Fishing in the wilderness: Five Techniques

Although there are different views from survival experts regarding trapping or catching food, most of us agree that fishing is one strategy that is worth trying.  Most fish you can catch are edible, easy to cook and tasty to eat.  However, as with any activity by understanding the principles you can be handsomely rewarded for minimum effort.

The advantage of open water, the sea and rivers is that you are likely to find fish to eat.  Therefore, you should always carry a small fishing kit comprising of fishing line, floats and a selection of hooks and lures, when traveling to a Hostile Environment.

The basic principle of fishing is to attach a hook with bait to a line and attach the line to a bottle or rod.  However, to improve your chances of catching any fish, you need to be in the right location, at the right time.  You can make fishhooks from pins, needles, wire and any piece of metal.  You can also make a wooden hook by carving a shank or using thorns.

Fish are best caught during the early morning and early evening and ideally in shaded areas.

In a Hostile Environment, you can make a stakeout fishing device to catch fish whilst engaged in other survival activities.  You can make a stakeout by pushing two flexible wooden poles or saplings into the bottom of a lake, pond or stream.  The tops of these saplings should be positioned just below the water surface.  Attach a line between the tops of both saplings, slightly below the surface of the water, and attach two short lines to the main line.  Ensure that these two lines with hooks and bait cannot wrap around the saplings or each other.  Also, the short lines should not slip along the main line.

Sometimes, you might not have a line, a rod or bate so here are five other means of catching a fish without a rod:


involves free diving to hunt for fish underwater.  You should be able to hold your breath for up to two minutes, know how to equalise and understand the movement of single fish or a school.  You can create a spear with three sharpened prongs and about the length of your arm.

Make a canoe

by chopping down a palm tree and hollowing out one half.  Attach a length of line to a large spool and tie a hook on the end with some suitable bait.  Sailfish and tuna have been caught in open water seas using this technique.

Trout tickling

is a technique to catch rainbow trout in rivers.  By reaching into the undercut of a riverbank and slowly moving your hand to the side of the fish, you stroke its belly for a few minutes until it appears to be sleepy and hardly moving.  At that stage, you need to grasp the trout with your bare hands and flick it on to the riverbank before hitting the fish on its head.


is similar to trout tickling and involves catching catfish with your bare hands.  Unlike most fishing, noodling involves using your fingers as bait when you put your hand into a suitably deep hole in the riverbank.  Fortunately, the teeth of catfish are very small, so when the catfish bites, you grab it and pull it out of the hole and onto the riverbank.

Flounder trampling

is the technique of treading on, and then grabbing hold of, any flat fish that lives in the mud of rivers or a shallow shoreline.  Success in this fishing technique depends on knowing where the flat fish are hiding.

Another option of fishing in fairly safe waters, with a high density of fish, is to use a light at night.  As the fish are attracted to the light, you strike them with the back or side of a machete.  Once stunned, you can scoop them out of the water onto land.

Although fishing in the wilderness is a necessary life skill, it is recommended that you learn how to gut and fillet a fish to prepare it for eating on your open fire.

During our H.E.A.T. courses, many attendees ask us which are the easiest techniques to fish in a Hostile Environment.  In any survival situation, you will realise that you need to eat to survive.  If you find yourself close to a source of water, such as a lake, a river or a sea, you should know how to provide for yourself the nutrition and energy you need.