Why The Sacred Salmon Ceremony in Riggins Idaho is Sacred?


Salmon Ceremony May 18,2013 Ruby 44,000cfs 017

It is nearing that time of year again.  The 13th  annual Sacred Salmon Ceremony is planned for May 10, 2014 about 10 miles upriver of Riggins, Idaho.  This event was originally spawned during a controversial public hearing to consider potential dam breaching on four lower Snake River dams in the year 2000.  Save Dams or Save Salmon was the main issue, with about 140 miles of potential restoration of primary spawning habitat for Fall Chinook at stake, as well as addressing additional runs and downstream smolt mortality  as potential for improved survival  rates and overall enhancement of the salmonoid’s  fishery.

A group of five local Riggins river guides, tired of controversy and the never seeming end to every political battle being tied to the dollar sign, decided to pay attention to how First Nation, original native people  addressed fish before dams and colonial settlement industrialized the region.

Salmon Ceremony Barbs Camera 2013 006

The Columbia River anadromous fishery is no small matter. It is of world-class  status and is historically  an epic migration route for salmon and steelhead. The spectacular cascading Celilo Falls, near The Dalles, Oregon was a nexus of salmon fishing and a time immemorial honored trade center where many indigenous cultures gathered to fish and barter for centuries. This was long before the arrival of alien explorers,  and continued annually until Celilo Falls was flooded in 1960 by another Columbia River dam. The Dalles Dam was the sixth dam of fourteen total dams on the Columbia River of today.

The native people always welcomed the salmon back to their home waters annually, for to not respect this migration and immensely important source of sustenance would be to invite diminished returns.  Part of that respect was a worldview that recognized the connections of all things, and that over-fishing is a result of no respect and thus eventual avenue for depleted runs.  They held sacred ceremonies annually for what became a major spiritual icon to their primal cultures.

Salmon Ceremony Barbs Camera 2013 009

So, those of us river guides who also take guests fishing, see it in the same light, with great appreciation and as awesome respect for.   After all, we too are native to the planet, as no one culture holds a monopoly on appreciating nature. There is a reason rainbows contain all colors of the spectrum, and why all people can see them. The sun does not hide the light from some and shine on others, in the big picture.

But, you don’t have to be religious to appreciate something to be sacred.  Just as you don’t have to be religious to appreciate having morals.  Morality and sacredness can be religiously oriented, but seeing the results of Manifest Destiny of the early colonialism era  is testimony to prima facie evidence of hypocrisy and exploitation at the expense of others. No one culture is privy to being the most privileged to appreciate  the sacred.

Sacredness is about giving special significance to something that is highly important and worthy of properly being cared for.   Keepers of the Fire, Keepers of the Fish, Keepers of the River, Keepers of Wisdom or whatever it is that is important to them,  is how people collaborate and cooperate to help perpetuate things and make them thusly sacred.

Spiritual sacredness is different that religiously sacred things.  Religion comes with one creator, while the spiritual aspect of something can be simply the essence of that energy that flows through everything. When you talk to yourself, your personality becomes that spirit, or soul, that gives life to time in this world. All other animals and plants have a similar spirit or energy flow, too. When death arrives to human, only then will anyone know, or not, if spirit continues flowing in another realm?

At least, as a non-religious person, that is how I view the world, and  have learned over time the more I learn and know, the more I don’t. Increased knowledge always opens up more questions.  But, one thing I don’t question is how important salmon are. Based on watching people react to catching them, or just observing them, that is vividly apparent.

So, this is all part of the reason we continue to respect the fish and hold an annual ceremonial event to welcome these mighty Chinook Salmon back to the Salmon River, which is their name-sake and special place to return each season. The event is basically a bi-nation (First and Second Nation) affair, is free, and open to all people. Though, also a non-alcoholic function. Thank you.


The Ceremony: Spiritual leader and Wisdomkeeper Horace Axtell, conducted all Nez Perce ancient ceremonies for this gathering in the past, but has passed that torch forward. We appreciated how he performed ancient ceremony along the river bank and in the boats out on the water with drummers and singers tuning into  the songs of their ancestors.

We are seeking other Nez Perce facilitators to conduct First Nations ceremonies to help unite all people to the land, water, fish, and wildlife.


The Two Nations collective ceremony includes a riverside salmon ceremony, 3 sacred boat circles, a closing “talk circle,” and a final potluck. This friendship feast is an informal visiting session and get-to-know your neighbor finale.

