How to Fish and Not Only Survive… But Thrive 

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By Wes Littlefield

Fishing is one of the best ways of getting ample protein in a complete apocalyptic scenario. There’s plenty of water around, but not everyone has the skills necessary to fish for their survival. This means you can have a distinct advantage here if you know what you’re doing.

That said, if you think it’s going to be easy, you have another thing coming. You need to start preparing now. 

Choosing your approach 

When it comes to survival fishing, you have a few different options. 

You can take a more futuristic approach and use rods and reels, but then you have to worry about storage, equipment breakdowns, as well as the cost of maintaining them. 

Or you can do what many other preppers prefer, which is a more primitive method for catching fish

We’ll talk about both. 

Rod and reel 

If you want to start by gathering the gear you need to catch fish, you can start now and add a few things to your stockpile over time. You’ll want a survival fishing pole for starters. These are compact poles that are lightweight but not the most effective for catching fish. 

That said, they’re better than a stick, rope, and hook. 

As for your reel, go with whatever you can afford. In a survival situation, it’s not going to matter what brand your reel is or where you got it from. You just need to make sure it gets the job done. 

Artificial lures or live bait 

Personally, I’d go with the most basic option possible if you’re choosing artificial lures. You need to catch fish, and you need to do so quickly and efficiently. 

If you’re trying to feed an entire family or even just yourself, you’ll need to focus on quantity over quality and then develop ways to make the fish last. 

Just make sure to have lures of different sizes from an inch and a half up to six inches in length. If you’re casting a lure into a small stream and you haven’t eaten in a while, you need to catch something, and the small lure will come in handy. 

Trapping 

If you’re taking a more minimalist approach, you’ve got quite a few options. Trapping or netting is one of the options, and there are a number of different nets you can use. This is a passive form of fishing which is preferred because it allows you to do something else while you’re fishing in most cases. 

When you’re casting a rod and reel, you need to sit by the water and actively fish it if you expect to catch anything. 

Here are some of the options you have for trapping: 

Gill nets – gill net is a nylon net made of monofilament with openings large enough for the fish to swim through until they reach the gills. Hence the name, gill nets.

This is a great passive fishing strategy because you can come back and check the nets when you’re done doing something else. It’s important to have methods like this when providing food for more than one person. 

Drift nets – A drift net works in a similar way but requires you to have a vessel to pull the net. 

While the net is moving through the water, it’ll grab everything that passes through it. If you’re planning to use a method like this, you’ll want to bug out near a popular river or stream system. Keep in mind that this type of fishing does have repercussions on the environment, but that may not matter as much in a post-apocalyptic society. 

Trotlines – Trotlines are great because they’re one of the most primitive and passive options for survival fishing. You attach a mainline on both sides of the river or pond and then hang secondary lines down into the water with bait on them. 

The secondary lines get weights, so they rest near the bottom of the water, and the baited hooks will stay in place until you return to see if you caught anything. 

(Placed in a survival situation by an EMP? Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide to what to eat when the lights go out.)

Finding the right water 

If you’ve got a few strategies in mind and you know where you plan to bug out when SHTF, then you need to plan your fishing hole based on a few characteristics. 

● Cover

● Changes in water

● Structure

These three things are the most important factors because this is how you can tell where fish hang out. Structure can be anything they hide under or around, including low-hanging trees, vegetation, and lily pads. 

Changes in water refer to areas where water is fed by another body of water. This brings oxygen into the water, which results in a more energetic fish. They tend to hang around these areas because the river or stream leading into a lake also brings microorganisms for them to eat. 

Killing and cleaning your catch 

As people of the land, we need to respect our catch, and this goes double for situations where we rely on it for our survival. Kill the fish in the most humane way possible by doing so quickly and effectively. Here is a simple and primitive method if you don’t have any other way: 

● Find something blunt like a rock. Make sure there are very few sharp edges

● Put the fish on a hard flat surface

● Use one hand to secure it in place

● Use the blunt object to strike it right above the eye with ample force

● This will stun the fish but not kill it, be sure to repeat this a few times

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How to store fish long term

Ideally, you keep fish alive until you’re ready to cook. But that’s easier said than done in many survival scenarios — especially in situations where you have caught a lot via passive fishing and feel like you shouldn’t waste/release any of them.

There are five main methods: 

● Freezing 

● Canning 

● Smoking

● Salting

● Pickling 

Learn more about food preservation basics and the pros/cons between methods. 

Pickling is a lot like canning because it follows many of the same principles. The airtight containment and acidity in the vinegar help break down and preserve the meat. This is a great way to keep fish safe to eat for a long time without requiring refrigeration. 

