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The Beginner’s Survival Fishing Guide

I have only ever known a life of fishing. I have been catching fish since before I can remember. It’s wild to realize that. We spent our weekends fishing, Dad and me. That’s why transferring my skills to survival fishing comes so naturally.

If you have the tackle and know where to find the fish, you will have success.

All around the world fish-eating populations like Japan and Crete have some incredible health markers. That is because fish is one of the best proteins. You can reap the benefits of healthy fats and high protein, both of which are scarce in a survival situation.

Trout fish caught from stream

Fish is a Captive Survival Protein

In survival, fish are a captive source of protein. Whether it’s a stream or a lake, the fish are simply stuck there. Though they may change locations depending on the year and fishing pressure, they are still trapped in that body of water. A deer can cover acres but fish are right there.

It has always been my thought that survival fishing is the most effective means of gathering consistent protein in a survival situation.

Water’s Edge Survival

There is no better place to make your survival headquarters than at the water’s edge. You needn’t look very far to find a massive human civilization parked right on a major body of water. Since water is essential to life than being close to it just makes sense.

Look, fishing for survival is old, and ancient “fishing tackle” like hooks have been found in East Timor dating as far back as 40,000 years! 30,000-year-old hooks have been found in Okinawa, Japan. We have been at it for a long time because it has kept us alive!

Possible Evidence of World’s Oldest Fishing Nets Unearthed in Korea | Hakai Magazine

All the animals come to the water’s edge, too. Lots of beneficial plants grow near the water. It is a great place to have to take advantage of your captive protein source in fish, have water, and whatever other opportunities present themselves.

Fishing for autumn trout

Survival Fishing Tackle

Here is my biggest tip in this article:

You can make a one-time purchase and outfit yourself for survival fishing for the rest of your life! This is not a joke or a scheme it is just about knowing how much and what to buy.

You can buy 650 yards of fishing line for around $12

Berkley Trilene Big Game , Clear, 50lb - 275yd

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You can buy 500 fishing hooks for about $9

Deesoo 500pcs Fish Hooks, Premium Fishhooks High Carbon Steel Circle Hooks with Barbs Fishing Hooks with Plastic Box- Size #3-12/0 (10 Sizes)

$8.99  in stock
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Let’s say you buy some lead weights or bobbers for another $10

Woozettn 60 Pcs Fishing Float,Hard ABS Fishing Bobber Bulk,Push Button Round Buoy Floats for Fishing Tackle Accessories,1/1.5 Inch

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You are going to have a lifetime’s worth of survival fishing tackle all wrapped up for about $30! There is just no other survival food solution that you can sew up that fast. You will never use all that line, run out of hooks, or ruin all those bobbers.

I would recommend investing in some stringers, too. These are designed to go through the fish’s gill or puncture their lip and help to carry fish around much easier if you are moving from one spot to another on foot. I think they are a survival fishing must-have.

Of course, you can expand upon that with some really great tools like fishing poles, reels, nets, and fancy baits. At the end of the day though, you can seriously outfit yourself for a lifetime of fishing with just those three items. With that gear, you can fish using something as simple as a coke can. We will talk about that next.

Fishing hooks in a fishing kit

Survival Fishing Methods

Outside of the traditional methods of fishing with a modern rod and reel, there are many ways that you can get fish into your belly in a survival situation. Some of these are going to be pretty similar and some are going to be as unorthodox as they get!

We are going to break them into two categories: Active and Passive.

In other words, some of these methods will require you to be standing there working the bait and others will allow you to leave and go take care of other things.

Active Survival Fishing Methods

Traditional Stick and String

While you might not consider your rod and reel a piece of “survival fishing gear” remember that this is a serious piece of engineering. If you know how to wield modern fishing tackle then you could likely put a few days’ worth of fish in a bucket before most people are up and get through their first cup of coffee.

As far as I am concerned the modern open-faced fishing rig is the best option for active survival fishing. I have been using a fishing rod my whole life so I find it really easy to have success. You will land more fish consistently with this kind of rig.

If you are not a fisherman then I would highly recommend you take it up. Every year fishermen fill their freezers with crappie, catfish, pike, and a variety of tasty fish from the sea. It just plain works!

Coke Can Fishing Rig

The first time I saw the Coke can rig in action was in a public park that had three lakes for fishing. There were two men who had wound line around their coke cans like spools. They had a pretty heavy-weighted rig on their line and were using worms from a styrofoam container.

To cast they would let about 3 feet of line off the Coke can spool and holding the can sideways in their left hand they would gather the line and toss it with their right, using the weight to lead the cast. The rig couldn’t cast like the pole I was using but it was effective.

With little more than fishing line, hooks, and weights they had the ability to catch fish in the same body of water that I was fishing in.

Chances are you could find a coke can, plastic bottle, a glass bottle or even a large branch cut down in the same diameter. This survival fishing rig is simple to recreate and with the fishing tackle we talked about you could make this over and over for the rest of your life.

Survival Fishing Kit

A small survival fishing kit

A survival fishing kit is a great thing to add to any basic survival kit. My choice is the plastic tube kit by KA-BAR. it runs about $15 and you can fill it up with hooks, lures, split shots, or weights. You wrap the top with fishing line and you can use it to cast by hand and wind your line back in, hopefully with a fish on the end of it.

These are lightweight and easier to carry than a full-sized fishing rod. If you are looking for a lightweight option to pack for survival fishing then this is a great option. The survival fishing kit is also familiar enough that you can master it pretty quickly.

Ka-Bar Backpacker Caster Lightweight Fishing System 9921 , Black

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Gigging

The gig is one of the most underrated tools when it comes to survival. Very few people carry a gig and they can be used for all kinds of things. The typical gig is a 3-5 pronged spear with barbs on each prong. They are usually used for catching frogs but they are just as effective at landing fishing.

