SHI releases video series on how to make traditional halibut hooks

SHI releases video series on how to make traditional halibut hooks

Posted By:
Kathy Dye
Kathy Dye
Published On: July 19th, 2021

Tutorials available for free on YouTube

July 19, 2021

(Watch) (About Halibut Hooks)

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has produced and put online a video series that teaches how to make traditional northern Northwest Coast halibut hooks, known as náxw in Tlingit.

The series, led by Tlingit artist Héendei Donald Gregory, includes 21 videos ranging from 2-17 minutes in length that show detailed steps on the process. The series also includes an introduction to Tlingit halibut hooks, a video on the naming of the hooks, and tutorials on how to bait them.

The series is part of SHI’s effort to preserve the knowledge on how to make traditional art forms, especially those identified by artists as endangered during a Native artist gathering sponsored by the institute in 2015.

“Our ancestors were ingenious in their engineering of halibut hooks, which also had spiritual dimensions,” said SHI President Rosita Worl. “Traditional halibut hooks were sophisticated and designed to preserve the species in a way that modern hooks cannot. With this new series, we hope to preserve the knowledge on how to make these hooks for new generations.”

SHI has produced other free tutorials, including videos series on how to prepare and weave spruce roots, how to prepare materials for Chilkat, Ravenstail weaving, how to make dugout canoes and how to carve horn spoons. The institute is currently working on a book on how to make dugout canoes and a video series and manual on how to make box drums. 

About Halibut Hooks

The traditional northern Northwest Coast halibut hook is one of the most ingenious tools ever invented by the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian of Southeast Alaska. One of the most remarkable qualities of traditional halibut hooks, which were made of wood and affixed with a barb, is they were designed to catch only halibut. The hooks rarely, if ever, caught other species. The hooks also were engineered to harvest only medium-sized halibut, sparing smaller and younger fish and large, egg-laden females. This approach perpetuated the reproductive stock and prevented the depletion of the resource, making them more ecological than the modern steel hooks used today.

The hooks also were engineered to catch the fish in such a way that once on the line, they rarely escaped. Northwest Coast Native fishermen knew that halibut do not bite the hook, rather, they swim up to it and suck it into their mouths by expanding their gills, which creates a strong vacuum. When they try to expel it, the barb catches on soft tissue located in the corner of their mouth as they try to dislodge the hook. The hooks also were designed to flip the halibut belly-side-up when reeling them in—making them more docile and easier to land.

The hooks also had spiritual dimensions and were enhanced with carved designs representing the spiritual entities that interacted with the halibut.

In 2018, The Juneau Economic Development Council and the Alaska State Committee for Research (SCoR) inducted the traditional wood halibut hook into the SCoR Alaska Innovators Hall of Fame. SCoR created the program in 2014 to celebrate and honor outstanding individuals who put Alaska on the map as leaders in innovation and who contribute to Alaska’s growing culture of innovation.

For more information on halibut hooks, see SHI’s book Doing Battle with the Halibut People: The Tlingit, Haida, & Tsimshian Halibut Hook by SHI Culture and History Director Chuck Smythe, Ph.D.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.

CONTACT: Amy Fletcher, SHI Media and Publications Director, 907.586.9116,

Caption: Photo of Héendei Donald Gregory, instructor in the video series, by Brian Smale, courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute. For a higher-res image, contact

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