Smoking is the ultimate choice in the wild in terms of flavor and food quality, but it won’t last as long as some other methods. It’s also incredibly simple and doesn’t require any specific tools or equipment.

Salting works similar to smoking by putting the fish directly into the fire. Instead, you cover the fish with salt and wrap it up. You’ll then bury it under the fire.

Final thoughts 

Survival fishing is a great way to acquire protein in the event of a supply chain or power grid failure. Learning to rely on the land around us is one essential piece of the puzzle when the SHTF, and starting now is the only way to ensure your survival. Good luck! 

What about you?

Do you have any of your favorite survival fishing tips to add? What secrets work best for you? Share your advice and thoughts in the comments.

About Wes

Wes is a full-time freelance writer who loves spending time outdoors.

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  • One thing about fishing After SHTF, is that most lakes are stocked with game fish by your local fish and game dept.
    This means several things.
    1) There will be a lot less fish to start with.
    2)There will be a lot more people trying to fish for food.
    3) The remaining fish will thus be smarter and harder to catch.
    4) Your favorite game fish may no longer be found in some areas. But you may probably still see catfish and carp as both are quite hardy and thrive even in pretty poor water conditions.

    So you might need to change your plans on how and what you fish for. Besides that during SHTF, few people will have the time to spare to attempt rod and reel fishing.
    Survival fishing requires quick, plentiful results, that can be consistently repeated. Plus if you are distracted by fishing, then you are not taking security measures seriously. So what you catch, could just as easily end up filling someone else’s belly instead of yours!

  • All good ideas. I went on a “survivalist” trip for four days in the Alabama woods with a friend when we were teens. After not catching anything the first day I tried spearfishing. I could see these little brim around the edges of a lake. I found a sapling about five feet long and sharpened the end, leaving back cuts along the tip and shaft. I sat by the edge and remained motionless. In only about five minutes, a big frog surfaced and almost without thought or aim, instinctual, I speared him. Grilled frog legs for supper! Patience and motionless are the key.

    Honestly I can barely remember it now and I think we got tired of it and went home. Lol. But I’ve bragged about it for years.

  • I have already heard several stories of two hunters claiming the same dear. That will happen a lot more when people decide to depend on hunting out of necessity. Such situations might not end amicably. The same will go for fishing. Gill nets are illegal in some areas and other fisherman might get upset if they think you are taking more than your share. You might need more than a knife to cut bait. You might need a firearm for defense. Hoping that everyone else dies off before you get hungry is not a good plan.

    • “might get upset if they think you are taking more than your share”

      (nod) indians would fight genocidal wars over who would own productive hunting grounds. see the same thing happen again after grid down and communities revert to a similar lifestyle. successful communities will have to implement draconian game laws and enforce them aggressively, militarily if necessary.

    • David Homer,
      Depends on which theory you subscribe to.
      Read more than a few reports (DoD, EMP Commission) of estimates of 80-90% mass die off in the first 6 months to a year if the grid were to go down.
      Ted Koppel’s Light Out is another good read on the subject concerning a cyber attack on the grid.

      A lot also depends on the time of year. Late fall, early winter, grid down, there are a number of those who will not make it. Come spring, a sizeable number of the population could be gone. By then winter wheat would be ready for harvest. No one there to harvest or just let it go as there is no market (or fuel, we are seeing that now here in the US), a lot of wild life could eat and breed well.

      We see turkeys out here in harvested, snow covered corn fields still picking up corn that fell from the combines. They do well even in our harsh winters. Last year was a good year for grouse.
      This year, I could of had turtle soup at least 4 times . . . maybe 3, the one was a bit on the small side.

      We already have in mind a wildlife management program (developed over beer and grill outs after target shooting with the neighbors) as we know full well over hunting will lead to things like firefights between neighbors. We need community, not infighting.
      Same goes for breeding programs for small, medium and large livestock.
      Water management. Daisy wrote an article about Puerto Rico in the aftermath of hurricane Maria. Some idiots crapped in the river. Downriver people who were using the same river for potable water got sick. Never fails, there is always those who are ignorant of sanitation who will poison the water supply. That will kill more than any from a bullet, starvation, or exposure to the elements.

      • Sanitation indeed! It’s the biggest problem in most Third World countries, and post-disaster. The lack killed more people in the Civil War than bullets. Cleanliness is very important and sadly, common sense isn’t all that common.

      • I have seen lots of deer, and the last trip lots of Turkeys in Michigan but I don’t see that here in OK. I just see stray dogs killing my chickens.

  • Fishing is like hunting.
    Can be out there for 8 hours and not get so much as a nibble.
    Or in hunting, not see a deer. I have seen more deer off my back deck than in a deer stand.

    I like the passive, trout line idea.

