The small channel in the picture above caught my eye as I was hiking around Townsend State Forest this afternoon. It led out from one of a chain of small ponds and ran for about 10 yards before ending abruptly. The banks seemed a little too straight to be accidental, and at its mouth there were two rows of stones along the sides. The water level was unusually low, exposing features I’d never noticed before.

I puzzled about it for a while, and then realized these might be the remains of an old fish-weir, a kind of fish trap used both by Native Americans and early settlers. It’s a method of fishing that’s been used since at least the Bronze Age, by many different cultures.

A curious fish swims into the channel where sticks would be placed in such a way that the fish couldn’t get out again, and so it could easily be caught.

The 2,700-acre state forest, which extends from the NH border south to Rte. 119, is criss-crossed with a network of trails and old wagon roads. The area is dotted with old cellar-holes, including one I found less than 50 yards from this spot. So the time and place seem to fit.

I had my own experience with a fish trap some 40 years ago when I was in Finland. Friends of mine invited me to stay for awhile at their cabin on Kyyvesi, a lake in the southeastern part of the country. They had cut a channel almost exactly like this one and kept a school of minnows to lure larger fish in.

I would check it from time to time, and every so often there would be a pike or pickerel or some other good fish looking for a way out and all I had to do was scoop it up with a net. Not exactly sporting, but an easy way to get a fish dinner.

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