A beginners guide to survival fishing

***Most of the survival fishing techniques covered in this article are illegal. Always check your local laws if you are unsure. In a true survival situation self preservation should trump fishing laws.***

"You can give a man a fish and feed him for a day, or you can teach a man to fish and feed him for life." Fishing is an ancient and proven form of food procurement that has turned to more of a past time in our modern society. Fishing is a truly important survival skill to learn. It can be practiced easily anywhere you see water. You don't need a whole lot of money to get started. All you really need to start is bait, hooks, sinkers, bobbers, and a pole. Fish are a perfect survival food because they are abundant in most areas and full of nutrients. In this article you will learn the basics of freshwater fishing, survival fishing, how to make lures, find bait, find fish, assemble a survival fishing kit, and how to cook your catch among other things.
Start your persuit of fish by finding some bait. Bait can be found under rocks and logs, floating in the water, under rocks in the water, or trapped. Take a look in the water to see what bait is naturally there. If you see crayfish use them, if you see minnows trap and use them. In the event you need to use lures or make them try to match the bait that is in the area. By matching what is naturally in the area you will be more successful at catching fish. Here are some things to consider as bait

2 liter bottle minnow trap baited with bread
  • worms
  • grasshoppers
  • crickets
  • leeches
  • frogs
  • lizards
  • salamanders
  • small snakes
  • moths
  • minnows
  • crayfish
  • larvae
  • dragonflies
  • virtually any bug can be used for bait
  • cheese
  • peanut butter
  • meat
  • entrails from previously caught fish
After you have caught your first fish be sure to clean it right away and check the stomach to see what they have been eating, then try to match the bait if you can.

Find the fish
To find a fish you have to think like a fish. As a general rule fish like cover and structure (grass, weeds, lily pads, rocks, trees)because it provides them with shelter, camouflage, and food. Normally the most productive times of day to fish will be sunrise and sunset. Also remember fish like areas of the water that are different like river bends and drop-offs. Now lets look at the specifics for some easy to catch fish.

Bluegill and other pan fish
  • Small schooling fish so if you catch one continue to fish that area for more
  • Live in weed beds and rock formations
  • Travel to deep water during summer and stick to the shallows in spring and fall
  • Bluegill have excellent vision so use small hooks and light line
  • They like slow moving bait. Rip it fast to catch their attention and then slowly twitch the bait after they take notice
  • You can try slowly chugging a popper or twitch a curly tail
  • The easiest way to catch them is with live bait and a bobber rig.
  • Bass can get very big but the easy ones to catch will be around 12"-14"
  • Bass are normally found in lily pads, weeds, under trees, and occasionally in open water
  • They eat nightcrawlers, minnows, small fish, and crayfish
  • Bass like fast moving baits and lures. They investigate commotion in the water and will usually strike on a pause while the lure is falling.
Catfish and bullhead
  • Nocturnal bottom feeders
  • Range in size from around 8" to over 2' depending on the species
  • Bullhead are everywhere and at sunset they tend to eat your bait every cast to a point of annoyance when you are only fishing as a past time
  • Catfish like entrails, roadkill, cheese, rotten meat, worms, and minnows. A good rule for catfish bait is the more it stinks the better it will work.
  • Use caution when handling bullhead they have sharp barbs behind their head. If you get stuck it is extremely painful and could quickly become infected in a survival situation.
  • A typical catfish rig is a heavy sinker two feet above the hook and no float. The sinker will rest on the bottom allowing the bait to stay towards the bottom where catfish are.
Suckers and carp
  • Decent sized bottom feeders
  • Easy to catch
  • Night crawlers, corn, marshmallows, and bread are good bait choices
  • They can be found all over but I mostly see them in sandy bottom streams and rivers with grass
  • If you can see them they are easy to snag. This is illegal but using a big hook cast right by them the forcefully rip the hook. You are trying to hook the fish in its body to drag it out of the water.
  • You can also spear carp and suckers easily when you can see them
There are numerous other fish species like walleye, pike, muskies, and gar but I chose to only include the easiest fish to catch. When it comes to survival, trophy sized fish taste the same as small ones so take anything you can and use both passive and active fishing methods to be sure you will get to eat.

