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Don’t have a fishing pole handy? Here’s how to make items you can use to catch fish in the wild

A gill new strung across a stream

Introduction to fishing in a survival situation

If water is nearby, fishing can be a very productive means to acquire meat for your survival diet in an emergency.  If you do not have fishing tools available, you can still make your own fishhooks, nets, fish traps, and even fish poison to capture fish for food.

Making Fishhooks

You can make field-expedient fishhooks from pins, needles, wire, small nails, or any piece of metal. Other materials used for making fishhooks in the wild include wood, bone, coconut shell, thorns, flint, seashell, or turtle shells.

How to make a wooden fishhook

Parts of a fishhook

To make a wooden hook, cut a piece of hardwood about 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) long and about 6 millimeters (1/4 inch) in diameter to form the shank. Cut a notch in one end in which to place the point material (piece of bone, wire, nail, etc.). Place the point material in the notch. Hold the point in the notch and tie securely so that it does not move out of position. To make smaller hooks, use smaller material.

How to make a gorge for catching fish in the wild

A gorge or skewer is a small shaft of wood, bone, metal, or other material. It is sharp on both ends and notched in the middle where you tie the cordage. Bait the gorge by placing a piece of bait on it lengthwise. When the fish swallows the bait, it also swallows the gorge. If you are tending the fishing line when the fish bites, do not attempt to pull on the line to set the hook as you would with a conventional hook. Allow the fish to swallow the bait to get the gorge as far down its throat before the gorge sets itself.

Making a Stakeout or Trotline

Stakeout or trotline diagram

To construct a stakeout (or trotline), drive two supple saplings into the bottom of the lake, pond, or stream with their tops just below the water surface. Tie a horizontal cord between them just slightly below the surface. Tie two or more short cords with hooks or gorges to the horizontal cord, ensuring that they are short enough that they cannot wrap around the poles or each other. They should also not slip along the long cord. Bait the hooks or gorges.  Check the line the next day to see if any fish were caught.  You can set several Stakeouts in various locations.

How to make a Gill Net

Gill net diagram

Gill nets are useful in slow-flowing water where the water movement can guide fish into the net.  The net is stretched across the flowing water and weighted at the bottom to stretch the net.  If a gill net is not available, you can make one using parachute line, nylon fishing line, or similar cord material. Fishing nets can be made by laying out the line in a grid and attaching sections to each other using a square knot).

Parts of a gill net

Attach several core lines (the vertical lines that form the net) to the top casing by doubling them over and tying them with prusik knots or girth hitches. The length of the core lines should be six times the desired depth of the net (for example, a 6-foot [180-centimeter] piece of string girth-hitched over the casing will give you two 3-foot [90-centimeter] pieces, which after completing the net, will provide a 1-foot [30-centimeter] deep net).

Closeup of gill net weaving

The length of the desired net and the size of the mesh determine the number of core lines used and the space between them. The recommended size of the spaces in the net mesh is about 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) square. Starting at one end of the casing, tie the second and the third core lines together using an overhand knot. Then tie the fourth and fifth, sixth and seventh, and so on, until you reach the last core line. You should now have all core lines tied in pairs with a single core line hanging at each end. Start the second row with the first core line, tie it to the second, the third to the fourth, and so on.

Deep water gill net application diagram

An alternative method of constructing the diagonals would be to tie the fishing line to the bottom of each loop of the top fishing line with a knot, then loop around the bottom guideline stick, and repeat until you reach the end of your Gill Net. At this time, you can remove the upper stick and use it for your next row of diagonals.  Again, tie the line to the loop above it, wrap around the stick, tie the line to the loop above it, and so on.  When you reach the bottom of the Gill Net, tie a thicker line to the loops to form a stable “base” for the netting.

A gill new strung across a stream

To keep the rows even and to regulate the size of the mesh, tie a guideline to the trees. Position the guideline on the opposite side of the net you are working on. Move the guideline down after completing each row. A long, straight stick may also be used as the guideline and the weight of the stick will hold the core lines while the row is being worked on.  The lines will always hang in pairs, and you always tie a cord from one pair to a cord from an adjoining pair. Continue tying rows until the net is the desired width. Thread a suspension line casing along the bottom of the net to strengthen it. Angling the gill net will help to reduce the number of debris that may accumulate in the net. Be sure to check it frequently.