The celebration is also a touchstone event to help remember treaty obligations and the importance of maintaining the integrity of all major elements that shape the human landscape of our area. This face to face event is intended as another personalized way to continue fostering healthier relationships between two sovereign nations with a stormy past. In today’s world, and the many human cultures that share common natural resources together, how we move forward to create a collective history together is important.

Salmon Ceremony May 18,2013 Ruby 44,000cfs 037

This is all about the Seventh Generation Philosophy and Passing the Torch.

Salmon Ceremony May 18,2013 Ruby 44,000cfs 021


Two Nations Fish Gathering

May 10, 2014   

High Noon (mtn time)

Spring Bar (10 miles upriver of Riggins)

For more Salmon Ceremony info go to: http://www.doryfun.com/updates.html

For a short video on “The Sacred,” go to:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=1656629129682  An Indigenous Perspective

Gary Lane


OR coast Sept 1-8, 2013 486





Tribute to Jack Kappas (1946-2013) – Jack’s Last Run

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Unlike a straight line, defined as the shortest distance between two points, a circle continues on forever. Like some folks description of God, no beginning, no end, just always was, always is.


Many things in nature are round and cyclic. The shape of our planet, all celestial satellites, billions of suns and zillions of galaxies, all spin forever re-looping back upon their trajectories, over and over like a natural perpetual motion machine.


Such is the way of life and death on our home in a restless universe, as we whirl about the immensity of space. When those of the living lose a loved one, through all the terrible grief of the untimely moment, comfort can also be had in the realization that nothing really is ever lost.  Chief Seattle once said, “There is no death, just a change of worlds.”

So, though none of us know for sure what the Great Mystery will tell us, if anything, when we pass on to be recycled cosmically, the spirit trail we leave behind will still fill the hearts of the living as memories and stories as evidence of our presence in the giant scheme of things.

All will be touched differently as they think back of their experiences with a loved one that has passed, perhaps remembering their face in the maw of a huge whitewater rapid, or a simple smile in the reflection of a calm pool. All add beauty to the circle of life and death, and will always be in motion just as nature intended it so.


Our good friend Jack, a cherished member of a beloved dory boat family, used to row the Glenn Canyon when he worked for Martin Litton’s Grand Canyon Dories back in the days of old.  It was a fitting dory boat name, as Jack was a staunch supporter of breaching four dams on the Snake River to help bring back salmon and the true life spirit of the river. He appreciated science and the natural free flowing way as the proper law of nature.


When he first came to the dory world he came on one of his first apprentice trips with me on the Owyhee River. I remember him in the front of my boat when I entered the wrong side of a bad rock garden and all hell broke loose. Not sure how we made it without a bump, and right-side up, but we did.

Owyhee 6 day April 1 2013 198

So, now that Jack has moved on to navigate the celestial Milky Way, and even bigger cosmic challenges, perhaps I will come to do some apprenticing behind him, in some future time. Such, is the way of the circle.

As an old boatman’s saying claims: “We never grow too old to boat, we just get a little dingy.” That is, before we all eventually step into our eternal spirit boat. As Jack follows those boatmen and boatwomen before him, and we who will eventually all follow, shall the circle be unbroken.

The one thing about legacies, especially left behind by river people, is a fitting line from Philip  Pullman,  taken from the famous dory tale of the speed run through the Grand by fellow boatmen bonded by common dory world friendships,  in a book by Kevin Fedarkos (now also a part time dory guide) entitled the Emerald Mile:

“Thou shalt not” is soon forgotten,

but: “Once upon a time” lasts forever.”

On one of Jack’s boat pads he wrote the line: “I’ll be right back.”  To that I might add, see you in the stars, Jack, once upon a time.



Western Grebes and the Good Samaritan Fallacy

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Several years ago my wife was driving along the Salmon River after dumping me and my steelhead fishing guests off for a day trip. On her way back she spotted a western grebe flailing on the roadside, acting like it had a broken leg.  As a good Samaritan she stopped and scooped it up and took it home with her.  The displaced bird was swimming around in a little tub of water she tried to make it comfortable in, until I returned at the end of my day of guiding.  She wanted my opinion and plan for what to do next.

Though I had seen quite a few of these elegantly feathered birds over the years, while fishing and on refuges, I had never seen one up so close before. What I found most striking was its blood-red eye.  It contrasted well with the black and white plumage and was simply an awesome, most beautiful bird. The red-hot eye seemed to burn a hole of  searing compassion in my heart, too.

