Camping & Survival

Fishing for Survival

Picture shows a drawing of a fishing trotline.

Any body of water has the possibility of housing fish. Without a firearm or bulky gear to make a trap, fishing is probably your best bet in finding food during a survival situation. Instead of foraging for possibly dangerous plants to eat, most fish are edible—especially ones found in fresh water. Only requiring a few small items or things you can find, fishing for survival is easier than trying to hunt, trap and kill small animals without a firearm. A lure, a few hooks and a several yards of fishing line will easily fit in a mint tin, medicine bottle or other very small container, taking up very little room in your pack. Always have an emergency fishing kit with you when you venture out in the wilderness or during travel—just in case.

Survival Fishing

If you do not have an emergency fishing kit with you, you can still fashion a primitive fishing rod with found items.


Find a long branch or stick thick enough around to hold a few ounces of weight. With a knife, carve an indention all the way around on one end. This is where you will wrap and secure your fishing line.


If you are near a body of water, especially a bigger pond, lake or river, you might be lucky enough to find tangled fishing line entwined between vegetation around the banks. If not, use thin green vines, shoe laces, dental floss, wire, string, paracord or any other line-type material you can find. Wrap it tightly around your makeshift pole, leaving enough line to drop into shallow water.


Way back when, hooks were primitively carved from wood or bone. Instead of the curved hooks we use today, fishermen would file a piece of wood or bone into a straight, sharp point on both ends—more like a spear than a hook. Being out in the wilderness, you should have a good survival knife with you. Whittle both ends of a one to two inch piece of wood into sharp points for a hook. Further, needles, a bent safety pin, bent paper clips, a nail, thick heavy thorns, a sharp metal shard and soda or beer can tabs also work as hooks. Tie one end of your hook to your fishing line. When searching for hooks, pick smaller rather than large. It will be easier and faster to catch smaller fish.

Picture shows a drawing of a fishing trotline.
Trotlines allow you to catch fish while tending to other things.

Lures and Bait

I have caught fish with live worms, pieces of sandwich bread and with plastic lures. Live bugs are an excellent way to attract fish to your hook. Look under rocks for bugs. Fish also like shiny things, so anything you can attach to your line that attracts the fishes’ attention will help reel them in. Soda tabs, pieces of foil, jewelry, metal scraps, and even brightly colored cloth can lure a fish.


Some fish traps are illegal. Do not attempt to make a fish fence or trotline unless you are fishing for survival. Please double check your local fishing laws before setting fishing traps.

Fish Fence

You can trap fish along the edge of the water bank by making a fish fence. Gather a bunch of sticks that are longer than the water is deep. Along the water bank, make a V-shaped fence using your sticks, making sure the sticks are securely stuck in the mud on the bottom of the water, but sticking up far enough out so the fish cannot swim out of your fence. On the deeper waterside of the fence, leave a small opening between your sticks so fish can swim in. Put some bait inside the fence, another fish, some bugs or worms or shiny objects and wait. When a fish swims into the fence, he cannot get back out.


If you have plenty of hooks and fishing line, you can create a trotline that lets you tend to other needs, like building a fire, making a shelter and procuring fresh water while catching fish in your trap. Making a trotline requires several supplies. You will need a rope long enough to span across the body of water, plenty of fishing line, hooks, weights and floats.

First, find paracord, rope or twine (you can use long vines tied together) that reaches the length between both sides of the body of water, with enough room left over on either side of the cord to tie to a tree or other hearty structure.

Second, starting at one end of the main cord tie fishing line at three- to four-foot intervals; these are your drop lines. After tying the drop lines, add hooks and bail, or lures, to each line.

Picture shows a primitive fish fence fish trap.
You can trap fish along the edge of the water bank by making a fish fence. Photo by Tim Jones.

Third, you will need to weight your trotline. Use two or three of your drop lines on either side of the main line to add the weights. You can use large rocks as weights. For floats or bobbers, use an empty plastic jug. Tie your floats to the top of the same lines as the weights.

Cleaning and Cooking

For a rudimentary way to clean fish, scrape the scales off working from tail to head with the flat sharp edge of your knife. After you have removed the fish scales, turn the fish over so its belly is facing up and starting from the tail, cut a shallow slit through the fish’s middle to its head. Once open, pull out all the guts and then cook the fish over an open flame. Alternatively, you can throw the whole thing uncleaned onto the fire and cut it up after it is cooked.

Do you have a survival fishing method to share with us? Explain what it is in the comment section.


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Comments (6)

  1. Ever hear of a “Yo-Yo?” If it were me, and I completed a few survival courses in the USAF, and grew up way out in the country, I’d have a few of ’em in my kit. They allow one to be doing something else while the “yo-yo” fishes…

  2. Watch the Weather Channel show “Fat Guys in the Woods”, and Surviving a Disaster, and How did you Score on Disaster Survival Test.

  3. Thanks. Very well done Suzanne. My kit fits in the handle of my knife. Most of the ‘survival knives’ I’ve seen come with hollow handles but most are stuffed with junk. I’ve replaced the fishing line in the ones we bought and tightly wrapped about fifty feet of it around a small dowel I can also use it as a bobber. A cut at the end of the dowel secures the line so it doesn’t become unraveled in the handle. A friend put a groove about half way down the handle on his and he uses it for hand line fishing. I still like a sturdy stick for a pole but that’s another option.

    I replaced the hooks in ours that were already getting rusty with a variety of sizes to match the game where we are. I added various sizes of split shot. The last thing I added was a thin sliver of Saran wrapped jerky. I found that if you soak it for a little while in your mouth it’ll soften it and you’ve got bait. My smart ass friend said that if I don’t catch anything I still have some thing to eat.

  4. Suzanne, your article brought back memories of the kit my now-deceased father-in-law kept in his vehicle. I remember marveling at the rig he had at the ready, including line, hooks, a small bobber, split shot, even a few matches, all packed in an old, small tin box. All he needed was a branch and a worm or grasshopper and he was fishing!

    Thanks, Suzanne. I’m going to put together my own “survival” tackle box… for the next time I just HAVE TO go fishing! 😉

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