Hook, Line and Survival – Learning the Skill of Fishing
Part 1: Getting Started
If you were born of the Baby Boomer generation or earlier, chances are good that you have some familiarity with hunting, fishing or both.
Less so for current generations. In 1980, the percentage of Americans who hunted or fished was as low as 8 percent. It’s projected to be as low as 3% in 2025. A recent U.S fish and Wildlife Service study showed that hunting and fishing did not show up in the top ten reasons millennials go outdoors.
In these volatile times, it’s mind-boggling to me that there isn’t more interest in either. I won’t bother trying to figure out why.
This series will focus on fishing, but both have the same general benefits.
First and most obvious, procuring fish or game is a supreme act of self-reliance. Just like gardening for self-reliance, you put food on your plate without spending money at the supermarket.
Second, in a crisis, all means of getting food will be highly valuable. Your food stores will only last so long. Supplementing with fresh-caught fish or seafood can help stretch your food stores (and make them extra delicious). When you put fishing and hunting together with agriculture after a long-term crisis, you’ve essentially rebuilt the food demands of civilization.
Third, and in my opinion most important, it’s wholesome fun. Some of my fondest memories growing up were centered around fishing. I remember my grandpa and I snuck onto a golf course close to sun down to catch bass from one of the “water hazards” on the fourth hole. We didn’t catch the big one, but it was a special time that felt privileged. Something families had done for thousands of years. To feed each other and have fun.
So how do you get started?
To be as informative as possible in this series, I’m going to assume that everyone reading this has zero to very little experience with fishing.
Our goal is to become proficient enough at fishing so that we can use this skill in a survival situation.
To do that, you need to practice. Yes, preparedness and practice go hand-in-hand, as you may have learned from many of our Survival Scouts. Fortunately, this practice should be fun and relatively inexpensive. The good news is, you don’t have to be a trophy-hunting sports-fisherman to put food on the table.
The first thing you’ll want to do is buy a license and read up on your local and state regulations for waters you can fish. Your state’s department of wildlife or local sporting goods store will have this information. Sporting goods stores also usually sell licenses.
A note on regulations: while practicing, you must follow rules. However, if a major crisis occurs where civilization collapses along with the rule of law and order, you can forget about those regulations. No one else will be following them.
On the other hand, if you’re alone stranded in the woods or it’s a short emergency, following the regulations is still necessary as you could wind up in trouble once you are safe and the dust settles.
Next, you’ll want to start thinking about how you want to fish. We will cover methods, tactics and techniques in further detail in the next article.
Typically, the technique people learn to fish with is a rod and reel. This is also called “angling” because the fishing line makes an angle to the fish from the bent tip of the rod.
There are so many options for fishing with a rod and reel that it would go beyond the scope of an introduction.
My suggestion is that you go to the sporting goods store or outfitter best known for fishing near you and talk to the pro in the store.
Tell them you want to fish the local waters and you want an all-around, versatile set up.
You can also tell them you’re looking for something durable and easy to use. These features will come in handy in a crisis, especially if you have to teach others to fish.
I won’t leave you hanging until next time if you really want to get started right away. Ask your fishing salesman to show you durable, lightweight spinning rods, 6-8 feet long. This is usually the most common rod available. This decision will also come in handy in a crisis if you need to scavenge for supplies. Common lures like jigs, spoons and spinners would be a good place to start. Or just an assortment of hooks for bait.
So, what are we after?
In general, almost any species of fish can be eaten. However, some fish are more desirable than others. Fish designated as “game fish” are generally the tastiest and sizable enough to provide a meal with just a few.
In a crisis, some extra consideration may be necessary. For example, if a nuclear crisis means that fish could be radioactive, it’s generally better to target smaller species of fish. Smaller species tend to be lower on the food chain, so they don’t absorb as many contaminants as the fish who eat them. Or, certain bodies of water may need to be avoided entirely to avoid getting sick from eating fish. We will also cover “fishing troubleshooting in a crisis” in a later article. Stay tuned.
