Native American Trout Gutter

April 2023

A place in the canyon caught my eye. 

The character of the mountain. The viewshed through the canyon of the Pacific Ocean and Santa Cruz Island.

Geography and aesthetics.

I felt compelled to go there. Years passed before I went. 

A comfortable and firm fit with flat surfaces for thumb and forefinger.

I walked through the forest and this chunk of stone gleamed from the shadows, down in the surface of the dark soil, rain polished.

On a mountain of golden gritty sandstone, in the gloom of heavy marine layer overhead, the glassy bright chert stood out like a light in the night.

On closer inspection, an artifact, a tiny blade of a sort crafted by human hands, Chumash hands.

The wad of stone may have looked ordinary and natural at first glance, but it held subtle signs of having been knapped. I could see tiny pressure flakes that had been popped from the stone one at a time in overlapping sequence to create a serrated edge.

The particular design was striking, too, a form I had never seen. The small crescent shape along the serrated edge calls to mind a gut hook on a hunting or fishing knife.

Yet, I think the hook form may have been even more pronounced when originally made. It appears to have been broken off and that the crescent edge may have been larger.

I like to think of the artifact as a Cold Springs Canyon trout gutter. Although I imagine it could have been used for numerous other purposes, and I’m assuming the original Native locals processed such fish in a similar manner as we do today.

Who knows how the tool was used?

We fished the creek for the last time thirty years ago. Before the protective prohibition on coastal stream fishing of the 1990s to protect southern steelhead.

The latest official assessment was just reported, its findings grim. With sharp declines in southern steelhead numbers the species remains the most critically endangered on the West Coast.

We’d catch and release wild rainbow trout with barbless artificial lures. The trout were eellike and wiry, but ferocious in their fight, true to the species. The artifact rested in relatively close proximity to where we’d fish.

The point edge is remarkably sharp and slices through a callous on the palm. It would work well for opening the gut cavity of trout to be cleaned. But again, it appears broken so that sharp point edge at the top of the crescent may be incidental. 

And although it may appear like nothing more than a rough chunk of naturally broken stone like so many others, it feels smart in the hand and fits quite well when gripped properly.

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5 Responses to Native American Trout Gutter

  1. Beth Wickstrum says:

    You and Nate are artifact whispers! That is an amazing find and thank you for the description and possible uses- fascinating.

    I gave Nate a trail name when we did the Yosemite High Camp Loop -it’s Indy!

  2. Gerry Hall says:

    Thank you for your always thoughtful and inspiring posts.

  3. Very cool find. You seemingly have some sort of native spirit that attracts you to these objects, or them to you.

    • Jack Elliott says:

      I will say that I seem to come across things often by what ordinarily could be called pure chance. Usually I’m not actually looking for anything in particular, although my eyes are always open. And so after awhile, through the years, many finds, it has come to seem like some weird or mystical attraction. I have two more stories to share about artifacts in this vein I’ll post in the coming weeks. Like finding needles in haystacks when not even looking.

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