A fish wheel is a device for catching fish which operates much as a water-powered mill wheel. A wheel complete with baskets and paddles is attached to a floating dock. The wheel rotates due to the current of the stream it is placed into. The baskets on the wheel capture fish traveling upstream. The fish caught in the baskets fall into a holding tank. When the holding tank is full, the fish are removed. Often the fish are gutted along the stream banks.
Primarily salmon are caught with fish wheels. A fish wheel may be owned by more than one person. When not in operation, the wheel is lifted out of the water. All salmon caught using a fish wheel must be reported to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and must be prepared due to state fishing guidelines.
The type of salmon caught varies with the time of year because not all salmon migrate and spawn at the same time. Also, salmon which enter the fish wheels on the Copper River are considered better quality. Typically, by the time a salmon reaches the Yukon River fish wheels, the fish are damaged. Most salmon caught with Yukon River fish wheels are used as food for sled dogs.