This is a guest post by Edward R
[This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest where you could win a number of prizes including an 84 serving storage bucket of Wise Food Storage, 500 rounds of 9mm ammo, a NukAlert a copy of my book The Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat and a copy of my CD It’s The End Of The World As We Know It – And I Feel Fine . For complete rules and list of prizes see this post.]
Many commercial survival kits contain a few small hooks, tiny lead sinkers (weights), and a short length of lightweight fishing line. With some live bait an amateur could use that miniature fishing kit to catch a few pan fish for food. However, pan fish contain very little meat and it would take many of them to make a meal. In the process of catching so many pan fish the inevitable setbacks will occur, such as broken lines and lost hooks. A tiny fishing kit of this type might help catch a few small fish, but it isn’t going to do much good in a real survival situation. Further, most would not know how to use that gear to catch fish when live bait is unavailable. I decided to have another look at fishing kits to explore what items one should really have on hand, as well as different ways to use that equipment in a survival situation.
Commercial fishing line is far superior to any fishing line we could make by hand in nature. Generally speaking, a half-mile of commercial fishing line weighs only about one-quarter of a pound, can be contained on a spool the size of a human fist, and costs less than a typical fast-food lunch. All things considered, it is simply a must-have item for fishing kits. Fishing line is available in many different tensile (aka “test”) strengths and styles. For example, a hooked quarter-pound pan fish tugging on a small 6-pound test monofilament line will probably not cause it to break, but the line will likely snap if you have hooked a twenty-pound catfish.
Abrasion from jagged rocks and underwater obstructions will also weaken a fishing line, as will fishing in extremely cold water. Having a stronger fishing line than you expect to need is desirable, but smaller fish can become “spooked” by a strong large-diameter fishing line. A fluorocarbon line can overcome this problem as it is nearly invisible in the water, but small-diameter fluorocarbon lines can still break when big fish are hooked. In a survival situation a person would want to catch fish of all sizes so a versatile line is needed.
Defining the best all-purpose survival fishing line is a matter of personal opinion, but I would recommend a braided line which generally has 3-5 times the breaking strength of a monofilament or fluorocarbon line. For example, a braided line having a 50-pound breaking strength can have a line diameter equivalent to a 10-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon line. Even with mild abrasion damage, such a strong braided line would continue to be useful for fishing as opposed to most lightweight monofilament or fluorocarbon fishing line of equal diameter.
Keep in mind the weakest link in the fishing line can be found at the knot which ties the line to the hook, a fact which is especially true for braided lines. However, 95% of the advertised line strength can be retained if the hook is attached using a Clinch knot or Palomar knot. For those having access to really large fish such as salmon or muskellunge a 100-pound test braided line might be desired. Regardless of which tensile strength is right for you, having a few spools of 50- or 100-pound test braided fishing line should be sufficient for a simple survival fishing kit. Such strong line can also be useful in numerous other applications as well, such as building a snare trap and repairing torn fabric.
Fishing hooks can be crafted by hand from wire, wood, or bone with unpredictable results, but off-the-shelf hooks are far superior in strength, sharpness, design, and function. Plenty of straight hooks in small and large sizes as well as medium-sized treble hooks are also must-have items for survival fishing kits. Both modern-day fishing line and hooks are so useful, effective, dependable, and affordable it makes little sense to be without or to make your own.
From a minimalist perspective strong fishing line and hooks are the two primary items in our fishing kit and they would be content just having that. However, we can improve our kit without adding much bulk by including the following:
- Multi-tool containing pliers and a single-edge knife blade (for hook removal, scaling/cleaning fish, and crafting artificial lures)
- A spool of nylon gardening cord (used to retain fish after catching them as well as material for crafting artificial lures and nets)
- Container with lid (such as a small tin or margarine tub, used to contain the miscellaneous hardware noted below, also useful to hold live bait when needed)
- Many large and small paper clips, safety pins, rubber bands; as well as a few strong finishing nails (miscellaneous useful hardware)
- A fanny pack or soft media case which is typically used to store 8-12 audio cassette tapes, either of which will be useful in storing the entire fishing kit
Of course, a telescoping fishing rod and a reel can be useful too, but they are bulky and can break fairly easily. A minimalist would prefer to wrap 20’ of line around a small hand-held stick (or dowel rod) so the line can be retrieved by hand in the same way as when flying a kite. Cane poles having 20’ of line can also be crafted from saplings and sticks using safety pins as fishing line guides. Adding a small assortment of plastic baits, spinning lures, and other supplies can be helpful in moderation; but don’t go overboard as the kit should be as compact as possible.