The gig has a sleeve on the back of it for a stick to fit inside and most have a point inside of that to drive into the stick. It creates a very effective spear.

Gigging larger slow fish like carp can be a great way to start but if you can sneak up over fish on a high bank then you can even get smaller fish with the gig. It takes practice but to pack a gig takes almost no effort.

Passive Survival Fishing Methods

Soda Bottle

One of the wildest survival fishing setups I have ever seen is created by cutting two 2 liter soda bottles in half and taping the spout halves together so you have a spout on either end. Connect them using duct tape so they are water-tight. Keep the caps on, too.

You are creating a giant bobber. Next, you are going to tie the fishing line below the cap of each end and tie a hook to each piece of the fishing line. Each spout of the bottle should have a line and hook hanging off of it. The length of the line should be short enough to keep your hooks from dragging off the bottom but keep them close to it.

Tie this rig, with rope, fishing line, or some other cordage to a stake or tree on the bank. Then you can bait both hooks and allow this soda bottle fishing rig to float. When a fish takes in the bait it will eventually swallow it and the hook. The soda bottle will bob when you have a fish on it.

You could also use a gorge hook with these which are basically slivers of bone or thorn that can be baited and swallowed easily by the fish. You tie a gorge hook off at the center and when you pull the line it will turn inside the fish’s belly and get stuck.

Automatic Reels

Auto reelers are incredibly cheap and they are as much a fish trap as they are a survival fishing method. They are small reels with a rope lead that you can tie the fishing line to. These reels act just like a tape measure. If you pull the rope out it will automatically return.

A small mechanism can be engaged to keep this from happening but the moment something pulls that line the mechanism fails and the line is reeled in. These are really incredible devices for passive fishing. In a sunfish pond, you could rig these with weighted lines and worms, when you returned you would have something to eat for sure.

3 Mechanical Fisher's Yo-Yo Automatic Fishing Reels - Package of 3 Reels - Yoyo Fish Trap - Standard Wire Trigger Model

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$14.99
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Nets

I can tell you with all honesty that if we faced a serious apocalyptic situation where I knew that food would be scarce forever, I would reach for the gill net before I reached for anything else to get food. I know I can feed my family for a week by just soaking a gill net for about 10 minutes, in the right place.

Nets work and you should certainly consider carrying a net as a means of survival fishing. Fishnets are another ancient technology that we have used to feed ourselves forever. I would recommend exploring how to use a cast net and a gill net.

Using a net for survival fishing

Choosing a Good Fishing Spot

Most species of fish do the same thing in the water. They look for the same areas to hide and hunt. This is because life for a fish is hard so they don’t have a lot of choice in the matter. They hold up in all the same places in almost every body of water.

Cover

Fish face a consistent threat from predators in the water, in the skies, and on the banks. This is why they prefer to remain in cover as much as possible. This can be tight against the banks, underbrush, or deep in the water under a log.

If there is cover then there are likely fish or at least minnows in the area. The cover is anything they can use to hide in or under. Even summer weeds can make great cover.

Shade

Shade is not exactly cover, but it can work in a similar way. In the summer, and as the water heats up, fish will spend even more time on the cover. They are cold-blooded so they have to keep cool and using the shady areas to do it is the best option they have.

They will also use cover as a kind of camouflage.

Tributaries

In streams and ponds, you can find areas where smaller feeder creeks empty out into the larger body of water. These tributaries are some of the very best places to find fish. These areas can often hold the larger fish, too.

The shallow water of the tributary often gives way to depression and bigger fish will sit down there and sip the minnows and smaller fishing spilling in from the tributary.

Water Breaks

Water breaks are the perfect opportunity for a fish. If they can get behind a rock or a piece of wood in the water then they can basically get a much-deserved rest. Fish have to fight the current all the time. They don’t get a chance to take a seat and they don’t really sleep.

To conserve energy they sit behind those big rocks and relax for a bit! The current is diverted around the rock and it’s much easier to swim.

Eddies

Sometimes water will find an area that is blocked by a large rock or created by undercut banks. These areas tend to take water from the main current and either make it still or swirl it slowly. It’s another area where fish can take a break.

These areas are always a good place to do some survival fishing.

Best Fish to Target

Survival fishing is not the same as weekend fishing. Most fishermen are trying to catch big fish. The survival fisherman should be concerned with catching smaller fish but plenty of them. In my experience, if you are trying to catch dinner consistently it’s great to target smaller fish.

  • Perch
  • Crappie
  • Sunfish
  • Juvenile Catfish

These are all great fish that can be caught on small hooks and you can catch them one after another if you get in the right spot. That is the kind of production that you want when you are targeting fish in survival scenarios. Use size 8 hooks for smallmouths on fish like sunfish and crappie.

Remember, if the fish are too small to eat, you can use them as bait for fishing or in traps for animals!

Use caught small fish for bait when survival fishing

Think Small with Survival Fishing

If you really want to practice your survival fishing techniques a great way to do it is to bring your kids along. You see, in order to keep kids engaged in fishing for any duration there needs to be action.

Over the years I have perfected setups like size 8 hooks, bobbers, and live minnows because in the spring these rigs can be absolutely devastating on bass, red-eye, crappie, perch, and sunfish. We catch little fish all day and the kids have a blast!

Survival fishing is much the same, you do not want to spend 4 hours on a pole to catch on 5lb bass. It’s just a different thing. Also, using some of these more unorthodox methods is something that kids tend to get a kick out of.

For more information on survival fishing, check out our page on Fishing.