Making a Native-Style Halibut Hook (Continued)

By , May 15, 2011

Over recent posts, I’ve been describing making a Northwest Coast Native style halibut hook. To catch up, start here.

When I embarked on the project, I assumed I would fashion a metal barb for the hook, either from a nail, or perhaps the trimmed shaft of a large octopus hook. I then learned in Hilary Stewart’s book on Native fishing that when local Natives began switching from the traditional bone barb to iron, they needed to add an additional float to the rig to offset the weight of the iron. We have access to moose bones, so I decided to use the more traditional material to fashion my barb.

bone fishhook barb

My moose bone halibut hook barb (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

It took considerable effort to saw a section of a moose leg bone, but it was worth it. I filed it into shape with a rasp, then used two grades of sandpaper to further shape it, fashion the point, and sharpen it. At first, I worried how to gauge if the sharpness would be adequate to catch a fish. Then I remembered the common fisherman’s term, “sticky sharp.” This means sharpening a hook barb until itwill stick to one’s fingernail when placed on it. With diligence, I honed the bone point until it “stuck” on my fingernail when dragged across.

When finished, my barb’s roundness matched the drilled hole so well that it stuck firm in the wood piece. I lashed it more to prevent possible splitting out than from fear it might push loose in use.

I’m a bit concerned about the angle of the hole. While the barb is angled in to match some real Native halibut hooks, it’s not as sharply angled as some of them are. I lacked the control I would have liked while drilling the hole. Even using a jig, it ended up less angled than I’d wanted. I will have more than a month to stare at the hook and stew about the angle before I get the opportunity to fish for halibut; I may eventually replace the bottom arm with a better-angled hole. If I decide to do that, I’ll need to cut it out of the old arm to free it because the barb fit the hole so well.

The shaft seems a bit stouter than I wanted, but because the bone I used is old, possibly more brittle than a fresher bone might be, I left it that way, hoping it’ll hold up. If, in use, I lose the hook, my greatest regret will be the loss of that barb—I’m quite proud of it.

With the barb in place, and the two halves of the wooden V frame lashed together, my tool was technically complete, but not aesthetically. I’ll describe the final touches next time.

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