Knee-deep in the rumbling waters of Rapid River in western Idaho, Mike Tuell guided his dip net between boulders and tree branches in search of the calm pockets where salmon rest.
It was a Tuesday evening in May, and his first time out fishing this season. The spring-summer Chinook were just beginning their treacherous journey back to their natal spawning areas.
His shoulders tensed as he pushed the net deeper. With each passing stroke, Tuell, 53, a member of the Nez Perce tribe, settled into a rhythm with his net, becoming less an intruder on the river and more a natural part of its ecosystem.
Crouched on the rocks behind him was his girlfriend’s 12-year-old son, Nat’aani McCaskey. Decades ago, Tuell had been taught to fish along this same waterway by his uncle, and he was now passing that knowledge on.
“If we want to have the way of life we have now, or the life we used to have, he’s got to learn to do it now and do it right so he’s not wasting fish or doing it for the wrong reasons,” explained Tuell, who also serves as production division deputy director for the tribe’s fisheries department.
Not quite big enough to manipulate the pole himself, Nat’aani held a knife and club, ready to take over once Tuell caught a salmon. He listed off the steps: “Hold it by its tail, club it, cut its gills out, and then put it in the ice.”
But the opportunity never came. After nearly two hours, with sweat glistening across Tuell’s forehead, the pair weren’t able to catch a single salmon.
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