“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” – Chinese Proverb
Hopefully after reading this article, you will be able to eat well in any survival situation close to water. Fish are very high in protein, vitamins, and Omega-3 fatty acids (the good kind of fat). Fish also happens to be one of my favorite meals, and I know I would never go hungry close to some water. All freshwater fish are edible; however, some saltwater fish can be poisonous and dangerous to even touch. The best way to secure some fish is by trying to use as little energy as possible – ie make things that keep working while you’re resting or working on something else. Books such as the SAS Survival Handbook are a great resource to keep handy – it has over 20 pages related to survival fishing.
Here’s some tips on how to secure your next survival seafood dinner:
1. Hook, line, and sinker. When people think of fishing, they go straight to the modern way of a reel, pole, line and live/artificial bait. It’s a great past time but also an invaluable skill in a survival scenario. I always make sure to pack some hooks, line and sinkers in at least one survival tin. You can either hand fish it – just holding the loose end of the line in your hands – or tie your line to a stick. You can also make what’s called a trot line – long length of line with multiple baited hooks spaced along the line and a large weight (could be just a rock) at the end. After baiting all of your hooks, throw your weight into the middle of the pond/river and tie the other end to a solid tree/rock. Leaving this for several hours or over night is a great and easy way of catching catfish especially.
Another method of catching fish via hook and line is a fishing yo yo. These are basically spring-loaded reels that you can tie off to a solid tree/rock and will automatically reel in a fish whenever the trigger is released by a fish taking your bait. If you run out/lose your hooks, crude ones can be made out of just about anything – safety pin, wire, nails, thorns, bones, sticks, etc.
2. Traps. There are multiple types of traps you can use for fish, and you are limited by your imagination. I show you how to make a trap out of a 2 liter bottle here. This type of trap is great for catching small minnows and crayfish – these can both either be eaten or used as bait for larger fish. That same style of trap can be made out of sticks as well but will take much more time – one advantage though is that the opening and trap itself can be made bigger for bigger fish.
Another way to trap fish is by damming off a portion of river, forcing any fish to go where you want them go – into your wooden trap, a net, or set of snagging hooks. If you are near a tidal area, you can build a half or fully enclosed circle out of rocks and/or sticks shoved into the ground during high tide. As the tide recedes, fish will get trapped behind your wall allowing you to simply pick them up.
3. Shooting and Spearing. If you have a gun, bow and arrows, or make a spear, you could very easily get a meal with little effort. NOTE: If you using a gun, never place the muzzle in the water as this will cause your barrel to explode! Whichever method you use, if the entire fish is below the water, aim low to compensate for the refraction. It’s best if the fish’s dorsal or tail fin is out of the water because you will then know exactly where to aim. I suggest investing in a frog gig for your bug out bag. They are extremely light weight and can easily be attached to a stick to make a crude self-defense weapon as well as a fish/frog spear.
4. Frogs and turtles. Although definitely not fish, I included them in this article because you’re almost guaranteed to find these where there are fish. Turtles can be caught in many the same ways as fish, but they are much stronger and require stronger gear. Snapping turtles are especially dangerous – jaws will still snap shut once the head is removed from the body. They can be identified by the triangle-like ridges on the edge of their shell by their tale.
Another great way to catch turtles is by tying a baited hook (I prefer frog or fish heads) to a free-floating object such as a milk jug or small log and allowing it to float in a small pond overnight. The caught turtle will try to climb out of the pond or bury itself in the mud near the bank – just look for your float to find your turtle.
Frogs can also be caught via a baited hook, but I find it easier to gig them. If you have a flashlight or make a torch, scan the banks of ponds and streams at night – their eyes will reflect the light. Keep your light on their eyes temporarily blinding them and allowing you to get closer to them. Keep your gig/spear head vertical and get it about 3-4 inches away from them and then drive it down as hard as you can, spearing them and trapping them to the bottom. If you’re fast enough, you can even catch them with your bare hands. I have spent many a summer nights growing up this way. Frog legs are delicious, and bigger ones can provide more food than just the legs. Any innards and other leftovers can be used to bait other bigger fish or animals.
5. Shellfish and crustaceans. These can be found in fresh or saltwater. Look for holes in the sand at low tide to find clams. Mussels can be found in fresh water lakes or streams attached to rocks. Crayfish can also be found in slow moving streams or ponds under rocks or can be trapped with a bottle trap. Make sure to only gather live shellfish – dead ones will have open shells. If you’re walking in the water along a beach, ensure to drag your feet through the sand instead of lifting your feet up – this will prevent you stepping on sea urchins causing a very painful injury which could turn life threatening in a survival situation.
Another interesting fact is that if you burn leftover shells (or coral) in a hot fire they will produce lime which can then be thrown into a pool of water with fish and will poison them – don’t worry, they’re still safe to eat!