Word Nerd: June hog

Lower Columbia River fishermen show off a pair of gigantic “June hogs,” a subspecies of Chinook salmon that was doomed by loss of upriver habitat to dams and overfishing in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

June hog  [dʒun hɔg]

noun

1. slang: regional parlance in the Pacific Northwest describing the biggest, fattest, most-prized Chinook salmon, oncorhynchus tshawytscha. Already the largest species of the Pacific variety, these specimens caught in the Columbia, Spokane and Snake rivers during their summer migratory runs often weigh north of 80 pounds

The term is still used today among Columbia River anglers to boast of a hearty summer catch, though the phrase originated around the turn of the 20th century to illustrate the legendary, mammoth six-foot Chinooks that were pulled from the waters by early canners on the Lower Columbia in the 19th century and generations upon generations of indigenous peoples prior to that. The returning fish were compared to swine due to the amount of fat they packed on. According to The Oregon Encyclopedia, these magnificent giants went belly-up shortly after the Grand Coulee Dam was completed in 1941, but the phrase remains to denote a large fish pulled from the rolling deep of the river.

“Enjoy a coffee break, mug up, at Coffee Girl overlooking the water or a beer at the Rogue Ales pub where June hogs, those enormous Columbia River Chinook, were once filleted.”

—​Jon Broderick, “Visit the Hanthorn Cannery Museum,” Coast Weekend, Dec. 15, 2016

“Tons upon tons of the fall run salmon were taken in the early 1940s. No more June hog Chinook were caught at our fishing sites in the Tenino area.”

—​George Aguilar, Sr., “Live on the River: Fish, fear and freedom,” Spilyay Tymoo, March 13, 1997. P. 8

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