So, here are some of the most popular game fish in America:
Largemouth Bass – Arguably America’s fish, even though they’re found worldwide. These fish are abundant in almost every freshwater fishery. They are not extremely popular to eat – for no good reason. Fish in the 12-18”, 2-3 lb. range tend to be the tastiest.
Crappie – Behind the Largemouth Bass, the Crappie (usually pronounced “croppie”) is one of the tastiest fish I’ve ever eaten. They are short and fat – which is why they’re considered a “pan fish” they look like they fit perfectly in a frying pan.
Catfish – Now this fish can also be found pretty much everywhere around the globe. There are many subspecies, some big, some small. I prefer to eat channel catfish or blues. Many say that catfish have a “muddy” taste because they feed off the bottom. I’ve experienced this a few times, but not often enough to say that they always taste that way. Brining them before cooking helps remove impurities from any fish and should always be done if you have the time and resources.
Trout – Also one of the most sought-after fish on this list. They’re fun to catch – they fight hard and can often be tricky to get them to bite. But they’re also profoundly delicious. Many fancy French recipes were created with trout in mind. There are many subspecies including Rainbows, Browns, Brook trout and cutthroats.
Striped Bass, White Bass and Hybrids – If there were three closely related types of fish you’d want to target in a crisis, I’d pick these. They’re big and tasty. Striped bass can be found in fresh and salt water. White bass and hybrid white and striped bass (also called Wipers) live in lakes and swim up creeks and rivers to spawn. All of them follow this spawning pattern of living in deep reservoirs and laying eggs in shallow streams. A survivalist should do his best to exploit this fact. Spawning runs typically start at the first signs of spring.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. I’ve chosen the ones I know I would try to find in a crisis. I’ve also chosen them for their relative ubiquity across America. Salmon, for example, did not make this list because it can only be found in the Pacific Northwest and Great Lakes. This is why it’s good to talk to your local pros about what you can fish for in your area.
Where and How do I catch these fish?
Finding fishing spots used to be more difficult. Fishermen were known to guard their “secret holes,” telling no one about them. Some even went as far as blindfolding fishing partners as they guided them to the spot.
Now, with social media and technology, there are no secret fishing spots.
If you’ve been taking my advice, I’d also make sure you ask your local fishing pro about where to go.
You can also open up your favorite GPS or maps app (or even an up-to-date paper map – yes, they still exist) and just “look for blue.” Try visiting the accessible blue spots on your map and look for activity, both of fish and people fishing.
Simply using a map is the best way I’ve found to discover places that are not popularly fished. This is good for two reasons. One, the fish are less “pressured,” meaning they haven’t wised up to fishers putting bait or lures in front of them. Two, a less-crowded fishery means that it is less likely to be crowded (and perhaps dangerous) in a crisis. A well-known spot might become a war zone in a crisis as people realize this is a valuable source of food.
Once you’ve found fishable patches of blue, you’ll need to find out where to target the fish. This will depend largely on what method of fishing you are using, so we will save this discussion until our next article on tactics.
But, before we go, I’d like to briefly whet your appetite for the types of fishing you might want to learn for survival scenarios.
We’ve already mentioned rod-and-reel fishing, also known as angling. This is divided into different tactics and kinds of equipment we will cover in detail next time. These types include spin-casting gear, baitcasting gear and fly fishing.
Beyond angling, there are many other types of ways to catch fish. Here’s a quick list:
- Using set lines (trotlines, limblines)
- Spearfishing (using gigs, harpoons, spears and spearguns)
- Bare-handed fishing (interesting, but probably not ideal for survival)
- Ice-fishing (typically rod-and-reel, but different)
Now, I hope you’re finally hooked (pun intended). Next week we’ll begin to reel it all in and talk about gear and tactics.
In this series, we will also cover:
- How to keep, clean and prepare your fish
- Cooking and preservation suggestions, including recipe ideas with our Patriot Pantry foods
- Considerations for fishing during a full-blown crisis
And much, much more. Stay tuned for the next chapter, coming sometime in the next few weeks.
Have a great weekend friends. Stay vigilant and safe out there!
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply