearly four months, smelt have been coming to market steadily by the ton, and immense quantities -- no one can say how many tons -- have been sold here or shipped to all parts of the Northwest at cheap rates. For a number of years the smelt, which used to be plentiful in the Sandy River, have not come further up than the Cowlitz, but lately a new school has come into the Columbia, and these have passed the Cowlitz, and are now running up Lewis River. The farmers are catching them in great numbers. The probability is that they will go on up to the Sandy, and give residents along that stream a chance to enjoy the sport of smelt fishing. This fishing is carried on chiefly at night, and when the smelt are plentiful affords fine sport to the fishermen."


Source:    "The Morning Oregonian", March 24, 1902, courtesy Oregon Historic Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2018.



1905 ... "Big Run Of Smelt"
Big Run Of Smelt ... Smelt Beginning to Come in the Cowlitz.

"Reports from Kalama is to the effect that smelt are again plentiful in the Cowlitz and the indications are that there will be an abundance of fresh fish for Lent."


Source:    "The Sunday Oregonian", March 5, 1905, courtesy Oregon Historic Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2018.



1910 ... "Smelt Are Few"
Smelt Are Few and Not to Be Had in Open Market.

"Smelt have not made their appearance, except in small quantities in the Cowlitz and Grays Rivers. So far there have been no smelt for sale in any of the fresh fish markets that receive their supplies from the Columbia River or its tributaries."


Source:    "The Sunday Oregonian", January 16, 1910, courtesy Oregon Historic Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2018.



1910 ... "Cowlitz Full Of Smelt"
Cowlitz Full Of Smelt ... Big Run May Presage Prosperous Salmon Season Later On.

"ASTORIA, Or., Feb.16. -- The largest run of smelt for years in the Cowlitz River is now in progress. The river has never been known to contain so many smelt in th ememory of the oldest fisherman.

This may bode good for the coming fishing season in the Columbia, as it is said that a good run of smelt has always been followed by a good run of salmon."


Source:    "The Sunday Oregonian", February 17, 1910, courtesy Oregon Historic Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2018.



1910 ... "Smelt Fishing On The Cowlitz"
Smelt Fishing On The Cowlitz ... How an Army of Men Catch the Biggest Run Known in the Last Twenty Years.


Image, 1910, click to enlarge
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NEWSPAPER IMAGE ... "Smelt Fishing On The Cowlitz", Sunday Oregonian, February 21, 1910. Courtesy Historic Oregon Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2018.


... There is not much romance connected with the taking of the smelt that are so plentiful in the markets of Portland and the Northwest during four or five months of each Winter. There is no battling with waves and storms such as are encountered by the hardy herring fishermen of the Atlantic. FOr the sportsman, smelt fishing would be just about as exciting as clam digging and the amount of skill required about the same. Smelt fishing furnishes talkes, however, that are novelties among fish stories in that while almost unbelievable they are nevertheless true.

During the smelt runs the fish are so plentiful that even the voracious seagull becomes almost sated. ...

So plentifully do the smelt run that frequently children bail them out of the water with tin cans securing half fish and half water. When the water is shallow enough the smelt can be taken with the bare hands for the skin of the fish is not slimy when in the water.

While the Cowlitz River is the only known spawning ground for smelt where the fish may be taken year by year, they have been known to run up the Lewis River and also up the Snady. At the time the smelt ran up the Lewis River, 14 years ago, there was only a small run of male smelt in the Cowlitz and the fisherment transferred their operations to the Lewis. WHen smelt run in numbers up the Sandy River it is apparently independently of the Cowlitz run and it is said to occur in the Sandy about once in eight years. ...

This season the Cowlitz River is the spawning ground of the greatest run of smelt ever known by fishermen who have been engaged in the business for 20 years. It is now estimated that by the close of the season the river will have yielded 200,000 boxes of smelt, each box weighing 50 pounds. This will represent an output of 10,000,000 pounds or 5000 tons and as smelt average about eight fish to the pound it means the marketing of 80,000,000 fish. ..."


Source:    "The Sunday Oregonian", February 21, 1910, courtesy Oregon Historic Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2016.



1913 ... "Smelt Fishing Fine"
Smelt Fishing Fine ... Little Silver Fish Are Scooped Up in Buckets ... ANGLERS GO IN AUTOS ... It is Estimated That 2,500,000 Smelt Are Taken Out of Sandy Saturday - Not Expected in River for Six Years.


Image, 1918, click to enlarge
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NEWSPAPER IMAGE ... "Smelt Fishing Fine", Morning Oregonian, April 14, 1913. Courtesy Historic Oregon Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2018.


Source:    "Morning Oregonian", April 14, 1913, courtesy Oregon Historic Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2018.



1915 ... "Kelso Prepares for Smelt Run"
Kelso Prepares for Smelt Run.

"KELSO, Wash., Jan. 1. -- (Special.) -- The Columbia River Smelt Company is erecting a new dock near the depot at Kelso to facilitate the work of handling and shipping the smelt catch during the approaching season. It is now almost time for the arrival of the fish and old fishermen expect the run to start as soon as the river rises. The fish never start their run until the river is muddied by rains. Plans are being made to open an Eastern market on a more extensive scale than last year, when shipments in refrigerated cars was made for the first time."


Source:    "The Morning Oregonian", January 2, 1915, courtesy Oregon Historic Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2016.


Penny Postcard, Columbia River Smelt Co., Kelso, Washington, ca.1915
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Penny Postcard: Columbia River Smelt Company, Kelso, Washington, ca.1915
Penny Postcard, "Shoveling Smelt, Columbia River, Oregon.". Label on box in image says: "From The Columbia River Smelt Co., Kelso, Wash.". Published by Louis Scheiner, Portland, Oregon. Made in U.S.A. Divided back. Card #R-28824. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.


1915 ... Lewis River
"Local fishermen have brought another supply of smelt to Ridgefield which were taken from the north fork of Lewis River and they are retailing them at 1 cent a pound."


Source:    "Sunday Oregonian", March 14, 1915, courtesy Historic Oregon Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2018.


1917 ... "Smelt Run On In Sandy"
Smelt Run On In Sandy ... Tons are Caught and Sold to Portland Market Men ... Thirty-five Fishermen Found Operating Nets Without License; Two Refuse to Pay for Right.

"With the waters of the Sandy River fairly alive with smelt, the greatest run known there for years, many people yesterday started dipping the fish from the waters of that stream with intent to thwart the high cost of living for a while, at least. Then came along Game Warden Carl Shoemaker, with his deputies, and insisted that each man who dipped up smelt must pay the regulation fee for a dip-net license, which is $1.

Mr. Shoemaker made a large haul of persons not equipped with licenses, it not being known that such a permit was required to harvest the food crop now so abundant in the Sandy's waters. Thirty-three men paid the fee.

Two others declined to take out the licenses, and Mr. Shoemaker will cause their arrest unless they comply promptly with the law.

"Tons of smelt were caught in the Sandy today," said Mr. Shoemaker upon his return to the city last night. "Portland market men were on hand buying them up. There were probably 2000 people along the river, most of them watching the fishermen. The run is very heavy, perhaps a record for the Sandy."

The smelt started to enter the river in huge numbers Friday. How long the run will continue cannot be known. Two fishermen at Troutdale -- John Crawford and George Larson -- took 2500 pounds, when the run first started, in an hour."


Source:    "Morning Oregonian", April 22, 1917, courtesy Oregon Historic Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2018.



1917 ... "Smelt Run Is Heavy"
Smelt Run Is Heavy ... Hundreds Journey to Sandy River for Fish ... BIRDCAGE USED AS DIPNET ... FIrst Run for Three Years Appears in Multnomah County Stream. Two Men Take 1500 Pounds in Short Time.


Image, 1917, click to enlarge
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NEWSPAPER IMAGE ... "Smelt Run Is Heavy", Morning Oregonian, April 23, 1917. Courtesy Historic Oregon Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2018.


"Fishermen and spectators swarmed the banks of the Sandy River all day yesterday, the former to take record catches of smelt and the latter to watch the interesting process.

The silvery fish run in countless numbers up the Sandy and it did not require special skill to make immense catches. Nets, sacks, even birdcages were used to dip up the toothsome smelt, which ran in enormous schools, seeking out spawning grounds.

This is the first well defined run of smelt to occur in the Sandy River for the past three years and it is said to be the biggest run that stream ever saw. Two men near Troutdale yesterday morning caught 1500 pounds of smelt in a short time. ...

Great quantites of the fish were brought to this city by private conveyances throughout the day. The modest price of 1 cent per pound was asked for the smelt, still alive and wriggling, as soon as they were dipped from the waters of the Sandy.

During the forenoon there was a big crowd on hand to watch the fishing operations, but by afternoon multitudes had appeared. When the cloud of automobiles started back toward Portland there was a solid, unbroken line of moving vehicles stretching for a long distance. The scene resembled the auto parade that made the opening of the Interstate bridge memorable.

How long the unusual run of smelt in the Sandy will continue is entirely problematic. The run started just when the smelt had left the Cowlitz, where they have been caught in vast quantities for weeks. ..."


Seagulls Follow Up Smelt ... Presence of Birds Indicates Run of Fish Is in the River.

"VANCOUVER, Wash., April 22. -- (Special.) -- Several thousand seagulls hovering over the Columbia River for the past few days indicated to old-timers that the smelt were coming up the river. The fish are now running in the Sandy, and the gulls follow along to feed upon them. These birds rest in large numbers at the upper end of Hayden Island and feed upon smelt which come to the top of the island in going up the river to reach the Sandy.

As far as the smelt go the gulls will follow."


Source:    "Morning Oregonian", April 23, 1917, courtesy Oregon Historic Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2018.



1918 ... "Sandy River Still Black With Smelt"
Sandy River Still Black With Smelt ... Commerical Fishermen Fill Their Boats With Toothsome Little Fish in Few Hours ... RUN LARGEST IN YEARS ... Jolly Fishermen Range Along Banks of River and Carry Away Tons of Finny Tribe Without Diminishing Supply.


Image, 1918, click to enlarge
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NEWSPAPER IMAGE ... "Sandy Still Black With Smelt", Morning Oregonian, April 3, 2018. Courtesy Historic Oregon Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2018.


"... they auta call this town Smeltville" ...

Sandy Smelt Run Heavy.

Who has not seen the smelt run of the Sandy, when the little fish turn from the Columbia to seek their spawning riffles in the glacial waters of its tributary, has a great deal to learn about smelt -- which are fish of fine personal attributes -- and more about human nature.

Never a jollier assembly of fishermen went to the river than those who have ranged themselves along the banks of the Sandy the past few days. With nets of mosquito screen, of birdcages, of rat-traps, flour sacks and what-not, they have swept the river at its edge for a toll that is reckoned in many tons. And they have touched but the outer fringe of that flood of fish that traveled up the current.

For the Sandy was black with smelt. From the bridge, as one looked down at the sand-bars, the river bottom curved and swayed with the files of finny pilgrims in numbers past all computing. As the dipnets plunged into the current the tick-tick-tick of the smalt against the netting was continuous until the fishermen swooped his net from the water, bearing from a dozen to ahundred or more.

Commercial fishermen filled boats with the smelt in a few hours dipping. A salmon launch crept in from the Columbia, her gunwales high above the current. A few hours later she passed down stream, laden almost to the water's edge. From the banks the licensed fishermen cried their wares to the passing motorists, who lined the bridge to spectators. ...

Run Largest in Several Years.

Beneath the bridge at Troutdale is a sandbar, nestled about its sponor, one of the big concrete pillars. Until the season of low water it cannot be reached from either shore. The smelt ran thick and dark across this bar and turned in a solid bank of moving fish to skirt the pillar. Someone rigged a block and tackle from the bridge rail, and a dozen boys came down, hand over hand, to fish at the base of the pillar.

Old-timers of Troutdale say that this season's run has been the largest of several seasons. The fish are of fine quality, and or more than ordinary size. At the river bank they were almost wholly without sale, for anyone with any kind of net could dip several hundred pounds in an hour.

The length of the run is problematical, but it is throught that it has passed its height and that it will be over within a day or so. Ordinarily the smelt run in the Sandy lasts from four days to a full week."


Source:    "The Morning Oregonian", April 3, 1918, courtesy Oregon Historic Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2016.



1919 ... "Annual Smelt Run In Sandy Started"
Annual Smelt Run In Sandy Started ... Hundreds of Portland People Secure Season's Supply ... AUTO LOADS BROUGHT BACK ... Sacks, Buckets, Tubs and Nets Are Used by Those Who Flock to Troutdale.


Image, 1919, click to enlarge
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NEWSPAPER IMAGE ... "Smelt Run In Sandy Started", Morning Oregonian, March 31, 1919. Courtesy Historic Oregon Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2018.


"Smelt! Smelt! Smelt!   Tons of glistening smelt, dipped wriggling from the Sandy river! Smelt for the market, smelt for supper, smelt to salt away for the household larder, jolting with knockout blows the high cost of living.

Saturday the smelt began to run in the Sandy. Funny how rapidly the news spread. By 4 o'clock yesterday morning, whole families with dipnets, buckets, any old thing to dip 'em up with, were arriving at the Sandy river bridge, just the other side of Troutdale (which ought henceforth to be called Smeltdale).

These early comers were just the vanguard of a multitude who came to the Sandy yesterday for smelt. From every point and rock on both sides of the river above and below the bridge, they dipped in their nets and hauled out the smelt.