I examined it to see if it might have a broken leg or some other problem, but could not find any evidence to support that conclusion. Though I suspected the bird was having trouble walking when Barb found it, I decided to call my brother-in-law (USFWS refuge biologist) who had more experience with the waterfowl world. Sure enough, he confirmed what I suspected. The legs on these birds are set very far on their back-end and is the reason they are so awkward on terra firma.  When on bare ground they struggle to walk and cannot fly without water to get a running launch from. He said that often they mistakenly land in the wrong place, like seeing a sheet of ice as a body of water, or landing in other dangerous places, only to become  stranded and ending up as more potential coyote bait.

So, in reality, though the bird was fine, and I first thought she had made a mistake in picking it up, it turns out that she probably saved it. The grebe was too far from water and would be easy prey for predators, so Barb was indeed most likely its salvation.  The next day I had another steelhead trip so put the bird in a basket before leaving home, then released it when we dumped our boat in the water later. Funny thing, that bird followed us for half a day swimming nearby my boat as we fished various holes, moving when we moved, shadowing us all that time.  It was really cool.

The entire incident also reminded me of a good Samaritan  fallacy us humans often demonstrate in our  thinking,  in what psychologist call the “Bystander Effect.”  There is a misconception that when someone is hurt, people rush to their aid. In reality, the more people who witness a person in distress, the less likely it is that any one person will help.  Had we seen this bird as a group while driving to our put-in, I suspect we would have rationalized that it was ok, just having a bad feather day and would find a way to survive. Someone else, or factor would help this bird get saved.  Instead, when Barb was by herself, she acted swiftly, because no one else was there to enable her to justify abandoning personal responsibility.

That is why your chances of being saved from some kind of catastrophic event is far less on a crowded city street full of people, than it is on a country road with just one car passing by.  In groups, we sub-consciously more readily delegate our own responsibilities off unto others, thinking someone else already has called police or emergency personnel, or soon will.  Moral of the story, when your fishing rod goes down, don’t wait for someone else to grab it.

The Beauty of First Timers

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A few days ago I had a steelhead trip on the Salmon River for two people whom had never been steelhead fishing before.  Often people show up with false expectations, though we do everything to try to paint a realistic picture of what chasing these magnificent fish is all about. It isn’t like trout or bass fishing, where hot fishing sometimes means a fish on every other cast or nearly so. Nope. Steelhead fishing is a test of endurance and patience.

Apparently we are not great painters on the canvas of reality, based on some of the experiences we have on the river with people who show up entertaining wild thoughts  or having delusions of grandeur. Or possibly many folks really don’t listen that well, or only hear what they want to hear. At any rate, steelhead fishing can mean a few hours between bites, or none at all, on a really poor day of pounding water and harassing holes.   However, when contact is made and a steelhead grabs our offerings, all hell breaks loose.  Any semblance of calmness or rational behavior fly out the window.  Emotions explode, just like the fish as it dances across the top of the water kissing sky and ripping line.

On the other end of the line is a human reduced to jelly, trying to keep their wits in order, and shattered nerves under control.  It can even happen to those with lots of fishing experience. So on both ends of the line are two opposite forces acting out against each other. Which will win?  There-in is where all the fun takes place and experiences are made.  It is undiluted excitement in  raw, brute  form.  A part of that consequence of adrenalin surge, is the host of self-defeating behaviors that are birthed in the process. Unplanned mis-steps, tangled lines, missed nettings, fish rolls, people tripping over each other, fish seeking safety under the boat. The list is endless of the number of obstacles that surface to hinder getting a steelhead in the boat and reduced to possession.  In fact, sometimes the fish wins, and endless regrets surface with the wisdom of recollected hindsight replayed over and over again afterwards.

But, the real beauty is that fish, caught or not, becomes a memory scorched  into the mind, leaving a scarred brain forever. Luckily it is a good scar to have and badge of honor to share with any willing human ear ready to listen. It is what makes a fish story a fish story. And it is the story that I really like, because it is always exciting to hear and re-hear, embellished ever more with each telling.

The big fun for me when taking first timers, is that the level of excitement generated by a virgin experience is hard to beat.  That high level of enthusiasm is easily transferred to the observer, too. Do you remember your first time at anything? The unknown holds great mystery and is a never-ending source for anticipation. Like waiting for Santa to come when you were a kid, the anxiety is as good as the final unwrapping of the gift.

I have to chuckle sometimes, as I reverberate scenes of comedic errors across my cerebral theater.  If someone from afar could view some of the antics that have happened over the years, they would think they were watching some past episode  of The Three Stooges or Little Rascals.  Like the time on a trip two days ago, when one fishermen jumped up to grab his buddies rod that was bouncing down wildly as a fish was trying to beat my boat to Riggins.  The other fishermen had another rod in her hands, so ended up with a deer in the headlights look, trying to register the full gravity of the sudden flurry of activity exploding all around her.

