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The Steven Michaan Collection of North American Tribal Art : The Art of the Spirit World : Northwest Coast
Tlingit or Haida
Halibut Hooks
Hardwood, 3½" Height, c.1800
Whale Rattle
Whale Rattle
Halibut Hook

Halibut hooks were made of two different types of wood. A baited barb would be lashed to the lighter variety with spruce root. The denser wood was usually carved.

The distinctive V-shaped Native-style halibut hook is an intriguing artifact of incredible artistic beauty, and a marvel of engineering which exploits the fish’s natural behavior.

The Pacific halibut is a super predator, a large, flat fish with both eyes on the top side of its head and a mouth that opens sideways. On the sea floor, it literally vacuums up anything that might be prey, including whole fish and octopus.

Halibut can grow to monstrous size which would be impossible for the fisheremn to handle, but the hook makes a moot consideration. The V-shaped hook “sorts” halibut by size. One that’s too small can’t get its mouth around the baited section and any that are too large take the whole hook in their mouths, then expel it without ever getting caught.

Those that are just the right size, however, take the baited half of the "V" into their mouths. When the fish finds that it can’t swallow the bait, it expels it forcefully, sending the sharply-angled barb into the side of its mouth. As long as the hook’s materials held against the fish’s struggles, it could then be hauled to the surface at the fisherman’s leisure.

Beyond this extraordinary functionality, each of these three hooks is remarkable for the virtuosity of the carvers who created them. Clan images, spirit figures and mysterious hands adorn each piece respectively and each calls for ancestral and spiritual assistance in different ways.