The Prepper Journal

Alternative Fishing Methods – When You Don’t Have Rod and Reel

Alternative Fishing Methods - When You Don't Have Rod and Reel - The Prepper Journal

Editor’s Note: This post has been contributed by Patrick.

Fishing is a pastime that is enjoyed by millions of people.

There is nothing more relaxing for me than watching the sun rise while I cast a line into the water. However, there is much more to fishing than the fun part of it.

Around the world, fish feed more people than just about any other source of protein. This is part of the reason why a large percentage of the world’s population lives near the water. The waters of the world are bountiful sources of life for everyone.
I realized early in my survival career that fishing was one of the best ways to get calories when your body was craving for food.

Wild edibles are perfect for some vitamins and minerals, and they help you fill your belly. However, they do not provide much like calories or protein do.
Hunting and trapping are challenging. But fishing is a more consistent way to get those calories and protein. Problem is, you do not always carry the gear that are ideal for fishing.

During my first survival challenge, fish gave me the fuel I needed to keep going. I went the first day without food as I spent my time building a shelter and purifying water.

The next morning, I set out at dawn with a hand line and found a pond. I fished for about an hour before snagging one of the heaviest largemouth bass I’ve ever caught.

The fire went out in the storm overnight, and everything was wet. It took me three hours to get the fire going again. After the fish was cooked and eaten, I felt the energy flow back into my body. I relied on fish for the rest of the challenge, cooked it in water to create a warm broth.

Alternative Fishing Methods

Remember that the rest of the world have other means of fishing aside from using a rod and reel. In most survival situations, you too do not usually have this gear handy. That means that knowing how to fish in other ways is vital to your survival.

In this article, I will cover a few effective alternative fishing methods as ways to fish without standard gear.

Hand Lines

Handline fishing with a buzz bomb in Barkley Sound, BC.

This method is the closest approach to using a rod and reel. You still have a line with a hook on the end and some bait or lure, you just don’t have the rod and reel apparatus.

With hand lining, you whip the line around in a circle with your dominant hand. The centrifugal force creates the momentum needed to launch it in the direction you choose. It can be hard to get distance, so weighting your line is important to help with your launch.

It is also good to have a spool of some kind to keep your line from tangling. A bottle or block of wood works well. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Wrap your line around the object towards one end and hold it on the other end.
  2. When you release the line through the air, keep your spool pointed in the same direction so it easily slides off.
  3. Then re-spool the line as you pull it back in.

For many people, this is the best way to use the little fishing kit you may have in your bug out bag.

Trot Lines

A trot line is a passive method of fishing in which you set several hooks and come back later to collect your catch.

To build one, stretch out a long primary line. I typically make it about thirty feet long and tie loops in the line about every three feet. I then attach secondary lines that can be anywhere from one to three feet long. A baited hook is connected to the end of each secondary line.

It is best to tie one end above the surface and weight the other end so it sinks to the bottom. This allows you to cover every depth and also cover a wide area of the water.

There are two peak times that fishes are more likely to strike — around sunrise and sunset. Therefore, it is best to check your line just after these times to collect fish and add any bait needed.


Nets are one of the most common methods for catching fish worldwide. They allow you to actively or passively catch multiple fish at once.

Gill Net

I like using a gill net. It is set up vertically so any fish swimming through that area is caught. Passive fishing is ideal in streams, rivers, and tidal areas but can be effective in any water.

I tested out my gill net a while back in our pond and caught eleven fishes in just a few hours. An ideal net is weighted at the bottom and has floats along the top to keep it vertical. It can be tied between two trees, or a pole can be installed to hold up one side.

Throw Net

A throw net is another popular option. It can be used in any water and are active in nature. It is cast out and spun so that it expands as it flies through the air. Then it sinks and tangles the fish underneath so that they can be drawn into it.

It takes some practice to get the hang of using a throw net, but it can be extremely useful.

Jug Fishing

If you like fishing with a bobber, you may like jug fishing too.

A jug or large float is tied to a weighted line with live bait. The hook and bait drop to your desired depth and many people like to jug fish at the bottom for catfish.

You know that the line has a fish when the jug starts to move. You can either wade out to place the jug and wade back to collect it, or you can attach a drag line to draw it back from the shore.

This method works best in still lakes or ponds. Several jugs are usually set to cover more water.

Sapling Lines

Fishing with saplings is similar to fishing with a rod and reel except that there is no reeling action.

Long saplings are cut with a line attached to the narrow end. The thick end is driven into the mud along the bank, and the baited hook on the other end of the line is thrown out into the water using the same motion used with hand lining.

You can either watch the tip of the sapling for movement, or you can attach a small bell to the end to alert you of movement. Typically, several saplings are set in an area to cover more water.

I use this method to go after channel catfish in small, muddy rivers. The challenge is dragging in the fish. I suggest using leather gloves to avoid cutting your hands on the line.

Fish Traps

There are a few fish traps that can be easily made in the wild for passive fishing.

Using a Plastic Bottle

This can be used in any body of water for smaller fish. All it requires is a clear, plastic bottle. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Cut the top of the bottle just below the taper.
  2. Reverse the top so the opening is facing down.
  3. Reattach the top using cordage to sew the pieces together.
  4. You can then cut the opening to your desired size and add bait inside the trap.

Fish will swim in the opening and will get confused trying to find their way out. You may want to use a weight to hold it in place.

Using Poles or Rocks

You can also use poles or rocks to create a large trap in the shallow water. Either shove poles vertically into the bottom, or pile rocks to create walls.

You want the shape of your trap to resemble a heart with an opening at the point of the cleavage. Then choose what to do next from these options:

  • add bait
  • throw rocks to scare fish into the trap
  • just wait it out

The fish again swims into the narrow opening and gets confused trying to find the way back out. In larger traps like this, you may have difficulty catching the trapped fish.

Try throwing a bundle of tall grasses or other vegetation onto the fish and then scoop the whole bundle throwing it onto the shore. The vegetation traps the fish as you fling it aside.

Hungry? Be Creative

As you can see, there are several ways to catch a meal without using conventional gear.

Any of these fishing methods can be accomplished using items in your bug out bag along with garbage or debris you might find along your way. If your belly is rumbling and you have the time, get creative and try out one of these alternative fishing methods.

Always remember: all nets, lines, and traps should be pulled out of the water when you are done so that no fish dies unnecessarily.

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