The price of  her hesitancy was that she became another casualty of the old saying, if you snooze, you lose. But at least  the fish was caught, and when the dust settled, and we  got a great laugh out of it all.  Such is the rewards of self entertainment.

Oh, how I love my job. Natures  joys are forever endless. It only requires stepping out into it.  Like fishing. If you don’t put a line in the water, you won’t be catching any fish for certain. One must go to know. Fish to potentially catch.

For video of landing a beautiful steelhead go to:


Even better, become a part of all the excitement and come fishing with us.

We are only an 800-488-9872 dial away from all the fun.

The Salmon Are Dancing

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Finally, the salmon are dancing their way through our local waters here in Riggins, Idaho.  It is nice to think our salmon ceremony to welcome them home, might have helped. One way or the other, these mighty fish are arriving in good numbers, with each day getting closer to the main bunch of fish heading our way.

The fish counts at Granite Dam, on Snake River, is part of how we determine potential numbers and timing of when they reach our area. Naturally, flows of the river are also a factor. Higher flows slow upstream progress with increased resistance for fish to swim against. Also, once these fish reach the Salmon River, there is a rapid about five miles from the Snake/Salmon River confluence that may stop their upstream progress when the river goes above 50000cfs. The Devil’s Slide is a nemesis of a rapid in high water. Not only to floaters, but fish too.  If fish can’t handle it, that is a red flag for people to respect the power of the river. This is why we do not float the lower end of the river until it gets below 30000cfs.

The flows of the Salmon River have been unusually erratic and out of sync with normalcy this season. It appears to have peaked in April, which is a historic first (May & June is the normal window that it reaches zenith). My guess, is that the cause is related to climate change. So far, the river has spiked upwards three times, with this last rise a bit surprising. However, the color and condition of the water is still good for fishing and we are still catching a few fish.

Fish may travel between 13 and 18 miles per day, fluctuating with flow resistance, and weather. By river, it is about 160 miles from Lower Granite Dam to Riggins. This means about an average of 2 weeks for fish to get here, once past their last dam and concrete barrier. As of June 4, there have been 55366 adults and 2812 jacks that have crossed over Lower Granite Dam.  These are good numbers for fishermen.

Thank you salmon nation. Welcome home.

Rivers make good medicine with us, we make good medicine with rivers.

For more river trip information, please go to our website: www.doryfun.com

or (more pics)  Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Riverdoryfun


The Efficacy of Ritual – Why Salmon Dance?


The up-coming Salmon Ceremony on Salmon River, May 26, 2012 is a chance for people to gather collectively and river dance for the return of the salmon nation.  Will it help bring the fish home? Do salmon hear the people? Are outside forces at work? Do spirits from the other world lend a hand? Is there some creative source of the universe at work? Is there a monotheistic god pulling all the strings?

Does any of this really matter? If the desired results of a set of prescribed activities happens, where it came from, known or not, may not matter much.  A positive feedback may prevail and be answer enough to the people who participate.  The importance of ritual is about intention and influence. Where the influence comes from is secondary. Intention is about focus, direction, and attraction.

Rituals began a long time ago, yet prevail in many forms and uses in today’s world.  A ritual is usually some kind of activity that mostly carries symbolic value to a group of people for various reasons.  The efficacy of ritualistic actions is a nebulous and often contentious evaluation as to the effectiveness such behavior may have.  More curiously, aside from actions that seem to have a desired effect, the reasons why, are also quite ambivalent.

Special music, songs and dance, are often a big part of human rituals. Often they are copied from the animal realm that also contains many biological and social rituals in their world.  Such as mimicry of a sage grouse dance,  a wily coyote on the prowl, flight of an eagle, or the butting heads of bighorn rivals.   Even celestial events are copied and given names like the Sun Dance in the Sioux Culture. Most things are done in circular fashion, as many of natures events, from planet shapes and orbits, to cycles of the seasons and circadian rhythms.

Some people believe spirits from the other world can be solicited to aid their wants, and is fundamental to a lot of religious organizations, or spiritual appreciation in a more secular hinged earth flavored paganism.  Rather any force outside of man exists and comes to the aid of the asking, will always be debatable. However, often rituals do help groups become more grounded in a commonality that often helps bring about desired changes, in itself.

