Bottle Fishing on the Banks of the Portenuf River


As a boy in the late 1950’s I walked barefoot on the banks of a river, built rafts each summer, caught snakes and fished, but it was only a small part of growing up for me. I don’t think the experience would compete with Huckleberry Finn’s story.

One difference would be my own version of bottle fishing. Getting a pint or quart glass mason jar was not a problem. My mom had plenty and each year bottled raspberries, peaches and other items by sealing them in the bottles and heating them up in a pressure cooker or water bath. The raspberries were especially good.

An empty bottle, strong string, bottle lids, a knife and some bread, was all that was needed. I would tie the string around the lid ring. The actual flat lid went on the bottle and then was sealed with the ring.  A knife could be pressed in the middle of the flat lid creating a punctured x and it would then be easy to press the x to open and you would see 4 sections of the lid depressed into the bottle.  At this point a few bread pieces would be put in the bottom of the bottle. They needed to be big enough to when the bottle was filled with water that they wouldn’t float up through the opening now in the lid.

With the bottle secured by the long string, sometimes doubled up, strong enough to hold the bottle full of water with some pressure, the bottle was then just tossed off shore. Under some overhanging branches was a good place, or even by a large rock. At this point nothing was left to do but wait. Ten minutes, maybe an hour. When the bottle was pulled back in it usually had several minnows in it. This was fishing and how it worked in my back yard, in the Portneuf River. Bigger fish could be caught with a pole and hook, but it wasn’t always a sure thing like bottle fishing was.

The small fish could be used for bait, if a trip to the Snake River was coming up, but that was a rare occasion. Maybe the fish could have been sold as bait with some worms, if I had thought about it back then, but I didn’t. What to do with these little fish was a question that had only a few answers. Letting them go happened occasionally. Building on the banks of the river a special little pool was often an interesting approach.  Rocks and mud could be formed and arranged to create a little pool. Sometimes a special waterway could be built from upstream to feed the pool, but it wasn’t a big deal to just fill the little pond with water.

Once the fish pool was loaded up with fish then the next step was to move back away and just hide or even leave and come back in an hour. Sooner or later a snake would find this little pool and go in and eat the fish. With good timing the snake could then be caught.

What to do with a live snake was a little more of a challenge. Several attempts to keep them in a cardboard box under the front porch failed. They just disappeared?  From this location they could have gone into the deep basement of the house we lived in. It had once been an old power plant and the basement was something I never saw the bottom of. Figuring out what to do with the snakes was always a challenge.