Imagine you have left the city in a hurry for a bug out location, or if you don’t have a safe spot to bug out, you are continually on the move. You have your bug out bag with you containing the usual survival stuff we all know to include, but imagine after a few days that you come across a stream filled with fish.
It can be very frustrating watching them swim so close to you, and realising you don’t have the ‘right’ equipment to catch them. Let’s be honest, a rod and reel are probably not in your bug out bag when you flee in an emergency, and they are also a little awkward to carry.
Of course you may have a tiny emergency kit with you containing a few hooks and some line, but if you don’t think this is enough, then read on to learn about the tackle that could help land a meal for your family.
Children who have the patience for fishing could easily do their bit in providing fish for the family, as fishing certainly appeals to most kids far more than planting veggies, cleaning or cooking.
Adapt your fishing kit to the type of fish you expect to find in the area you may be bugging out in, or travelling through. In the process of writing this article one piece of advice from my husband, who is an avid, maybe obsessive, fisherman, was to know the fish and the size hook they will take on.
His advice: don’t go too big on the hooks, because you won’t catch the smaller fish. Instead, use smaller hooks, so you at least have something for supper.
Personally, I’ve used a rock to break shellfish off a rock at the ocean to bait a hook, attached to a hand line, to catch a small fish, then cut that up to catch a bigger one, then repeated, until the kids and I had something pan size, all on the same hook.
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You can go the primitive route, and make your very own cordage from sisal or other plants, but, in an emergency, you really want to catch fish to eat as soon as possible, so taking along a quality line is important. I like this Sinking Speckle fishing line – the line camouflages well and sinks to help get your bait down where it needs to be faster.
When you tie most line it ‘remembers’ the knot and it’s impossible to unkink – this Sinking Speckle line has a low memory, so it smooths out pretty well again, and being made of 12 strands of polyethylene, it’s highly abrasion resistant.
We’ve all had that sinking feeling as you reel in a fish, and it goes under a rock or snags on something and ‘twang’ there goes the line, and the fish, and your hook and your swivel.
The loss is fine for sport fishing, but when catching the fish makes the difference between going to bed hungry or grilling the catch over a fire, abrasion resistance becomes very important.
Choose a line with a decent breaking strain – remember this is not sport fishing where you can brag you landed an 8 pounder on 6 lbs. line – the stronger the line, the less chance you have of your dinner getting away.
Floats and Weights
You may need a few floats like the weighted snap-on type, or you can use a hollow piece of reed, a small piece of wood, or anything that will alert you to a fish nibbling at your bait.
A float isn’t absolutely necessary if you are paying attention and have the line in your hand so you can feel the fish bite. To get your bait to the bottom you will need weights or sinkers, but they do add extra weight to your backpack.
Watch this video to see how to make your own weight from a stone – it’s really simple. You notch out the sides of a fairly flat pebble and tie your line around it:
Use a swivel to attach to your line, then the hook, and you’ll never have to worry about carrying weights with you again, which should lighten up your backpack because in survival every ounce counts!
The technique of using stones for weights was used by the First Americans who moved camps according to the seasons.
The choice of swivel is personal – you may have one you have always used, but these ball bearing snap swivels are useful in that they have a solid ring that won’t cause abrasion – in survival situations fishing line is precious and you want it to last as long as possible.
The ball bearing swivel allows for turning, so the line twist problem is avoided, and the action of the bait / lure is more natural.
Take along a couple of these in case you cannot find any real grubs to attach to your hook. The design of the 1 ½ inch pumpkin grub has been tried and tested for nearly fifty years, and works well in getting you that bite.
If you are into fly fishing, by all means take along the flies you know work, as well as the correct line. If you’’ve never done fly fishing, then a survival situation is not the place to learn.
You want fish on the grill fast, so rather go for easier methods. Successful fly fishing takes plenty of practice, and you’ll need waders so you don’t freeze – hardly compact items for survival on the run.
Survival Fishing Containers
For emergencies you want the maximum amount of useful stuff stored in the smallest amount of space. For survival those tackle boxes like the one pictured below for normal fishing trips, are not the best choice.
There are a number of reasons for this. The compartments are usually only a quarter to half full, the plastic tends to degrade and split / break if handled roughly – and it will get some rough handling if you are on the run.
Most importantly, they take up far too much space – even the dinky little ones. Instead, you could use small, 2 x 3 inch heavy duty zipper bags.
You can put hooks in one, swivels in another, and roll your line up in yet another – they pack flat and take up very little space. Wrap hooks in a piece of paper towel – it’s always useful after fishing for wiping hands, or for repacking your hooks. No one wants to risk a fishhook in the finger to add to the dramas of an emergency situation.
If you want, you can use a small steel case to keep your fishing gear intact, but I find these difficult to open if your hands are cold. My personal preference is to re-purpose a plastic circular screw top container.
