Note: This is an abridged version of the original survival fishing article which first appeared on Anglers.com.
Humans have been fishing since before the dawn of civilization. And it’s no wonder. Fish are nutritious and, dare I say, delicious. Plus, they’re plentiful, almost all are edible, and you can find them in just about every body of water coast to coast.
While you could spend thousands of dollars on top-of-the-line fishing gear, you don’t need any of those bells and whistles. Heck, in dire straights, you can find everything you need right on the forest floor. Or even a city street.
Plus, fishing is one of the best ways to get protein in a survival situation. And it’s easy and fast if you know what you’re doing. Lucky for you, the basics of survival fishing are simple to learn and you’ve got me here to explain them to you.
Survival Fishing Techniques
When catching fish in survival mode, you need to think a little differently about fishing. Sure, you can fish with a rod and reel, but for the long-term, you’ll want something that doesn’t require so much of your time. Called passive fishing, it involves you setting the stage and coming back to reap the harvest. We’ll discuss these different methods in a moment.
In long-term survival, you also want more than a reliable fishing spot. You want a place where you can collect fish and keep them alive until you want them. Lastly, when you’re in a survival situation, you need to maximize your chance of catching fish. That means implementing more than one strategy and continually monitoring them for success.
Keep those things in mind as we discuss the different ways to catch fish.
SETTING MULTIPLE FISHING LINES
Assuming you don’t have a survival fishing pole, you’ll want to create your own make-shift fishing pole. But don’t make one of them. Make several. Start with a strong stick or willow reed and tie a fishing line to it. Fit the line with a few sinkers and a hook. Bait the hook then drop a line in the water.
If you’d like to go more in-depth with this, take a look at our article on “how to make a fishing rod.”
If you want to increase your chances, don’t drop one line, drop as many as you can. You can push the stick into the ground of the side of the riverbank to hold it in place. If there are low hanging branches over the water, forget the sticks and tie your fishing line to the tree branch. Place as many of these as you can on different branches to improve your odds of catching dinner.
A trotline is a passive way to catch fish that doesn’t require your undivided attention. You want to find a narrow point in a river or creek that’s shallow, but not too shallow. If there’s cover nearby, even better.
Take a length of paracord and tie it from a tree branch on one side of the water to a tree branch on the opposite bank. This is your control line. Take sections of the fishing line and tie them to the control line.
Make them long enough that they hang a few inches or more into the water. Attach a hook to each of these leader lines and bait it. Tie the lines every foot or so across the control.
Using a gorge hook isn’t like fishing with a traditional bent hook. Instead, these hooks are straight and about one inch in length. You can make them from just about anything hard, including bones, twigs, and pieces of hard plastic. Sharpen it on both ends and have a notch in the middle where the fishing line secures to the gorge hook.
With a gorge hook, you want to entice the fish to swallow the hook and bait. Instead of jerking the line to set the hook, slowly pull the line so that the gorge hook turns sideways and lodges in the fish’s throat. You then pull the fish toward you and capture it in a net.
CATCHING FISH WITH A NET
Another way to catch fish in a survival situation is with a fishing net. You can make a survival fishing net with green wood found inside sapling trees. You can even improvise with a piece of cloth tied to two sticks.
Wade through the water, slowly and calmly, toward the shore. When you get to shallow water, lift the net to reveal your catch. This also can be an effective way to catch small fish like minnows for bait for large fish.
You can even fish when you have absolutely no equipment. Hand fishing, which is also called noodling, graveling, or hogging, is a primitive, backcountry fishing technique.
It involves grabbing the fish directly from its hiding spot with your hand. It’s most often seen when fishing for catfish and suckers, who like to hide in dark places like hollow logs, undercut banks, and holes under rocks.
You start by blocking the hole, then slowly reach inside. Once you touch the fish, slide your hand along its side until you can grab the mouth or gills. Grip tight and pull the fish out. Beware of the catfish’s barbels, which fan out around its mouth. These barbs can sting, causing pain and irritated skin.
PRACTICE SURVIVAL FISHING
The final survival fishing technique is to practice. Then practice some more. You can read blog posts (like this one) and watch YouTube videos, but it doesn’t give you the actual survival skills you need. Only experience does that. So get out there and start looking for good fishing areas. Get a line in the water and catch a few fish.
Because it’s easier to do things when you’re not in a survival scenario. When you’ve eaten more than a few nuts and berries and your seven-year-old isn’t crying because he’s so hungry.
Learn what you can NOW so that if an emergency happens, you can handle it with less stress and worry. Remember, once you know how to fish, you can almost always find food.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT SPOT FOR CATCHING FISH AFTER SHTF
The biggest angler secret to finding fish is to think like a fish. And the first thing to know about how fish think is that they like cover. Cover consists of things that cover the water, providing hiding spots.