How to make Fish Traps

Types of fish traps

You may trap fish using several methods. Fish baskets are one method. You construct them by lashing several sticks together with vines into a funnel shape. You close the top, leaving a hole just large enough for the fish to swim through.

Where to place fish traps

You can also use traps to catch saltwater fish, as schools regularly approach the shore with the incoming tide and often move parallel to the shore. Pick a location at high tide and build the trap at low tide.

On rocky shores, use natural rock pools. On coral islands, use natural pools on the surface of reefs by blocking the openings as the tide recedes. On sandy shores, use sandbars and the ditches they enclose. Build the trap as a low stone wall extending outward into the water and forming an angle with the shore.

How to make a spear for spearfishing

Types of spears for spearfishing

If you are near shallow water (about waist deep) where the fish are large and plentiful, you can spear them. To make a spear, cut a long, straight sapling. Sharpen the end to a point or attach a knife, jagged piece of bone, or sharpened metal. You can also make a spear by splitting the shaft a few inches down from the end and inserting a piece of wood to act as a spreader. You then sharpen the two separated halves to points.

How to catch a fish using a spear

To spear fish, find an area where fish either gather or where there is a fish run. Place the spear point into the water and slowly move it toward the fish. Then, with a sudden push, impale the fish on the stream bottom. Do not try to lift the fish with the spear, as it with probably slip off and you will lose it; hold the spear with one hand and grab and hold the fish with the other. Do not throw the spear, especially if the point is a knife. You cannot afford to lose a knife in a survival situation. Be alert to the problems caused by light refraction when looking at objects in the water. You must aim lower than the object, usually at the bottom of the fish, to hit your mark.

Chop Fishing

At night, in an area with high fish density, you can use a light to attract fish. Then, armed with a machete or similar weapon, you can gather fish using the back side of the blade to strike them. Do not use the sharp side as you will cut them in two pieces and end up losing some of the fish.

Making Fish Poison from plants in the wild

Plants you can use as fish poison

Another way to catch fish is by using poison. Poison works quickly. It allows you to remain concealed while it takes effect. It also enables you to catch several fish at one time. When using fish poison, be sure to gather all of the affected fish, because many dead fish floating downstream could arouse suspicion.

Some plants that grow in warm regions of the world contain rotenone, a substance that stuns or kills cold-blooded animals but does not harm the people who eat the animals. The best place to use rotenone, or rotenone-producing plants, is in ponds or the headwaters of small streams containing fish.

Rotenone works quickly on fish in water 21 degrees C (70 degrees F) or above. The fish rise helplessly to the surface. It works slowly in water 10 to 21 degrees C (50 to 70 degrees F) and is ineffective in water below 10 degrees C (50 degrees F). The following plants, used as indicated, will stun or kill fish:

  • Anamirta cocculus. This woody vine grows in southern Asia and on islands of the
    South Pacific. Crush the bean-shaped seeds and throw them in the water.
  • Croton tiglium. This shrub or small tree grows in waste areas on islands of the South Pacific. It bears seeds in three angled capsules. Crush the seeds and throw them into the water.
  • Barringtonia. These large trees grow near the sea in Malaya and parts of Polynesia.
    They bear a fleshy one-seeded fruit. Crush the seeds and bark and throw into the water.
  • Derris eliptica. This large genus of tropical shrubs and woody vines is the main
    source of commercially produced rotenone. Grind the roots into a powder and mix with water. Throw a large quantity of the mixture into the water.
  • Duboisia. This shrub grows in Australia and bears white clusters of flowers and
    berrylike fruit. Crush the plants and throw them into the water.
  • Tephrosia. This species of small shrubs, which bears beanlike pods, grows
    throughout the tropics. Crush or bruise bundles of leaves and stems and throw them into the water.
  • Lime. You can get lime from commercial sources and in agricultural areas that use large quantities of it. You may produce your own by burning coral or seashells. Throw the lime into the water.
  • Nut husks. Crush green husks from butternuts or black walnuts. Throw the husks into the water.
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