Alternative Fishing Methods

When you are in a survival situation, knowing how to fish can get you a great source of high-energy protein quickly and easily. But let’s say you are in a survival situation and don’t have any fishing gear such as tackle, line, or hooks. What then?

Knowing a few basic techniques for catching fish without gear can be the difference between going hungry and staying alive.

Improvised Gear

It’s important in a survival situation to be resourceful enough to find and improvise traditional fishing gear from anything on your person or what you can scavenge.

Hooks. Hooks can be improvised from a wide range of different items, including nails, safety pins, soda can tabs, and a range of organic materials, such as bones, claws, antlers, shells, and even whittled sticks.

If you have a knife, you’re already ahead of the curve. You can quickly make a gorge hook by sharpening either end of a straight piece of material and notching the middle, where the line will be attached. The gorge hook is hidden inside a piece of soft bait, which, when swallowed, will catch the hook in the fish’s throat.

Lines. Improvised lines can likewise be made from a range of materials.

You can improvise fishing lines from strong threads in clothing and equipment, lengths of wire, and organic materials like braided grass or bark. The line does not have to be particularly long, but it should be strong – you don’t want to make a hook, find bait, and weave a line only to have it snap when you have a fish on the other end of it.

That can waste hours of time if you’re not careful, which is all too precious in a survival situation. Be sure to test the line by tying one end to a sapling and pulling firmly on it several times before you use it.

Lures. Lures can be made from any number of shiny or colorful materials. Feathers, jewelry, and pieces of aluminum all make excellent lures.

Even better is live bait; you can dig for earthworms almost anywhere ground is warm and fertile, and plenty of insects, arthropods and worms should be easily found along the banks of any pond or river.

Setting the Lines

While fishing is a relaxing pastime, in a survival situation you will want to set lines and accomplish other tasks while they do the work for you. You can either set lines by attaching them directly to stakes that you set in the riverbank or by tying them off on thin, springy branches that hang out over the center of the river or pond.

This allows you to set several lines at once and even leave them while you go about with other activities in the near vicinity.

You can create bobby or spring poles cut from saplings or willow branches. Drive the bobby poles deep into the riverbank and at an angle that allows the line and bait to drop down into the river. Make sure you cycle back to the riverbank to check on your bobby poles often.

Spear Fishing

Spear fishing can be another useful way to capture fish, especially if bait or materials for making a line are not readily available.

You can whittle a short branch into a basic spear. Be sure to make the end of the spear barbed by cutting 6-inch ends into the stick. Then weave thread or small rope between the cuts to spread the ends – making the barbs spread out like a fork or rake.

Using a flashlight or torch, you can fish with a spear in the shallows at night. Spear fishing takes patience to learn how to do effectively, but with practice you can become a natural. Spear fishing has the advantage of allowing you to select the largest fish instead of the more random nature of line fishing.

Weir Fishing

Weir fishing is an old and highly effective technique for trapping fish in rivers or tidal flats. The weir is built by driving long stakes into the water to make a V-shaped fence that is open on the downstream end and basically funnels swimming fish into another enclosure (made by driving more stakes into the riverbed).

This kind of trap can also be built with rock walls instead of stakes. When the fish are trapped in the smaller enclosure at the end of the weir, they can easily be caught by hand or speared.


When no supplies are readily available to make improvised fishing gear, spears, or fishing weirs, the remaining option is fishing by hand, popularly called noodling.

You can effectively fish by hand by finding banks that are undercut, hollowed-out logs, or overhanging rocks that suckers and bottom-feeders like catfish like to hide under.

Block the escape entrance so fish can’t get out, and simply move your hand along the side of the fish until you can grab them by the gills or mouth. Noodling, like spear fishing, takes practice, but once the skill is learned, it is not easily lost. Noodling only works in warmer water, but it can be an effective way to get protein when you have no gear on hand.

What Have You Done?

You may not have been in a survival situation, but you’ve probably gone fishing and forgot some type of equipment. What did you do? Comment below to tell us your advice on how to fish without gear!

~ Clayton Krebs

Clayton Krebs is a preparedness consultant and team member of The Ready Store.  He writes informative articles and information for the ReadyBlog, the Ready Store's blog and educational section pertaining to topics of the economy, resiliency, and preparedness issues. 

Full disclosure: Based on our existing relationship with The Ready Store, will receive a small commission as an affiliate for purchases made through the Ready Store. This will not impact the price you pay and the proceeds we received will be immediately invested to fund new features and functionality for this site.

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