Survival Fishing 6 Ways to Catch Fish in an Emergency

Jacob Moore

Last updated April 15, 2021

In a survival situation, fish can be an incredibly important food source. They are abundant, nutritious, and easy to catch.

Even if you don’t have a survival fishing kit, there are many ways to catch fish that don’t require any gear, or only require equipment that you can make yourself from the natural materials around you. Survival fishing is an important skill to master, and here are the best ways to catch fish in an emergency.

The Best Techniques for Survival Fishing

When practicing emergency fishing, use techniques that are:


Passive fishing techniques allow you to spend your energy on other activities, conserving your resources.


Choose fishing methods that keep the fish alive but trapped until you are ready to eat them. This prevents you from having to prepare or store more fish than you need, reduces the amount of waste or wild animals that may be attracted to your camp, and lets you use the fish most efficiently.


Where possible, use multiple different survival fishing techniques at once for the best results. Building weirs or traps, using passive lines, and using a net will all increase your catch and improve your odds of success.

Always Remember to Save Some of Your Catch

A portion of your caught fish should always be set aside and used as bait to catch more or bigger fish. Even the smallest fish is worth catching, if you can use it as bait for something bigger.

How to Catch Fish in an Emergency

1. Build a Fish Weir

What it Is

A weir is an ancient fish trap. Weirs have been used to catch fish for thousands of years, and can be made with a huge variety of materials. A weir is a heart-shaped trap, with a small opening that faces the current, and free movement of water out the other side. Fish swim into the weir, but are unable to find their way out.

What You Need

Stones or rocks for a stone weir, or wood and sticks for a wooden weir.

How to Do It

Locate your weir in an area with a mild current and shallow depths. You should be able to easily access the entire weir, and remember that even small fish are worth catching.

For most survival scenarios, you will want to build a wooden weir. Look for a large quantity of fresh, green wood sticks and branches with high water content. A stone weir is more durable, but requires more energy to build.

Using your sticks, begin to place them vertically in the water, sticking them deep enough for them to be stable and secure. Build a “fence” of sticks, with openings that allow water to flow through, but are too narrow for fish to swim through.

Create a narrow, funnel-shaped opening that guides fish into the weir but makes it difficult for them to escape. This video demonstrates how to make a small wooden weir.

2. Build a Basket Fish Trap

What it Is

Basket traps are another ancient way of catching fish. They take longer to make than a weir, but have the advantage of being portable and useful in a wide range of water conditions.

What You Need

Since you will be weaving a basket, you need thin, flexible twigs or grasses. It is helpful to have a knife or shears for collecting suitable materials and trimming them to length.

How to Do It

To build a basket trap, you begin by weaving a basket. The size of the basket determines the size of the fish you will be able to catch. You will place a narrow neck, funnel, or coil in the top of the basket, to make it difficult for fish to swim back out.

To make a basket, begin by placing 6-8 sticks in a star pattern, then weaving smaller twigs over and under these twigs to make a basket, curving the sides up as you go.

To make the neck, make smaller coils and place them inside the opening, securing them with more weaving. Once the basket is made, place a piece of bait inside it, and place it in the water, weighing it with rocks inside or anchoring it in place. This tutorial shows step-by-step instructions.

3. Build a Trotline

What it Is

A trotline is another passive fishing technique that allows you to catch multiple fish at once. A trotline simply uses a main line with multiple fishing lines attached to increase your odds of catching a fish.

What You Need

Fishing line and hooks. You may also want to use bait on your lines.

How to Do It

Select a length of line or cord, and secure multiple shorter hooked lines along it. Space your dropper lines 4-6 feet apart, to minimize tangling. You can hang the trotline over a stream by securing it to the banks on either side, at a height that allows your hooked lines to hang several inches into the water.

If you can’t anchor both sides of the line, you may instead anchor one end to a tree on the bank, then tie a stone to the other end and toss the line out into the water. Here is a detailed explanation of how to make a trotline.


Survival Fishing

4. Use a Dip Net

What it Is

Fishing nets are one of the best and oldest ways to catch fish. A dip net is a very efficient way to catch fish, although it isn’t passive. It’s a fast way to catch larger fish when needed.

What You Need

You need a forked stick with a good balance of strength and flexibility, a fishing net or paracord to make fishing net, and some cord.

How to Do It

To make a dip net, choose a strong forked branch with a sturdy grip, but flexible ends that allow you to bend them together. Using cord or twine, loop the ends of the fork to make a loop, then use more cord or twine to attach your fishing net to the loop.

There is step-by-step instructions here. If you don’t have fishing net, you can make it yourself from paracord, as shown here.

Also Read: Best Paracord and Paracord Accesories

5. Use a Hand Line With a Gorge Hook

What it Is

If you have bait and patience, a hand line with a gorge hook is a very effective way to catch fish. You cannot catch-and-release with this method, because it is too harmful to the fish, but will boost your chances of survival.

What You Need

A fishing line and a gorge hook. You can make a gorge hook fairly quickly with a small stick and a knife as shown here

How to Do It

A gorge hook is extremely effective at securing fish, but requires patience. The fish has to completely swallow the bait, and then be drawn in with slow, consistent pressure. This video has a detailed explanation of how to set a gorge hook.

6. Spear Fishing

What it Is

In spear fishing, you simply spear a fish with a sharpened stake or spear from above the waterline. It allows you to catch very large fish, but takes time, patience, and skill.

What You Need

A fishing spear. In its simplest form, this can simply be a sharpened stick. A pronged spear is a bit more complex to make, but it increases your chances of success by holding on to the fish more effectively. Here is a video of how to make a pronged spear with a knife, a stick, and some cord or twine.

How to Do It

Spear fishing requires extensive practice, because water deflects the light, and you need to aim below where the fish appears to be, but also slightly ahead of the fish, anticipating its movement.

Depending on your conditions, it’s a good idea to spear fish at night or in low light, or kneeling on a bank, so that your shadow does not deflect fish, but that also makes your skill and aim that much more important.

Because spear fishing is difficult to master, it is best to not begin practicing in a survival scenario, and not to rely on it as your only means of catching fish.


Fishing is an ancient skill, and people have been using these techniques to catch fish for thousands of years. However, as with almost all survival techniques, the less equipment and resources you have, the more crucial it is to rely on skill and experience.

Survival fishing techniques, particularly manual, no-gear strategies like spear fishing, strike fishing, and hand fishing, require practice, so it’s a good idea to study and practice those techniques before they are needed, so that you will be able to use them in an emergency.

The best way to ensure your survival is to practice multiple fishing techniques at once, so build a weir, set up a trot line, and then work on making a net, spear, or gorge hook. That allows you to conserve energy and resources, and multiplies your odds of success.

Jacob Moore

Jacob Moore is the founder of, and he has spent more time surviving in the wilderness than an average human being. A familiar face from the rural United States, Jacob has always wanted to live close to nature. Even after spending a few years in the buzzing world of cities and 9 to 5 jobs, he managed to get out to the outer world when he got a chance. Jacob would say that hiking is his passion, and he has spent up to several weeks in the wild.