Survival Fishing: Catching Fish When in An Emergency

Survival fishing guide
Written by Neal Walker

Fishing is an exciting sport and an occupation. For someone who is in desperate need of food and nutrition, it becomes an essential part of survival. Survival Fishing as the name suggests is fishing to live. Most of us do not consider fishing as an option when we are stuck in an emergency situation and are in need of food.

We often see fishing as just a sport or a recreational activity and also think that it is impossible without the right gear. Today we will show you a few simple techniques and some ways you could prepare so that you are ready to find and catch fish in order to nourish yourself when in need.

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Imagine you are stranded in the wild, somewhere far away from civilization. In this situation, the first thing you would do is find a place to settle down and keep warm. Once you have secured that, the next thing you need would be food and water. You definitely would not stay for long without feeling hungry or thirsty. Soon your food supplies would be exhausted too.

See also: Best Handheld GPS for Fishing: Never Let You Miss Out on A Great Catch

The best way to survive when you run out of food supplies in the wilderness is to catch fish. They can serve as good meals throughout the day and are quite nutritious. You can even survive on fish alone, which is why we have compiled a few techniques of survival by fishing. After we finish, you will find that it’s not that hard after all to make yourself a good meal even with the least materials.

Survival fishing

So read on to find out how you could depend on fishing to keep you from starving till you are able to find other sources of food.

Some Points to Note

First of all, here’s a list of things you need to keep in mind so that you are well aware of where to start and how. Once you know where to find fish and what methods to use, you have won half the battle.

  • Fish can see and hear what happens above the water, so the idea is to camouflage yourself so that you don’t scare them away. So you should move quite less and you must not carry equipment that reflect the sunlight into the water
  • It’s easier to fish when it’s breezy because the water keeps moving and the fish may not see you clearly then
  • Fish usually move against the wind so it’s better to drop your baits that way too. So your baits would be in front of the fish and not behind them
  • The weather conditions affect the way that fish feed so it’s better to understand them and have a look at how your weather would be on the day. It’s god to catch fish on cloudy days and when there is light rain. When it rains heavily, the fish may not be able to see your bait so it could be a bad time.

Now let’s go ahead and look at the different survival fishing techniques:

Keep Fishing Supplies Handy

The most basic thing is to carry some fishing gear even if you think you’re not going to use them. You could also keep an emergency fishing kit in your vehicle at all times. You never know when they would come in handy.

Fishing Supplies

Bring a few fishing hooks and a lightweight fishing line when you go on an adventure. If you’re able to carry a few varieties of hooks you’d increase your chances of catching fish because you’d be well equipped to fish from a stream, a lake or any such water bodies.

You may also want to consider carrying some baits. Carrying a few live ones and a few plastic ones would be a good idea. This way you’ll have baits for different kinds of fish.

Build A Survival Fishing Kit

This is quite similar to what we discussed just now. A survival fishing kit would include all the basic gear and tools you’ll need when need to sustain yourself in an emergency. You are able to buy the whole kit in the market or you can organise on yourself.

Even though you can purchase your survival fishing gear online, the equipment that each person wants in his kit would most likely be different. What one person thinks as essential may not be a priority for another.

We are now listing a few basic items that everyone must have in their survival fishing kits.

  • A fishing line and hooks are the most important elements of your kit. You may want to include a braided fishing line as it would not break that easily. This sort of fishing line is essential because you’re mainly looking for an all-purpose one
  • A plier and a knife should be kept handy for any sort of cutting and crafting you may need to do. You will also need to cut and clean the fish when it’s time to cook
  • A spool of nylon thread which could be used for binding things together
  • Some rubber bands and safety pins that may again be useful when binding or joining things together
  • Metal cups or other heat resistant containers which could be used for cooking and to store food

You can, of course, add more items to as per your preference, but it would be better if you do not carry much weight as it may just seem like a burden most of the time.

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Building a survival fishing kit is the best way to prepare for any sort of emergency wherein you are not able to get to civilisation for a while and are running out of supplies. If you think such a kit would be too much, then you could just bring some emergency fishing gear as we mentioned above.

Either way, if you carry any sort of equipment that would help you fish, it would definitely prove useful when you really need it. To make sure you have all that you need, see our tips on how to build an efficient survival fishing kit for your use.


If you don’t have your fishing gear or your survival kit, you will need to make your own using the available items. You can make hooks using pins, needles or wires and fishing poles can be made of wooden sticks and any sort of wire you could use in place of lines. That’s just one method. Several other techniques can be found with a little research and understanding.

Improvise yourself

Let’s take a look at a few ways to catch fish when you do not carry any fishing equipment along. In other words, let’s look at some ways to improvise on the minimal tools you would carry with you.

Fish Poisoning

Natural poisons that may be available outdoors can be used in shallow areas of water bodies in order to catch a large amount of fish. Crushed lime from burnt seashells and green husks from black walnuts can be thrown into the water to act as poisons.

Tephrosia, Duboisia and other similar plants can also be used as a poison. It’s best to do some research on these too beforehand. It would also be good to know how they look so that you are able to identify them in the wild.

Spear Fishing

Young trees have tender trunks so you could cut them straight and sharpen one end to use as a spear. You can attach a knife or use a sharp bone too. When there are lots of large fish, this method can be very effective. The material you require is also usually available in your surroundings.

