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Survival Fishing – How To Catch Fish In An Emergency

Fishing is a relaxing family pastime, and it can save your life! But how can you find and catch fish in an emergency, or without any gear? Learn how…

survival fishing how to catch fish in an emergency

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Nature is beautiful, but it is also rugged and dangerous. Perhaps that’s why we love it so much.

And whether you’re and avid outdoorsman, or someone who just enjoys an occasional hike, being prepared for a worst-case scenario can save your life.

Unfortunately, it’s not a rare occasion that people get stranded in the wilderness.

At that moment, having the right skills and equipment will be crucial for your survival, and being able to find water and food will be at the top of your priorities.

Fish is a great, protein packed nutrient that will keep you fed and strong, so if possible, you should really make an effort to try and catch some.

Here are several tips on how to catch fish in case of an emergency.

Pack For A Worst-Case Scenario

There’s no doubt about it, having the right equipment leads to the best and the easiest scenario. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or difficult to carry either. A few dozen hooks and two or three reels of line won’t take much space and won’t add a lot of extra weight, but may end up being a lifesaver.

You may be wondering why you would need so many hooks. The simple answer is – it’s purely a numbers game. The more lines you have, the better your chances are!

It’s also smart to bring along hooks of various sizes. Obviously, fish come in a number of different sizes and you’ll improve your chances of catching something if you have more options.

Our Top Pick For Best Survival Fishing Kit

Vigilant Trails Pocket Survival Fishing KitVigilant Trails Pocket / Survival Fishing Kit

What made it stand out – Ease of use, the various baits, different sized hooks, and 150′ of line on a easily windable handle. And the free knife is neat too.

Bringing a few baits with you may also be helpful. Though you can always dig up some worms or maggots, having a small pack of salmon eggs may save you a lot of time.

If you don’t have salmon egg baits, anything else that is scented can do the trick. The reason we say scented is it can help maximize your chances of success, and these types of baits usually come in sealed packages that are convenient to transport.

No Equipment? No Problem!

While it will certainly help if you have the proper tools, there are several different things you can try out that don’t require fishing gear.

You can try and make your own fishing hooks! Think of those prehistoric fishing hooks that you saw during your school trip to The Natural History Museum. Use materials like thorns or bones and carve a hook with your knife. However, this is work that requires a lot of precision and patience, so perseverance is the key here.

Go through your backpack and be creative. Anything long and pointy can become a fishing hook: a nail, a safety pin, a paper clip, soda can tabs

Making a gorge hook is also a good option. It’s simpler and quicker to make than a regular-type hook. It’s basically a small stick sharpened at both ends that lodges itself horizontally in the throat of the fish.

It may seem like a cruel and primitive method, but remember, this is an emergency and your priority is to stay alive. As for the fishing line itself, you can potentially use thread from your clothes or your tent.

Still No Luck? Make A Spear Instead

Spearfishing is always a good idea for a backup. It does require good hand-eye coordination, but the results will be rewarding. And the more you practice, the better you’ll be.

When making a spear, try to keep it simple. Find a good, strong branch and sharpen its end (a hiking pole can sometimes work too, if available). This is one more reason to have a survival knife handy no matter what type of outdoor excursion you are on. In this specific scenario, the knife can be used to fashion tools like a spear, help prepare and cook any potential catch, and even help with building a shelter or fashioning other items.

It may not be pleasant to stand in the cold water, waiting for the fish to approach you, but this is a method that will probably get you the quickest results. If you’re too impatient and move around in the water too much, you may excite or scare the fish to a point where they won’t return to a location near you anytime soon. Look for a good spot around some heavy cover like weeds or stumps in the water, head to that area as calm as possible, and wait for your chance to strike.

Go Basic: Use Your Bare Hands

When we were kids, we’ve all tried catching fish that would swim up to us in the ocean with our hands. None of us ever succeeded. That goes to show just how difficult it is to catch fish with your bare hands. They’re fast and agile and even if you do manage to be faster, they’re slimy and slippery.

The technique used to catch fish with your hands isn’t easy to learn, but you might give it a go. After all, what have you got to lose?

Noodling is a method of catching catfish popular in the south. It involves going into the deep water and sticking your hand into muddy holes, trying to pull out the fishy prize. You can also try areas where there are lots of rocks along the shoreline. Overturning these rocks may reveal a cluster of critters that could be used as bait, or even food if the situation is dire.

As a kid, I used periodically scan the shoreline of my neighborhood lake, eventually catching some tadpoles, revealing some leeches that could make great bait, as well as revealing schools of minnows. The tadpoles are most easily caught by reaching into crevices formed by piles of rocks, but without overturning the rocks (you may have to overturn some at first to confirm the presence of tadpoles).

Make it your very last option. There’s a good chance you’ll harm yourself by stepping on something sharp, or lose a couple of fingers to a snapping turtle, or you might just cut your hand by sticking it everywhere. And in such dirty, muddy waters, having an open flesh wound is an infection waiting to happen.

Things To Keep In Mind

Finding the right fishing spot may be crucial. Think about the time of the year, weather conditions, time of day and the landscape you’re in.

In springtime, the fish will be hungry and active after the long winter. Temperatures are still cool, so they will tend to swim closer to the surface.

In summer, warm weather will make them go deeper, where the temperatures are more mild. During the fall, fish will start preparing for the winter, so they will eat more.

As long as it’s not raining heavily, you can try and catch some fish. However, if the rain is pouring down, don’t bother. The water will be too muddy for the fish to see your bait (or for you to spot the fish). The best thing you can do is to find a good shelter and try to stay warm and dry.

Final Thoughts

Whichever technique you use, remember – it’s a marathon, not a sprint! Patience and persistence will go a long way.

Also, practice makes perfect! No mater how many times you fail, and how many times that spear ends up missing its target, or that hook doesn’t catch anything, keep trying.

Your life depends on it!

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Meet The Author

John Schips

John Schips

Avid fisher and primary contributor to Flannel Fishermen.

2 Comments

Add a Comment
  1. John,

    Nice article. I would also add few artificial lures – small ones, to the equipment you take

  2. Tadpoles make great bait but so do grasshoppers/crickets! As a kid, I never used fake lures, it was always worms or grasshoppers that I caught myself.

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Survival Fishing - How To Catch Fish In An Emergency

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