Fishing For Survival

Let’s assume you have used your basic survival skills wisely. You have a shelter built, a fresh source of water located, a fire started with plenty of firewood gathered, being an expert in native vegetation you have gathered piles of edible fruits and berries, about all you’re missing is the satellite TV. There’s only one small problem… you’re still lost in the wilderness with a slightly sprained ankle, not totally disabling, but painful to walk on.

You have now exhausted the supply of fruit and berries, they don’t really do a whole lot for filling the gnawing knot in your gut, and if you gorge, you run the risk of having diarrhea and other unwelcome events enter the picture. You have no weapon, so hunting is out of the question, couldn’t walk well enough to drag a 200 pound deer carcass back to camp if you did bag one. Best you could do is attract wolves, mountain lion or a bear. That ain’t good.

You’re going to have to eat something substantial or you’ll begin getting too weak to hike out of your situation. Your best, and very tasty choice, is fish. I can hear you now. “Oh yeah, I’ll just tote in a couple fishing rods and reels, bucket of bait, lures, stink bait.” We’re not talking sport fishing … we’re talking survival fishing.

Prepare For the Worse

Anytime you venture into the wilderness or just off the beaten path, you need to pack to be prepared. Always carry an assortment of hooks, lines, swivels and small weights as part of your survival pack. Packing 40-50 hooks, a reel of line (100-400 yards) are not heavy nor do they take up much space.

Let me state this for the record before we go too far: I have had people tell me I should inform readers to not break State or Federal fishing laws, as there are a few proven fishing methods that are illegal. Are you people nuts? I suggest you do whatever you must in order to survive and pray for a game warden to pop up out of no where and arrest me. Rescue is rescue.

Now back to fishing. Let me tell you a story. I had a very good friend, not a great looking guy, but good personalty. When I was younger I’d watch him work the night clubs enduring one shut down after another by women of all sizes, colors and shapes.

I finally asked him “didn’t it bother him getting shut down by so many women?”

Nah,” he said smiling, “it’s a numbers game and eventually one of them will say yes.”

Well, that’s the way you need to view survival fishing. It’s a numbers game. That’s why you need so many hooks, and of various sizes, to put the maximum number of lines in the water. Eventually a fish is going to take the bait. Another reason for carrying so many fish hooks is that fish at a higher altitude are prone to be smaller than fish located in the valley, therefore you’ll need various size hooks depending on the possible size of fish you are searching for.

Should you have misplaced your hooks, because I know you didn’t forget them, you can make a fish hook out of just about anything, such as, fish bone, other animal’s carcass bones, natural thorns, pieces of scrap metal, anything that can be fashioned to a sharp point.


Scouting the area. In a way fish are like people, they live everywhere, but there are areas where most of them congregate. Look for grass, weeds, even lily pads growing alongside the water’s edge and in the water. Fish such as bass and walleye like to stay in cover (grass and weeds are considered cover). Hiding in cover gives several species of fish an instinctive feeling of security, therefore simply put … more of them in the area. The problem with casting and trolling in this type of environment is that you will inevitably get snagged in the undergrowth, which can create feelings of frustration to panic, if it’s your only hook.


Line Fishing

One way to avoid the snagging issue is to utilize overhead tree branches as your fishing pole. Tie your line to a branch over the water, near the cover (grass and weeds, fallen trees, etc), and let your baited hook settle to the bottom, then raise the hook a few inches. Catfish are bottom feeders, but most other fish tend to want a little space to maneuver.

Plan on getting wet while securing your lines because unless you have a boat, or can walk on water, wading out to the target spot with require getting in the water. Tie as many lines as possible, remember the numbers game, but use a little common sense. Don’t have 10 lines in a small area… spread the hunting area out as far as possible increasing your odds of a fish coming by.

Again, you’ll want to set as many lines as possible, but you may have to make them individually. What I mean is, if you make 10 lines all ten feet long, you may find as you set them 10 feet may not always be long enough to reach your desired depth or the water at all. A way to mass produce the lines is be sure to make them extra long. You can always wrap a 15 foot line around the limb to bring the hook up, but you can’t extend a 10 foot line to 15 feet.

Get Creative. Ever think of throwing a packet of balloons into your backpack? These balloons can be inflated and used as “floats”, if there are no overhead branches available.


Balloons or Jugs

Simply tie a baited hook, along with a weight and swivel, around the knotted end of the balloon. Then tie an additional line that you’ll use to retrieve the balloon and hopefully fish. Be sure the balloons are large enough that when inflated it has enough surface area to float on top of the water. Your line and hook will hang vertically, and float amid the grasses and weeds, submerged logs, etc. When a fish bites, it won’t be able to pull the balloon underwater because it has too much buoyancy.

The second line is obviously just as important as the bait line. When a fish is caught it will simply swim off with the bait and balloon if it’s not secured to the land. Additionally, wind, currents or just the natural rotation of the earth will make the balloon float away without being secured.