Assemble a survival fishing kit
Depending on the space you have available you can create a simple or complex kit that is functional and light weight. A simple kit will fit in  a match container or pill bottle and only needs to include a few hooks, some sinkers, and a few paperclips. I prefer a little bit more complex kit. The kit packs nicely inside of a metal tin that can double as a pot to cook your fish. Here's my kit
  • 4x6x2 metal tin
  • 1 pack ea small, medium, and large hooks
  • 1 pack of split shot sinkers
  • 1 package of treble hooks
  • 1 pack each of medium and large snap swivels
  • 2 bobbers
  • small spool of braided 12lb  fishing line
  • Nail clippers
  • small daredevil spoon in red and white
  • 2" chartuese curly tail grubs with a 1/16th oz jig
  • 1" white curly tail grubs with 1/32nd oz jig
  • white rooster tail
  • black and yellow Johnson beetle spin
  • 2 Bluegill popper bugs
  • Foam spider
  • rebel crickhopper
  • berkly gulp alive fry
  • small hair jigs in yellow and white
  • Powerbait trout dough
  • 1 bic lighter
  • 6 each small and large paper clips
  • 50' hank of paracord
Quite a bit of stuff to pack into such a small tin but it fits. I wrapped the container in duct tape for extra cordage. You can never have too much duct tape. While you are buying fishing lures or making them remember that fish are attracted to light, color, pulsing, and commotion in the water. The colors that have worked best for me are chartuese, white, pumpkinseed, black, and yellow. I have a small icefishing rod that fits in the pack. It won't land a ten pound largemouth but it will work fine for panfish. By having a more complex kit there are more species you can target and you won't have to make lures. If you choose to assemble a basic terminal tackle kit the next section will teach you to improvise lures and hooks.

Improvised lures and tackle
If you don't have a fishing kit the first thing you should try is bait. Live bait almost always catches more fish than artificial. While you are looking for bait keep your eyes peeled for items you can scavenge to make hooks and lures.
a few improvised hooks
  • bone
  • paperclips
  • nails
  • thorns
  • bird's wish bone
  • soda can tab
  • safety pins
  • needles
  • hardwood sticks
  • Hair from dead animals
  • mylar
  • shiny wrappers
  • soda cans
  • paper clips
  • feathers
  • colored cloth
  • beer bottle caps
  • nails
  • Styrofoam
  • flip flops
  • discarded line and bobbers
You can improvise all kinds of lures. A fly can be made with a hook and 6" of pacacord. Spinners can be made from pieces of soda cans, bottle caps, or the tab from a can. A bottle cap bent in half with a hook in the center can work as a lure. Shiny wrappers and mylar can be cut into thin strips to add flash to jigs or can be made into complete skirts for lures. A piece of flip flop can be used for a bobber or if you cut it into a plug shape and put a hook through the center you have a popper. Being creative can be the difference of procuring a meal or going hungry. Just use your knowledge of bait in the area and try to mimic the look and presentation. As I stated before look for bait first, then if you don't find any worry about making lures.

Make a gorge hook
A gorge hook was one of the first hooks used to catch fish. Once made, both ends are baited, the fish swallows it, and you pull the hook. The idea is the hook will get lodged in the fish's throat.
  1. Find a piece of hardwood that is 1-2" long. The measurement will be based on the fish in the area and the strength of your line.
  2. Sharpen both ends
  3. Cut a shallow groove in the center of the hook. This is where you tie your line.
  4. Bait both ends and wait.
Soda can reel
You can make a simple fishing reel from a soda can. Attach the line to the can and wrap it around. Cast by throwing the lure out in the water. Reel in by wrapping the line back around the can like you are flying a kite. This can also be accomplished with a stick as well.

Make a paracord fly
You can make a very nice looking fly from a short length of paracord and a hook. It only takes a few minutes and a little creativity.
  1. Cut a 6" piece of paracord
  2. Pull the inner strands out about 1 1/2"
  3. Insert a hook and cut the paracord where the eye of the hook sits.
  4. Melt the paracord around the eye of the hook
  5. Fluff the inner strands in the back of the lure by rolling them with your thumb nail.
  6. If you need more flash you can add thin strands of mylar or a granola bar wrapper. Another option is to make a spinner with a piece of soda can and a paper clip.
Passive fishing techniques

If you want to ensure you will have a fish for dinner then active fishing shouldn't be your only approach. The following is a list of passive fishing methods. Most are time consuming to make but once assembled they will do the work for you while you tend to more important things.