These can include structures in or out of the water like rocks, trees, brush, logs, and weeds. It also includes manmade structures like docks, drain pipes, and seawalls. Even trash that’s gathered in the water provides cover for fish.
Don’t forget to look for natural underwater covers like undercut river banks, caves carved from rocks, or underwater ledges. Just be careful. You can’t help anyone survive if you break a leg when a shoreline collapses.
Other places to look for fish include:
- Areas of change. Look for changes in the water, a rise of a lake bottom, or even a drop in water depth.
- Places where water pools or becomes still. Look behind fallen trees and large rocks.
- Where waterways meet. Look where small streams flow into rivers or lakes, which often have more oxygen and cooler water.
- Deep holes. Look for deeper holes in lakes and rivers where fish hide in the darker, deeper water.
Survival Fishing Gear
In a perfect survival situation, you have everything you need in top-quality survival gear. The right pole, the right reel, some comfy shoes, and a tackle box stocked with exactly the right equipment and supplies. While survival situations rarely work out that way, let us pretend for a moment that they do and take the opportunity to discuss what is the best-case scenario in fishing gear for the post SHTF fisherman.
SURVIVAL FISHING POLE
There are a lot of variables in finding the best survival fishing pole, including where you’re located, the types of water available, and even the time of year. But a good survival fishing pole could accommodate almost any fisherman’s needs.
That’s why you should opt for a survival fishing pole that’s compact enough it doesn’t take up too much space, but large enough to handle a good sized fish. Versatility, as well as durability, are also qualities to look for.
SURVIVAL FISHING REEL
When it comes to survival fishing reels, there is just as much variance as with fishing poles. The most important aspects of your survival fishing reel are that it’s compact enough to carry with ease, yet dependable enough that you can rely on it when you need dinner.
Speaking of dependability, you want a reel that works well in YOUR hands. Which means you need to fish with it and get the feel of it. Don’t just go out and buy one to stick it in a bag and never use it. Becoming familiar with your survival fishing equipment, and especially your reel, can mean the difference between a full belly and an empty one.
SURVIVAL FISHING HOOKS
Perhaps the most important thing when it comes to survival fishing hooks is that they need to reliably set in a fish’s mouth. If you need dinner and you can’t set the hooks that you haphazardly threw in your survival fishing kit, guess who’s going to bed hungry.
You also want a strong hook that can withstand the tests of repeated fishing. After all, these hooks won’t be easy to replace so you need to make sure they’re as durable as possible. And regardless of what style of survival fishing hook you decide on, purchase several sizes. If it’s a true TEOTWAWKI scenario, you may end up fishing all sorts of different locations and a variety of species of fish.
Survival Fishing Kit
Let’s take a moment and talk about a survival fishing kit. There are three different situations when it comes to survival fishing. The first is when you have a prepared home base. The second is when you’re on the move and functioning out of a bug-out bag. And the third is when you’re in an emergency situation and you have nothing with you but what’s in your pockets.
AT-HOME FISHING SURVIVAL KIT
If your survival situation allows you to remain at home (or at a bug-out destination), then you’ll want a variety of survival gear on hand, including stuff for fishing. These items aren’t necessary to survival fishing, but they do make the experience easier.
At home, keep the following items on hand for a SHTF situation:
- Over-the-shoulder fishing bag or backpack
- Small tackle box that with hooks, jigs, sinkers, spinners, grubs, rubber worms, and lures
- Jars of salmon eggs
- Multitool with pliers
- Fillet board
- Fillet knife
- Gill net
- Hand net
- At least one rod that breaks down for easy carry
- Plenty of braided 10-pound fishing line
- Ice fishing supplies
Although braided fishing line is more expensive, it’s worth the investment. Monofilament line (what’s found in store-bought survival fishing kits) deteriorates over time and becomes weak. In a true survival situation, you may have to use your line over and over again and need to rely on it to stay strong.
BUG-OUT BAG FISHING KIT
You should also keep a small fishing kit with the essentials in your bug-out bag. You can easily contain everything you would need in something as small as an Altoid tin. In this small survival fishing kit include:
- Braided 10-pound test fishing line
- 40-50 hooks between size #12 and #8
- A few sinkers and swivels
- A few artificial lures and rubber worms
This list assumes you have a fully-packed prepper bug-out bag with a knife, multitool, and paracord. Also, we can never neglect the importance of survival medicine. If you ever find yourself injured due to improper knife usage, you’ll be glad you read this stab wound article by Joe Alton MD.
If there’s a bug-out bag in your vehicle, add a collapsible fishing pole. It’s not worth the space in your bug-out bag but can serve you well in a vehicle.
To read the full article, go read Survival Fishing: How to Catch Fish When SHTF over at Your Bass Guy