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How to Catch Fish for Survival

If you are stuck in the wilderness, fish can be an important source of protein and nutrients in your diet. These tips and techniques to catch fish for survival are intended for emergency situations only. We do not recommend using them in your regular outdoors experience as some methods are illegal in certain areas.

Image of seagull on rocks next to ropes and fishing traps. Text reads Tips for the Apocalypse: How to Catch Fish for Survival. Image has the Total Prepare logo at the bottom.

Photo by Meritt Thomas on Unsplash. Text and other elements added by Total Prepare.

When harvesting fish in a survival situation, your goal should be to collect live fish in an area so you have them on hand for meal time. You’ll be most successful if you implement multiple strategies at once. Passive techniques are best as they allow you to work on other things (e.g. building a fire or finding shelter) while the fish do all the hard work.

1) Set multiple lines

Depending on how you wound up in this situation, you might have had the foresight to pack some fishing line and hooks. You might even have something as handy as a folding shovel that comes with a length of line and a few hooks hidden in the handle.

You’ll want to put as many lines in the water as you can to maximize your chances of getting a catch. The lines can be attached directly to overhanging branches, or to makeshift fishing poles made from strong sticks or reeds. Don’t forget to bait the hooks – worms work best and are usually easiest to find!

If you happen to also have some paracord or rope around, you can skip the pole and run a trotline across a body of water. Hang multiple fishing lines from the trotline, making sure they hang at least a few inches into the water.

2) Spear fishing

If you have to do some emergency fishing, you may as well look cool while you do it. Naturally, this means wielding a spear. You can make a spear from any strong length of wood, metal, etc. Sharpen the tip or attach a sharp point. It is best if you can have a barb on your spearhead so the fish don’t just slide off again once you have them speared.

Watch for where your shadow is falling, as it can scare the fish away. Lastly, light refracts when it hits water, making things appear a little higher than they actually are. To counter this, always aim for just below where you see the fish.

3) Funnel traps

Passive funnel traps are a wonderful tool for survival fishing as you can be doing other things while the trap does the work. To build a funnel trap, find a container to use as your holding compartment. Create a funnel into the container with an opening large enough for the type of fish you hope to catch. These are similar in nature to pop-bottle wasp traps – the fish can swim in, but have a hard time finding the exit again.

If you don’t have any good funnel materials, you can often achieve the desired effect by tying/weaving sticks together.

(*Author’s note: if you find yourself in Victoria, BC, our Royal BC Museum has some excellent examples of fish traps and weirs in their First Nations exhibits.)

An image of the fishing weir exhibit at RBC Museum in Victoria, BC, Canada.

Photo of the weir exhibit at RBC Museum by Blake Handley from Victoria, Canada, under a CC BY 2.0 licence, via Wikimedia Commons

4) Fish weirs

The last method of survival fishing we’ll cover is a fish weir. A weir is basically just a wall with holes in to let water pass through. Build a weir from piled stones, or by driving stakes side-by-side. The weir should stretch from one bank to the other, with the only gap leading to where you want them to go. This is most likely directly into your funnel trap, or into a blocked off pool for later capture.


If you liked this article and want to learn more about survival fishing techniques, check out Angler’s original article here. And if you’re building a go-bag or wilderness survival kit, don’t forget to pack those hooks and lines! They take up very little space and make a BIG difference in an extended emergency.

Thank you for reading!

This article was written by Zenia Platten – Author and emergency preparedness professional.

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