    But I also think planning on survival based off chance may not be so much a good plan.

  • Wes, I am pretty interested in you expanding this statement please:

    “Salting works similar to smoking by putting the fish directly into the fire. Instead, you cover the fish with salt and wrap it up. You’ll then bury it under the fire.”

    Why bury under the fire? If your wet wrapping a fish to cook it why salt it for storage?

    When I was visiting Jefferson’s Monticello, I noticed a shallow depression near the entry to the slave quarters. I asked the guide and found that Jefferson was fond of fresh fish, yet his house is high on a hill from the river.

    Seems he would have folks catch fish, keep them in water filled pots and transfer them to this shallow fish holding pond. Someone would stir the water with an oar to keep them from dying from lack of oxygen.

    Same sort of thing could be used to seed a larger pond for your own fishing.

  • My favorite lure for year-round fishing is a “fly” that looks like a mouse. The big box sporting goods stores have them, and your local fishing supply place as well as on line. Trout in Colorado will hit them year round (voice of experience). The particular stage of whatever insect development approach to fishing is nice exercise, but you need something that works. Mice fall into the water and drown year round. the fish know this. Now you do too. 🙂

    • The particular lures that work vary quite a bit by region and target fish. That’s why I prefer live (or recently deceased) bait. It tends to work more universally, at least for me.

      But if you like lures, (or even if you don’t) I recommdnd learning to fish in your own area, so you learn what works where you live.

  • Bury it under the fire… why? You clean the fish, then salt it, then store it, then soak the salt out (and rehydrate the meat) then cook it. Burying it under the fire would make it a salty cooked fish, would you then re-cook it when you want to eat it? Doesn’t make sense. Should have included a link to an article that actually explains how to salt fish.

    Casting rod and reel is easiest to learn, then open face reel, then baitcaster.

    Fiberglass rod is less sensitive than carbon fiber but much more durable.

    Trotlines do not usually span an entire body of water unless you have a boat. Sans boat, the line has a float (milk jug, laundry soap jug) at one end, and a weight. The jug is tied to the line on its own section of string so the main line can slide through it. You need a stop at some point, so the float doesn’t go all the way back to your first line with a hook. Then you have some lines with hooks, they have to be tied on and of a length that they cannot cross and get tangled. Then you tie the line on the shore side to a bike innertube in case you catch something big it has some give. Tie the inner tube (just loop it around) a small tree, root, stake, whatever. Lay out your assembled trotline in big fat S shaped loops (faking) then grab the line a bit behind the weight, and give it an easy lob. If the weight reaches the end of the line, it will shock the trotline and all your baits will go flying into space and make you curse. If your after catfish, use treble hooks and a thick stinkbait. Or, catch small bluegill and back hook them with a single large hook. The hook should go through one side and out the other, just below the spine. The bluegill should live. He will swim around a while, deliciously.

    Bass are the easiest to catch. Here’s where you want to fish near cover (practice some casts with a sinker tied on your line, so you learn when to release the button/line depending on your reel). You’ll figure it out quick after you smack yourself a couple times (late release) or fling it into bushes/fences/the ground at your feet (early release).Any old mepps spinner will do, as long as it’s not some tiny thing with hooks you can bend easily. They might swallow the whole thing, but who cares? Cut them open to get the lure your eating them anyway.

    Don’t mess with any line under 10 pounds test, and better yet get a good spider line or other braid, in about a 30 lb test. Catch anything you want.

    Have some 5 minute epoxy and some spare tips, it’s ring size/tip size, so 7-5 would be 7 mm ring, 5 mm rod tip. You need a few depending on where you slam the car door on your rod. If the existing tip was a 7-5, I would want a 7-6, 7-7, so on.

    They say use rubber cement to attach the tip. They lie. Use epoxy. Lay the rod down so you can sight through the other rings to line up the new tip. You will need to hold it in place a minute. Thats life.

    Sheesh I could go on.

    • Also, the jug can be tied on the trotline end, and the weight can slide. This will keep your baited hook lines right at the bottom. The other way, your lines will drift sort of mid water column. And boats will hit them and people will begin to hate you.

      Either way, it takes some fussing around to figure out how deep the water is so everything is set just right. Don’t expect it to be perfect first try. If your jug is tied with a sliding weight, and you huck it out there in a river, it’s gonna drift downstream a bit and move more parallel to shore. Might take a few tries.

      Its worth it though. You can fill a freezer quick running a few trotlines with 10 hooks on them. They cover a ton of water.

      It’s been years since I ran trotlines. Now I’m tempted.

  • You need to also consider, depending on how bad it gets, pollution.
    If you are in a pond or a lake you might be in trouble. If you are fishing in the ocean or somewhere tidal, it might be a little better.

