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Survival Fishing 101: The Crash Course for Preppers

by Coty Perry

Food, water, and protection are three things we focus most of our energy on as preppers. Survival fishing is a great way to provide yourself with ample protein without having to expend a ton of energy and travel a lot of ground. As compared to hunting, I think fishing is far more sustainable and many times, the two can go hand-in-hand. 

By the end of this crash course, you’ll possess the basic knowledge necessary to get the gear you need and get on the water to start prepping your fishing, trapping, and netting skills. 

Getting Started: The Essentials

I want to start out with the most important information first. If you read nothing else besides this section, you’ll have the basic information necessary to get out there and catch some fish to survive. 

Choosing a Rod and Reel 

There are two approaches you can take when it comes to assembling survival fishing gear. You can go all out or stay minimalistic. Each of these have their own pros and cons. 

If you go all out, you’ll have all the necessary gear to make catching fish easier but it’ll cost more and you’ll have more gear to travel with and protect against hostile people who want to take your stuff. 

If you go minimalistic, you may have a harder time catching fish (maybe not), it won’t cost as much, and you won’t have to worry about traveling with as much gear. 

I recommend, if nothing else, that you purchase a decent survival fishing pole. These are compact poles that are barely a few feet in length and only weigh less than 10 ounces Many of them don’t require a reel or the reel is built right into the assembly. Grab a few of these for everyone in your party and you’ll be glad you did. 

Make sure to get a lightweight monofilament line as well. Something in the 4-8lb test range because it’ll be the right choice for most of the small panfish you’ll end up catching in small ponds and streams. 

Lures or Bait? 

Same deal here, you’ve got two approaches. I think going with the most basic lures possible is the right choice. Get spintail jigs, grubs, and soft plastic worms and craws. These will offer the most versatility so you can fish almost anywhere and catch something. Be sure to have lures of varying sizes from an inch and a half up to six inches in length. If you’re dropping a lure into a small stream at the point of near exhaustion and you absolutely need to catch something, the small lure will come in handy. 

If things are going well and you’re trying to stock up a freezer or can the fish, you can test out the larger lures with the hopes of bringing in something in the 2-3 pound range. 

As for bait, it’s all around you. Don’t get fancy and think you need to find crayfish and salamanders – it’s not necessary. Flip over a few rocks, pull out five or six worms and you’ve got yourself enough to catch a few fish to survive another day. 

Taking a Minimalistic Approach

I’ve met preppers that want nothing to do with all of this and I get it. When you run out of line, you’re screwed. If something happens to your reel, you’re done. I like pairing the two together but some people want to plan for the absolute worst and that’s fine. 

If that’s the case, a more minimalistic survival fishing approach would be the way to go. Here’s how you’ll do it. 

Trapping and Netting 

There are four methods I’m going to discuss here: 

  • Gill nets
  • Drift nets
  • Trotlines
  • Fishing Weirs 

Gill nets – A gill net is simple, it’s a nylon net made of monofilament with openings large enough for the fish to swim through up to the gills. Once they reach that point, their gills get caught in the net and they can’t back out. Hence the term, gill net. These are a great passive fishing method because you can set the net up in the water and let it go for a while and come back. You’ll preserve most of your energy and have time for other activities around your camp. 

Drift nets – A drift net functions in a similar fashion but it requires a vessel to pull it. For a drift net to work, you would need to have a boat and a body of water large enough to drag a net through. As the net moves through the water, it scoops up everything along the way. If you’re planning to bug out near a large river, getting yourself a boat and drift net could supply you with food for the rest of your life. 

Trotlines – I love trotlines and I think they’re a very effective primitive fishing method. You’ll attach a mainline on both sides of the river or pond and hang secondary lines (or snoods) from that main line. You then take a weight and hang it from the main line to keep the secondary lines under the water. At the end of the secondary lines, you’ll rig baited hooks that will stay in position because of the weight. 

Image Credit: Justgofishin.com

Fishing Weir – A weir or kiddle requires a lot of upfront work but this will pay you for a long time if you set it up right. You’re essentially creating an obstruction in a river or body of water that forces the fish into a trap. You’ll set it up with rocks and sticks in a two-tiered heart formation like the photo below. As the fish make their way deeper into the weir, it becomes more difficult for them to escape.

Image Credit: Smithsonian Mag 


If you find yourself in the woods with absolutely no resources don’t panic because you can still catch fish. Noodling or hand fishing is the most basic survival fishing method and it will require you to stand in the water for a long time until the fish no longer realize you’re there. It demands extreme laser focus and great hand-eye coordination. I wouldn’t recommend this unless you practice for years ahead of time. 


Spearfishing is great because it doesn’t require a lot of gear but it has a high rate of success. You can either plan to make your own or purchase a spear. I’m a fan of the trigger-activated spears that allow you to zero in on the target and release a “rubber band” like mechanism that fires the spear at the fish. 

Keep in mind that most spears actually don’t impale the fish, that’s a misconception. Instead, they stun them so you’ll want to have a net to get them out of the water and expect to get wet. 

Bugging Out with Fishing in Mind 

Let’s assume for a second that you have all your fishing gear, methodology, and everything else planned out. If you intend on making fish your primary protein source when the SHTF, you’ll want to coordinate your bug out location or long-term residence around this. 

Here are some things to factor in as you search for the ideal bug out location: 

Body of Water 

So, we know you want to fish – but the body of water you choose to fish from will have a major impact on the methods you can use. For example, if you think trotlines sound like an effective plan, you won’t want to bug out near a 50 acre lake because you can’t set the lines there. 

In that case it would be more effective to find a 25 yard wide river and plan around that. 

If a boat is part of your prep then you’ll have a lot more flexibility and can choose whatever you want. There’s no right or wrong answer but just keep these factors in mind. 

The Health of the Water 

This is something that anyone who isn’t an angler wouldn’t understand but you’ll want to really scope out the water ahead of time. Plan ahead and fish there plenty of times and use some of the methods you plan to use so you can get an idea of how healthy the ecosystem is and how plentiful it will be when all hell breaks loose. 


The last and most obvious point is location. How far is the water from where you’re living now and how close will it be to your bug out location or long term residence? You don’t want to be too close to civilization but you also don’t want to be so far that it becomes a challenge when it really matters. 

Where to Fish

If we narrow the previous point down, now you’re at the lake or river, where do you fish? What indicators are you looking for to determine that casting or netting there would be the right choice? 

You want to look for dense cover and structure as anglers call it. Cover refers to anything that the fish believe disguises them. This can include lily pads, weeds, stumps, overhanging trees, leaves, etc. 

Structure is actual structures that are in the water. These can include boats, docks, buildings, abandoned structures, trash, etc. 

You want to fish around these areas to increase your chances of catching something. These points are especially true for those of you fishing with rods and reels rather than trapping and netting. 

Final Thoughts 

We prepare for a reason. We know it’s coming and it’s just a matter of time. Food will become a commodity and those with the skills to hunt, fish, and forage will thrive while the others beg and steal. Learn the basics of survival fishing and you’ll never have to worry. 

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