They came in automobiles, on motorcycles, in trucks and behind Old Dobbin in the family buggy. The Interurban from Montavilla to Troutdale had to run extra cars to accommodate the rush. Some even walked out.

Six Officers Busy.

Six deputy sheriffs and traffic officers were kept in a sweat all day handling the swarm of automobiles. From Troutdale down to the bridge and beyond it, a full half mile, cars were parked on both sides of the highway, and in every open parking space they were three, four, even half a dozen deep. And every moment more cars arriving to add to the jam. ...

Returning Cars Laden.

From the fronts or backs of most of the cars going out projected the handles or business ends of dipnets. Packed on the hoods and running boards of the cars returning were gunnybags, flour sacks, boxes, buckets, barrels and baskets full of smelt. ...

The annual smelt run in the Sandy usually continues from one to two weeks. It ends almost as abruptly as it begins."


Source:    "The Morning Oregonian", March 31, 1919, courtesy Oregon Historic Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2016.



"The Golden Age of Postcards" ...

The early 1900s was the "Golden Age of Postcards", with the "Penny Postcard" being a popular way to send greetings to family and friends. Today the Penny Postcard has become a snapshot of history.

Penny Postcard, Columbia River Smelt Co., Kelso, Washington, ca.1915
Click image to enlarge
Penny Postcard: Columbia River Smelt Company, Kelso, Washington, ca.1915
Penny Postcard, "Shoveling Smelt, Columbia River, Oregon.". Label on box in image says: "From The Columbia River Smelt Co., Kelso, Wash.". Published by Louis Scheiner, Portland, Oregon. Made in U.S.A. Divided back. Card #R-28824. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.

Penny Postcard, Smelt Fishing, Sandy River, Oregon
Click image to enlarge
Penny Postcard: Smelt Fishing, Sandy River, Oregon
Penny Postcard, "SANDY RIVER, Oregon". Caption on back reads: "Dip netters catching their limit of smelt, during the annual run, as the fish fight their way to their spawning grounds. This scene taken not far from Portland." Color by C.H. Ebeling. Published by Western Color Sales Inc., Portland, Oregon, #K1806. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.


From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, February 24, 1806 ...
This evening we were visited by Comowooll the Clatsop Chief and 12 men women & children of his nation. Drewyer came a passenger in their canoe, and brought with him two dogs. The chief and his party had brought for sail a Sea Otter skin some hats, stergeon and a [s]pecies of small fish which now begin to run, and are taken in great quantities in the Columbia R. about 40 miles above us by means of skiming or scooping nets.    on this page I have drawn the likeness of them as large as life;    it as perfect as I can make it with my pen and will serve to give a general idea of the fish.    the rays of the fins are boney but not sharp tho' somewhat pointed. the small fin on the back next to the tail has no rays of bone being a thin membranous pellicle.    the fins next to the gills have eleven rays each.    those of the abdomen have eight each, those of the pinna-ani are 20 and 2 half formed in front.    that of the back has eleven rays.    all the fins are of a white colour.    the back is of a bluish duskey colour and that of the lower part of the sides and belley is of a silvery white.    no spots on any part.    the first bone of the gills next behid the eye is of a bluis cast, and the second of a light goald colour nearly white.    the puple of the eye is blak and the iris of a silver white.    the underjaw exceeds the uper; and the mouth opens to great extent, folding like that of the herring.    it has no teeth.    the abdomen is obtuse and smooth; in this differing from the herring, shad anchovey &c of the Malacopterygious Order & Class Clupea, to which however I think it more nearly allyed than to any other altho' it has not their accute and serrate abdomen and the under jaw exceeding the upper.    the scales of this little fish are so small and thin that without minute inspection you would suppose they had none.    they are filled with roes of a pure white colour and have scarcely any perceptable alimentary duct. I find them best when cooked in Indian stile, which is by roasting a number of them together on a wooden spit without any previous preperation whatever.    they are so fat they require no additional sauce, and I think them superior to any fish I ever tasted, even more delicate and lussious than the white fish of the lakes which have heretofore formed my standart of excellence among the fishes. I have heard the fresh anchovey much extolled but I hope I shall be pardoned for beleiving this quite as good.    the bones are so soft and fine that they form no obstruction in eating this fish. ...




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*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

Sources:    "Chinook Observer", 2018;    Farnell, J.E., Research Analyst, 1980, "Sandy and Hood River Navigability Studies", Division of State Lands, Salem, Oregon, July 1980;    Historic Oregon Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2018;    Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife website, 2013;    Pacific State Marine Fisheries Commission, 2013, Smelt factsheet;   

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
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April 2018