    Long Pork anyone? Tastes Yummy and cleans up the neighborhood !

  • Also, all of you dithering on about, well I like XX bait, well MY favorite (insert box lure here). All these are going away fast. Do you have 50 of them stockpiled up? Or do you think you’ll be able to keep going by the bait store and just picking up 2 more Double A Blue Bombers for tonights trip?

    Have you ever tied a piece of cloth to a jig and just tugged it along to see what you can catch? Might want to play around like this, get used to it, see if it works , or more importantly HOW to make it work. This might be all you have and all your fancy baits and lures and jig heads and twiddly doo’s are nothing but a distant memory.

    Oh and, when everyone else has a tree branch with a piece of string on it on the beach and you come hippity hopping along with your 500 dollar reel, how long do you think that is going to last, or do you know a secret spot that absolutely nobody ever fished ever before ever so you can fish incognito?

    A A Ron

  • Have had great luck trotlining for catfish in rivers, or where rivers dump into lakes. I’ve always used baby crayfish, tearing them in half so the gravy washes out into the water downstream. A large crayfish is formidable, and catfish seem to grab, crush and drop them in order to kill them first. You end up losing most of your bait. Tiny half-crayfish are simply inhaled, and the fish is hooked deep. Chumming–legal where I live has helped considerably–I punch a series of holes in both ends of a can of meaty dogfood, and drop into the water 15-20 yards upstream from my trotline. Large hooks–like those on commercially made trotlines, will end up catching large catfish. They’re easily filleted by (after humanely cutting the spinal cord just below the head) slicing the back along the spine. You can easily cut the meat away from the ribs, resulting in thick catfish steaks. No need to skin them if cooked on a grill or over coals, place them over the fire skin-side down. The fat (common under the skin of large (3-4′ long fish) is unappetizing, but will be rendered out as the fish cooks. When the skin is black, and the meat is dry and flaky, it’s done. The skin practically falls off of the meat and you have a meal fit for a king. Some folks turn up their noses at catfish, calling them scavengers–and they ARE scavengers. So are ALL game fish. The reason trout are easily caught on salmon eggs, is because whenever they find trout eggs floating downstream that pounce on them. Such unprotected eggs are always diseased and that’s why mom isn’t protecting them. I watched a huge white bass shaking a catfish underwater that was so rotten, it was coming apart in the water. Any game fish you have ever eaten has grown up eating lots of other dead critters. Don’t worry about it.

    • Most people fail to realize, or just refuse to acknowledge that all their favorite fishes are #$%% eaters. Just about any fish is an opportunistic eater and will eat all kinds of unsavory stuff. Thing to remember is, the poo they eat is NOT going directly into to being their flesh. YOU are full of crap, so am I, and every animal alive is full of crap, it’s called the digestive process. So why do people cringe and go bonkers just because one ate some when they all have it in them anyways.

      Cook them thoroughly and properly and you will have no problems.

  • Salting is a great way to preserve fish. Down here in South America in my area it lasts much time. Meals prepared with it are tasty and sought after.

  • Try hanging a dead possum over the river. Is will become fly blown. Then the fish will gather under it to catch the larvae. I’ve a 30-foot net to catch them but I release those I don’t need straight away!

  • This article reminded me to go down to the hatchery and pick up my brown trout fry. Ordered them two months ago and I’m excited to get them to the pond.

  • And the Writer does not know how to spell Troutline. Not sure what a trotline is? Maybe he trying to catch a horse trotting. A fishing license is another Commie scam. Some government agency does not own the wildlife nor the fish. In FL you can legally open carry while Fishing. I’m taping a fishing pole onto my AR.

  • I like trot lines and crawdad cages. We caught 49 crawdads in 3 bours with catfish guts last week on a camping trip. Made a meal for 5 people with wild veggies and onions i gathered and a pot of white rice. Seasoned the boiling water for the crawdads with Cajun seasoning. Had home canned butter to go with. We Te the first cat fish for breakfast for three of us. Used a lot of wild onions with a wonderful garlicky flavor while we were there. Caught more crawdads everyday. Cooked for 3 people at 2 meals and a fourth joined us every evening for dinner. Forraged so much we brought home 3/4 of the food I packed for the 5 days.
    Cactus pads, wild onions, juniper with lots of berries, dandelion, young succulents, more green leaves, and grape leaves. The first wild grapes were just turning color. Not bad with sugar and lemon zest made into fried pies, in flour tortillas sealed with water. I made dumplings in soup and beer bread with dinner one night. Stir fry on white rice included crawdads, cat fish, wild onions and more. Made a boiled fish head and onion sauce.

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