The human animal is very much effected by group dynamics and ceremony. Chemical changes in the brain take place and do have an effect on behavior. Thus, the reason a placebo often works as good as any prescribed medicine in healing illnesses or maladies plaguing the unfortunate.  So the act of believing sets in motion changes to the brain that indeed sometimes allow for bringing the desired effect.

In this light, the importance of ritual for humans is that it unites them with a common cause, and in subtle ways very small, perhaps even subconscious, actions may be combined with the right chemistry to be of just enough efficacy to create a welcome desire.

In the case of our Salmon Ceremony and Dance to help bring more salmon back to their spawning grounds, we hope that collectively, all cultures of people can come together and become much more focused on that very intent.  Ritual can help spread a ripple affect across the universe.  It may mean that more people will return home, and in some small way, sometime in the near future, align their own behavior more akin to that with the salmon.  It may lead to changing a vote for a certain politician, with enough like-minded  support, that is more fish friendly when it comes to policy changes that effect biology and ecology of the natural world.

Like it or not, politics is the bottom line to all human events, from ancient times to now, and most likely forever into the future. So what we do today, will have impact for tomorrow. Dance the salmon dance. It is good practice to keep from stepping on nature’s toes. The better you dance and sing, the more likely it will make good  music of the world come to be. You can be religious, or not, atheist or theist,  or appreciate science, mytholodgy, or any other form of spiritualism to particiapte or spectatorate.  The beauty of the Great Mystery, is an  appreciation for the  unkwown future of wonders  ever yet to unfold.

Skating For Goldfish


Are you kidding?  Goldfish in Idaho’s Salmon River? Well, not quite, but close.  A couple of miles, upriver of Riggins, is a place called Shorts Bar. It is a place where the river is mellow and has deposited a huge sand bar over the years,  that looks like something you would see in Hawaii.  This is part of the beauty of the free-flowing Salmon River – natural recruitment of sand each year all along the entire course of the 425 miles of river.

Many years ago, a large area parallel to the river and just upriver of the huge sand bar at Shorts Bar, was dredged out and made into a pond.  Water was pumped out of the main river into the new hole in the ground. It was used for storing logs, to be used later at the local saw mill.  The pond was also part of a gold mining operation, in those years of old.

Somewhere down the line, a person or persons, introduced some gold-fish into the pond. For generations these goldfish have been living in the pond for 60 years or so.  But, most amazing to me, is that I have been in the area for nearly half those 60 years, and have been going past this pond without ever knowing about the goldfish. (I didn’t go to school here, so not savvy to all the local insider’s  scuddle).

I have even used this pond for doing flip practice in dory boats and rafts.  Just in case we have an overturned boat during our whitewater season, it is always nice to be prepared for getting boats back to their right side up position, in a quick and safe fashion. Not that this happens very often (it doesn’t), but it is still best to be ready for even one tip-over.  Practice is the name of the game.

However, this winter, a friend began ice skating here and invited me to go, also telling me about his discovery of the gold-fish thing. (he didn’t go to school here either). But, when he found some skates for me, I took him up on his offer. Then he surprised me more with his scheme to actually catch one of these gold-fish to take pictures of. I guess he needed proof to other disbeliever’s??

A spaghetti strainer affixed to a ski pole with duct tape, like some sort of metalized butterfly net, turned him into an ice skating fish-hunter version of a lepidopterist. The gold-fish had grouped up in a shallow portion of the pond, where ice was thin, and easy for us to get close too. by team effort, we managed to catch one, for a quick picture on the ice and fast return back to  it’s home.

The group size was maybe 150 – 200 fish, ranging in body length of from 3 inches to a foot long. Most were around 4-5 inches in size. Luckily, none, that I know of, ever made it to the Salmon River, as there is no inlet or outlet to the pond.  Also, spring floods never get high enough to inundate the pond for potential escapism.

As far as I know, no other fish reside in the pond.  This is fortunate for  goldfish, because small mouth bass, which live in the Salmon RIver are highly carnivorous. While releasing exotics into native waters is against the law, the small mouth bass were introduced into the Salmon River.  Apparently, we humans stretch our value systems to accommodate things we like, and work at preventing those we don’t from entering our waterways and landscapes.

It would appear we are a bit of a schizophrenic culture.

Sorry, we don’t do gold fishing trips.
(because it’s hard to get a boat down a frozen river)

Rivers make good medicine with us, we make good medicine with rivers.
For river trip information, please go to our website: www.doryfun.comor
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Riverdoryfun

For my Natures Apprentice blog: https://wapitisriversedge.wordpress.com/

Or for my Chukar Hunting Blog: Chukar Vortex
go to:


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