Multiple fishing lines
If one hook will catch one fish then twenty hooks should catch a few more. By setting up multiple lines that are in different locations you increase the chance of catching a fish. Pretty simple but this can be risky because you may end up loosing a few hooks. Use overhanging tree branches or bobby poles stuck in the shore.

Paracord trot line
Trot lines are very effective if you can set them across a narrow stream or creek. Fish won't be able to swim past the baited hooks without noticing them. Paracord makes a very strong trot line. The outer sheath has a breaking strength of around 250 pounds and each inner strand is about 35 pounds.
  1. Cut a five foot length of paracord
  2. Pull the inner strands out
  3. Singe the ends of all the lines and the outer sheath
  4. Tie the ends of each inner strand together with an overhand knot
  5. Attach a swivel to each line
  6. Tie to the outer sheath every foot or so
  7. Add hooks to the swivels and bait the hooks
  8. Attach another length of paracord to the trot line to reach across the stream.
  9. If you wont be able to get across the stream you can also tie a rock to one end of the trot line and tie the other end to a tree.
Natural poisons
I have not tried this method but have read that you can stun or kill fish by puting natural poisons into a small shallow pool of water.
  • Green walnut husks
  • Lime  from burning seashells and crushing them
  • Certain plants. You will have to do some research to see what is in you area. Also check a field guide to be sure you are using the right plant.
Fish screen or fish wall
By weaving green springy sapling in between three 2" diameter sticks you can make
a fish screen. Make enough of these to go across the river. A good spot to set up the screen is after a river bend. The fish will swim into the fence and not be able to get through it, then you can corral them into a corner and build a fence to create a live well. A similar idea is to build a fish wall. A fish wall is just a dam made from rocks and debris.

All you need to make a spear is a nice straight green branch or sapling. Sharpen one end and
carve rear facing teeth under the point. Another option is to split the end of the sapling in half then in quarters, insert a wedge in both splits, sharpen all four points and lash the wedges in place. If you have time and patience you can make a spring loaded jawed spear. Split the sapling 6-8" down, carve sharp rear facing teeth into both flat sides, and sharpen the tips to a point. Bind the split so it doesn't get bigger. Prop the jaws open a few inches with a strong twig. When you spear a fish the small stick will fall out causing the jaws to clamp shut. Spearfishing can be productive but it also wastes a lot of energy so it should be saved for last. Try to spear bottom feeders like carp and suckers as they usually move slower than other fish.

Cook your catch
All freshwater fish should be cooked as soon as possible. They contain parasites and can make you sick if you don't cook them well. Keep your dinner alive until you're ready to cook it. Before cooking the fish they have to be cleaned. Slice them from the anus up to the gills. Don't cut too deep or you will puncture the innards. After cutting scoop out the entrails and save them for bait then rinse the fish. For survival that's about all the cleaning needed. Now you can cook. There are several ways to cook the fish
  • Impale the fish on a stick and roast it like a hotdog
  • Cut into chunks and boil into a soup
  • Wrap it in big green leaves and cook on the coals
  • Wrap it in tinfoil and cook on the coals 
  • Use a flat rock like a griddle
  • Dry the fish with the sun or your fire to make fish jerky
  • Pack the fish in a 1" layer of clay and leave it on the fire until the clay is dry. Once the clay is dry remove it from the fire and crack it open. The scales and fins will stick to the clay and you can eat the fish.
Keep a fishing kit in your pack and you will always have a way to procure food. Fishing is easy and once you do it enough you will be able to find fish anywhere. Practice now when your life doesn't depend on it. Not only is this a valuable survival skill, it is also a great way to get your family outdoors.

More helpful reading and how to's
Paracord trot line
Paracord fly

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this knowledge. Surviving in the wilderness can be very hard, but only if you are not prepared. When it comes to surviving it is all about what you know and how you are using what you have learned about the world around you. Potential to survive lies in almost everything around us – the same goes for food alternatives when your food supplies are close to an end or are slowly turning in the last can of beans. See more http://survival-mastery.com/skills/scouting/survival-fishing.html