For hundreds and thousands of years Alaskans have developed methods to catch fish.

The most common method today is with nets. There are two kinds of nets: seine nets and gill nets.

Seine nets surround the fish and hold them in an enclosed area until they are hauled flopping into the boat or ship.

Gill nets catch fish around the head, holding the gills closed. The fish quickly die because they cannot get oxygen over their gills. They struggle less, making them better tasting. As they struggle less, they tangle the nest less.

Most subsistence families use gill nets. If the meshes of the gill net are too big, fish swim through it or get hung up on their dorsal fin.

If the gill net is too small, the fish hang up for a while around their nose, but can easily escape.

Having a net with the proper mesh size for local fish is most important. When people made nets from sinew and willow bark, it was very important to have an efficient net, as they were so hard to make.

Parts of a net

There are several parts to a net.

Float line. This holds the top of the net to the surface of the water so fish cannot swim over the net.

Lead line. This holds the bottom of the net down so the fish cannot swim under the net.

Mesh. This is the part of the net that catches the fish.
Each square of the net is called a mesh.
When the mesh is stretched out, it is called a stretched mesh.

Float line


Lead line


Measure around the gills of at least ten fish of a single species your family uses, whether silver salmon, red, chum, humpies, different kinds of whitefish, grayling, trout, shea fish etc. The best way to do this is to wrap a string around the fish at the gills, then measure the string.


Once you have the measurements of at least ten fish, average them. Divide that number in half. That represents the length of one stretched mesh.


Net makers and hangers talk about nets in terms of stretched mesh. One mesh stretched tight makes a stretched mesh.

5 1/4" stretched mesh is common mesh for red, chum and silver salmon.

8 1/2" stretched mesh is common mesh for kings

4 1/2"stretched mesh is common mesh for large witefish etc.

All of these differ with each location and type of fish.


Do the above research and math for every type of fish in your area. You might want to do different measurements for male and female of each type too. Female chum, red and silver salmon are typically smaller than the males.

The elders did this process in their own way before they made nets by hand. They researched the size of the fish before hand-making a net for that species. They found the distance around the gills of the fish they were trying to catch.

You will also have to decide how deep the net will be. A net too deep tangles on the bottom of the river or lake. A net that is not deep enough allows fish to escape underneath. NetsNet depth is measured in meshes, whether 25 meshes deep, 28, 35 etc. As the net, when it is hung, doesn't hang with the meshes perfectly square, it's impossible to determine the length by calculating. You just have to measure a net. Of course, a red salmon net 28 meshes deep isn't the same depth as a whitefish net 28 meshes deep, as the mesh size is different. However, once you know, for example, that a net 28 meshes deep is 8', you should be able to compute the depth of a net 36 meshes deep.

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