There are many ways to catch fish using hooks and line, one of which involves live bait. Almost anything can be used as bait: worms, crickets, various bugs of all types, as well as pieces of raw meat. (Catfish find spoiled raw meat to be especially appealing so retain the entrails of any fish caught for this purpose.) Small fish can be used as bait to catch larger fish. Food such as fruit, bread, and kernels of corn can attract fish. Simply attach the bait to a hook which is tied to a line and cast the baited hook into the water. Don’t expect instant results as several hours might pass before you catch a fish, if at all. Use a short length of nylon cord to retain captured fish by feeding one end of it into the mouth of the fish and working it out through the gills. Allow the captured fish to remain in the water while securing both ends of the nylon cord on the shoreline so the fish do not swim away.
Using baited hooks one can catch pan fish and trout, as well as small bass and catfish. If weight is needed to keep the bait on the bottom of the water then rocks can come in handy for this purpose. Using a separate three-foot strand of nylon cord, repeatedly wrap and tie the rock into a cocoon of sorts which can easily be tied to a baited fishing line. This method is especially useful for catching catfish and walleye. Floats are not usually needed to catch fish, but when necessary they can be fashioned from nearly any piece of buoyant material. The small paper clips and safety pins can help serve as attachment points for weights and floats while the large paper clips can be used to create artificial lures.
There are two main types of artificial lures we can easily craft using common and natural materials. One is a weighted jig we can bounce on the bottom of the lake to imitate the actions of a frog or crawdad. A lure is not live bait, but with some practice we can convince predatory fish that it is alive. Using a large straight hook and a rubber band, tightly bind a pea-sized rock near the eye of the hook. Within the many folds of that same rubber band attach several 2” pieces of nylon cord and fray the ends to create multiple separate strands of loose fiber.
These loose string tips will mimic hair or phalanges and add a bit of realism to our artificial lure when it is in the water. Attach the lure to the fishing line, cast it into the water a fair distance from shore, and allow it to descend to the bottom. Lightly tug on the fishing line every few seconds so the jig rises up from the bottom about 6-12” and then allow it to fall back to the bottom again. Repeat this fairly slow process until you have fully retrieved the lure, then cast it back out into the water and repeat the retrieval process again.
During the retrieval process, keep your eye focused on the fishing line at the point where it touches the surface of the water. If the fishing line appears to be moving quickly in an unexpected direction chances are you have hooked a fish, so tug hard on the line to set the hook. A jig is especially effective in places having lily pads or lots of underwater grass where larger fish (e.g. bass) might be hiding. From my own personal experience using this technique, I have hooked several largemouth bass (12”-19”) in 24 inches of water or less with some hooks being set when the jig was mere inches from the shoreline.
Another type of artificial lure we can craft is a plug which appears to swim in the water rather than bounce on the bottom. Slide a treble hook onto a large paper clip, tightly wrap a rubber band around the paper clip several times so the hook won’t slide off, and fasten the other end of the paper clip to the fishing line. Although small and very simple in appearance, fish can be enticed to believe this lure would make a good snack. Additional bulk material and weight can be added as desired.
Just about anything can serve as a plug, even an old metal bottle cap. In that example, fold the bottle cap in half using pliers (printed side out), use the nail with a “rock as a hammer” to create a hole on each pointed end of the folded cap, affix one end to a treble hook while the other end is tied to the fishing line. This kind of lure works better in streams and rivers as the moving water will help keep the lure in a near-constant swimming motion which can attract fish.
This simple fishing kit can offer numerous other fishing possibilities, especially when combined with objects found in our surroundings. For example, the nylon gardening cord could be loosely tied to a Y-shaped stick to craft a hand-held fishing net. The nylon cord could also be used with several rock weights to craft a casting net. When used with a support structure made of various materials the nylon cord can also be used to build a fish trap similar to a lobster cage (aka “crab pot”). With a little creativity one could even craft spinner-type fishing lures, as well as spoon lures using discarded heavy-duty plastic or metal spoons.
Having so many hooks, strong line, and nylon cord one could also create a trot line having many baited hooks. Bait a dozen hooks, tie them to 12-inch lengths of fishing line, and tie each of those pieces of fishing line to a 15-foot length of nylon cord at one-foot intervals. Secured in the water using a stake at each end, a nylon cord trot line can capture multiple fish even when it is left unattended for several hours.
A decent and useful survival fishing kit need not be large or expensive, but it should be better than one which can fit inside the handle of a survival knife. In the least, acquire a good supply of strong fishing line and hooks as crafting these items by hand would be unnecessarily frustrating and time-consuming in a survival situation.
Do you have a survival fishing kit – please let us know what’s in it in the comments below…