I like circular because it doesn’t have edges to get damaged as easily as rectangular containers – also you can choose your size from something really small, like a pill bottle to a larger one – depending on how much fishing tackle you want to get into your emergency kit. I shove the Ziploc bags in there and have everything handy in one small lightweight and robust container.
Making Your Own Fishing Pole
If you want to go old-school then make sure you have hooks and line and simply tie your line onto a fishing rod made from a springy pole – the simple way is sometimes the easiest – the poles can always be replaced as you move from area to area.
Learn how to make a fishing pole from a sapling here:
You may be in an area where the fish feed at night, and if its unsafe or inconvenient to spend the night fishing, setting trotlines makes sense. You also have far more chance of catching something if you have 6 to 10 hooks out on a trotline.
The principle of a trotline is simple: stretch a cord/line across the stream fastened to a tree at either side with lines dropping down vertically from it attached to baited hooks that dangle in the water. Basically, the fish catch themselves.
The downside with this is having to wade across a cold stream to fasten your line and take it down. As this video explains, you’ll need to know the feeding habits of the fish you hope to catch and set up your lines accordingly.
Ready-made Survival Fishing Kits
If survival fishing, or just fishing in general is something fairly new then all the choices may be a bit overwhelming when you walk into a fishing shop or are shopping online. Survival fishing kits mean someone else has done the homework and tested what works before putting it all together into a nifty kit.
When you buy something ready-made it will have everything you need in it, so it won’t be a case of, “ Where are the swivels?” or “Oh, we forgot the line – it was in the main fishing kit.”
Caster System (Fits in a Backpack)
Ka-Bar make a hand line caster system from a quality durable plastic that floats. The handle is hollow and screws off so you can fit in your hooks, a small lure or two and some extra line.
The system works well, but you just have to be a bit more careful that the line doesn’t break when bringing in a fish, compared to using a fishing rod. It slips easily into a bug out bag or backpack, without taking up much room, or adding too much weight – it only weighs 0.42 lbs.
To use the caster you need to attach a spin swivel to your line, choose your lure, or attach a hook and bait it.
Unwind between 12 to 16 inches of the fishing line from the caster, then keeping your thumb gently on the line that’s wound around the caster, cast the Ka-Bar backpacker caster in a forward motion, while simultaneously taking your thumb off the line to allow it to play out.
Once you have a bite, retrieve by rewinding the line back onto the spool by hand. If you don’t get a bite, try altering the position where your lure or bait is landing, and adjust until you are on the fish.
Watch this field test to see how it works:
With this kind of light system you aren’t going to be hooking monsters – the Ka-Bar Backpack caster holds 100 yards of 8lb of .011″ diameter or 90 yards of 10lb .012″ diameter line.
The line is not provided with the caster – I guess it’s up to the user to choose the type of line. Always carry a spare 100 yards of line in case you should lose some.
What’s convenient about the above system is that the hooks can fit inside the handle in a little pouch so you have everything with you.
You’ll need some small bait hooks and a few larger ones suited to the size fish you are planning on catching. Go for stainless steel hooks that won’t rust in a hurry as the kit may be stored for a while before being used in SHTF situations.
Multi-tool Card for Fishing
Alternatively you can take along this survival multitool card, that has some hooks among other useful little tools. It takes up the space of a credit card – 3 inches by 2 inches – and even has a trident tool as well as arrow heads and a couple of needles. You would still need to take along your line and swivels.
If you don’t want to wait for the fish to come to you, but would rather stalk your prey then spear fishing may be the way to go. Across various continent, from South America to Asia, indigenous people still use spears for fishing, and with practice even kids can spear their fish for supper.
Perhaps you won’t have the time to make your own spear head, and will rely on a ready-made tactical gig set that consists of two twin spear heads and a three pronged one.
They can be fastened to a suitable stick you find near to your fishing spot, to enable you to spear a fish for supper – the set also comes with a length of paracord. They are easy to carry, finished in black, and reusable as they are stainless.
Put these to use rather than trying to create your own fishing spear from scratch. Not only can be these gigs be used for fishing but also for frogs – if you’re into eating swamp chicken.
This video shows how catfish are speared. The spear head has many prongs which would not be easy to pack, but you can pack a flat design two or three prong spear head instead.
Catching fish takes patience and practice. While you have the time, familiarize yourself with fishing spots around the areas that would make a suitable place to bug out to in an emergency, or places you may have to pass through on your way to a safe haven.
You may find that what you planned to use doesn’t work so well in the water, and will need to refine your own emergency fishing kit to include only the most efficient and lightweight items available.
The emergency kit needs to be carefully considered, and not just a few items shoved into a pack; it may make all the difference between suffering from hunger or eating well.