Playthings and Curios: Historic Inuit Art at the Canadian Museum 
of Civilization Back Next

Among the many objects created for daily use – such as fish spears, adzes, scrapers, harpoon heads, toggles, drag handles and knives – the fish lures demanded both artistic skill and imagination of the Inuit hunter. This was because the lure had to look like a fish in order to be effective. Bears' teeth were often used for this purpose.

The hunter held the lure, which usually had some small movable teeth attached to it, with a line of braided deer sinew. Standing in the shallow part of the river, he moved the lure up and down to attract the attention of the salmon. Once the fish came near the bait, the hunter speared it with a kakivak, a fish spear with three prongs.

Boas, Franz
[1888] 1964 – The Central Eskimo. Reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Birket-Smith, Kaj
1929 – Caribou-Eskimos: Material and Social Life and their Cultural Position. Vol. 5, Pt. 1-2, Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition, 1921–24, p. 68.

Fish Lure, 1921
Copper Inuit, Coronation Gulf, Nunavut
Bear tooth, sinew, bone
3.2 x 9.2 cm
CMC IV-D-1637
Collected by Captain Joseph F. Bernard, while exploring the Coronation Gulf on his schooner Teddy Bear

  Fish Lure Top

In typical Copper Inuit style, the bear tooth has been decorated with incised lines and a circle/dot pattern. The eye of the fish is simply a drilled hole. The second hole under the little attachments probably had additional pieces of bone tied to it in order to simulate the fish's fins.

Fish Lure   Fish Lure, 1925–1926
Kuugaruk (Pelly Bay), Nunavut
Bone, sinew, stone
3 x 6 x 1.3 cm
CMC IV-C-2804
Collected by Major Lachlan T. Burwash while exploring the Canadian Arctic on behalf of the Canadian government

This lure is complete with decoy and sinker, made out of stone. The fish body is most likely a bear tooth.