Finding & Using Natural Bait. Nature will provide an abundance of bait to use for fishing as insects and worms are found everywhere on earth except frigid arctic areas. Worms, grubs, grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars and crayfish are but a sampling of natural fish bait. A caution here: Be careful turning over logs or rocks in the wild as there may be a snake or other unwanted creature lurking beneath it. You’re looking for prey … not to become prey.

Minnows and leeches also make good bait. Simply insert your hook through the tails and let them do their thing, swim. They aren’t going anywhere and are natural acting.

If possible you may want to vary your bait. Use worms on ten lines, crickets on ten others, etc. Fish don’t always strike the same bait, that’s why they make zillions of different artificial lures.

Where and When. There are no 100% in nature, but there are general rules. Here’s some general rules for fishing.

Spring: Spring is an ideal time to catch fish as many are hungry after a long winter and are now becoming more active due to warmer water, as well as laying eggs near shore. Fish along the shoreline, especially in areas of cover. Cloudy and rainy days make good days to fish, the fish don’t worry about getting wet. Note: If the rain is pouring down forget fishing as the water will become too murky for the fish to see.

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Summer: Fish will often move to deeper, cooler waters as the temperatures rise, which can pose a problem if you don’t have access to a boat or raft to fish from. To combat this disadvantage try fishing early mornings or later evening as well as river fishing, where you’ll usually find cooler water. In the summer, hot temperatures over several days can have a real negative effect on fishing. Water of shallow lakes, ponds and even smaller rivers that become too warm for too long, causes the oxygen level in the water to drop, causing fish to become sluggish. Patience and luck is all you can have in this situation.

Fall: Similar to spring, water temperatures tend to be cooler, as outside temperatures drop, making fish more active near the shoreline (important for people fishing from the bank from tree lines). Fish will feed more aggressively than in previous weeks, as they prepare for winter by packing on the fat.

Camouflage: Ever see a turkey hunter in the woods? If you did I will bet any amount of money he won’t bag a turkey. Why? Because turkeys have spectacular eyesight and if you saw the hunter with your puny human eyesight, I guarantee you that turkey spotted him from a 100 yards away.

So why don’t we ever think about using a little camo when fishing? Fish can see and hear things above the water and as with any other animal, will scurry away from possible danger. Any shiny and metallic item you’re wearing or fishing with might reflect sunlight, and/or movement, will spook fish. You don’t have to paint your face or conceal yourself in the brush, but be mindful of what you’re doing .. you may be defeating your purpose by chasing the fish away as they start to investigate your baited hook.

Fighting the Wind: You will encounter windy conditions and that can present decent opportunities for fishing if you know how to read the environment. The wind will kick up waves which restricts light penetration from above making it harder for the fish to spot you or your movements, thus camouflaging you. Even in clear water, the wind can kick up sediment, making the water somewhat cloudy, which also makes it difficult for the fish to see you. As with a lot of things in nature, the wind is a two edged sword. While it hides you from the fish, it may also hide your bait. They can’t try to eat it if they can’t see it.

To adapt, fish facing into the wind. Fish will almost always face into the current and the wind produces a current, although temporary. (I mention that because conditions change and so must your tactics.) Throw your hook into the wind, landing ahead of the fish, and the bait will float backwards into the approaching fish. When fishing the shore, prey fish will be pushed in the direction of the wind (current) towards the shore. Shore fish facing the wind.

Fighting Depression: There’s little worse than fishing all day and not catching a thing. In a crisis situation that can cause deep depression or despair to set in. Am I going to starve to death? It becomes important to realize why the fishing may have been lousy that day.

A weather front approaching can directly affect the fishing as fish react to changes in barometric pressure. Many types of fish will feed aggressively as a cold front approaches, but slows to a trickle or stops all together when the front hits, and may last several days after the front moves out.

Should a warm front approach the rise in water temperature will make the fish feed more. However, that is true in cooler weather as the sluggish fish respond to the warmer water, but reacts in reverse in the heat of the summer. The hotter temperatures force the fish deeper and slows feeding during the day.

Cloudy drizzly days can provide good fishing. Fish will venture out of the grassy areas into more open waters, which reduces the odds of becoming snagged. Insects will also be knocked off tree limbs into the water, creating an easy meal, except one of those bugs is connected to your fishing hook. Again, hard rain voids it all. You might as well hunker down in your shelter just like the fish are doing.

In stormy weather, beware of lightning strikes. Get away from the water. It’s not worth the risk.

In conclusion. Fishing is a game of patience, a marathon not a sprint, to the goal. Adding skills and knowledge as you just did will greatly enhance your odds of being successful. They say knowledge is power. I differ slightly. I say Applied knowledge is power. Commit these skills to memory, practice them whenever possible and apply them when necessary.