Spear Fishing

It is advisable to be careful when using knives as these might be useful survival tools and you may not want to lose them. It’s best to look for other alternatives before going ahead and using your knives or other essential tools.

Making Traps

Large schools of fish can be caught using fish traps that can be made by tying sticks together using vines. Traps in the shape of baskets can be a good option. The fish would swim in through the open end of the basket and then you could pick it up trapping them inside.

This is a useful method when you’re trying to catch saltwater fish. They would often be pushed to the shore by high tides and you could catch them using these traps near those areas.

Making Fish Walls

You can build a dam with wood and any material you can find that can be used as obstructions to stop or slow the flow of water in a river.  If you build it a little away from a bend, the fish would most likely not notice that the water flow has slowed down.

When they are stopped by the dam you could use spears and other tools to catch them. You can also use another method called chop fishing at this time. Chop fishing is when you strike fish using the back side of knives or other weapons.

Making Fish Walls

So those are a few effective ways you could survive in the wild by catching fish for food. You could be prepared with essential gear or improvise on the tools you would have to make emergency fishing gear. Now let’s look at some ways to cook your fish ones you’ve caught them:

  • You can pierce a stick through the fish and roast it over a fire
  • You can use clay to cover the fish and then cook it till the clay breaks off
  • You can chop the fish into small pieces and boil it in a soup or any stock you may have. The whole mix can be boiled quickly using hot rocks
  • You can use leaves to cover fish and then cook them underground
  • You can also preserve some fish for when they may be scarce by sun drying them
  • In addition, when you cut a slit through the fish, you could save anything you would not eat (the guts) to use as baits for later

The Best Way to Prepare

In order to handle any situation, the best thing is to be as prepared as you can. Like we said, when you’re going on a trip or adventure, also think about what you would do if you were lost or stranded with no help nearby.

Being prepared for such unexpected and unfortunate events would definitely prove beneficial in case such circumstances actually occur. So first we’ll look at how you can plan how to handle emergency situations before you go out on your adventure:

Pack Wisely

You must take care not to pack too much stuff on your trip. You should be able to carry your gear everywhere you go. In an emergency, you would not want to leave your luggage behind because it’s heavy.

Pack Wisely

Again try not to carry bulky and heavy fishing gear. You should make sure you carry all-purpose equipment so that you are able to catch any kind of fish in any source of water. You can check the list of equipment we discussed earlier so that you have an idea about the most important ones.

Like we mentioned, you would not want to see any of your items as a burden when the need comes for you to fend for yourself in the wilderness.

Bring as Much as You Can

We know we just said pack light and carry only what you need. At the same time, you must carry everything that you feel is essential for the trip. Especially when it comes to your fishing gear. This could be your only source of survival.

You must check to see if all the essential elements of your fishing gear have been packed. If you miss something important, the equipment you have may become useless altogether. Also take as many different fishing tools (baits and hooks) as you can without adding much weight to your luggage.

Research on the Place

Before you set out on the trip, try to learn as much as you can about the place you’re visiting. Try to understand how far away you would travel from ccivilizationand whether any natural source of water is available.

If possible you could also try and find the varieties of fish that you are likely to find and also the climatic conditions. This way you would have an idea about the kind of equipment you must carry. You will also understand when you could find more fish and what methods you could use.

Research on the Place

You can also research on the kind of vegetation in the area and varieties of plants. You will be able to find out if you would be able to make alternative fishing gear if the need arises.

This precaution will also help you take quick decisions which would make survival easier. If you don’t know much about the place, you would waste a lot of time, trying to figure out what to look for and where.

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So those are some ways in which you could prepare before your trip, in order to start fishing so that you can sustain yourself. Now we’ll look at ways to prepare yourself when you are in an emergency so that you can be confident about catching and cooking fish:


Finding fish and catching them are definitely essential for your survival but before you go ahead and start fishing you must make sure you have a safe place to eat sleep and cook. You could also find if there would be a way to preserve food for later.

Once you have got water and shelter, your next priority is food. Only then you should set out to fish. This way you would know where to go once you’re done and you wouldn’t have to carry your catch around while you look for shelter.

Know the Kind of Fish

If you haven’t done your research to find the varieties of fish in the pace you’re visiting, you must first try to find out what you are trying to catch. This way you could know what fishing gear you could use and make alternate tools of required. You also know the kind of baits to use and the methods to adopt.

Know the Kind of Fish

When you don’t know much about the place, the only way to find out what species of fish you’ll need to catch is through observation.

You Can Break Some Rules

When you are trying to survive, breaking the law would not be of much concern because your first priority would be to live. If you are able to justify your actions, you would not have to worry about breaking rules in such situations.

Now those are all the details you need to know about fishing for survival. You could always use a combination of the fishing methods to yield better results. Most of the time, if you are able to have a good understanding of the place you’re visiting, it would definitely improve your preparedness and action when in an emergency.

In short, a little preparation in advance will prove useful when you’re catching fish to feed yourself and survive. For guidelines on how to make  the best custom fishing rods, do read our popular piece on this important topic.


Neal Walker

Neal Walker started fishing when he was 4. His father took him to the fishing trips all over USA and Canada. Later he took Angling Education Program at Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, but most of his knowledge comes from experience. Now he takes his sons with him to share his passion.