Most emergency/survival kits include a small assortment of hooks, line and perhaps a few swivels and weights – but no fishing pole. Quite understandable since it’s assumed you’ll simply cut a branch off and use it like a cane pole. There are, however, several ways to catch fish without the need of a rod and reel – and it doesn’t have to be only in survival situations, either.
There are several methods and techniques within the three main categories of fishing without a pole, each one requiring certain bait on certain size hooks attached to certain weights of main lines and drop lines – all in the quest for a certain fish, which in most cases is catfish.
Three classic ways to fish are limb lines, trot lines and jug fishing. Some consider a “throw line” as a forth method, but in my book, that’s just a variation of a limb or trot line. Some methods work best in the gentle circulating currents of a lake, while others
can be used in flowing waters. Either way, both approaches rely on adequate anchor weights to hold them in place if stationary or drift weights that limit the movement caused by the struggling of a large, hooked fish.
Weights to restrain/control your fishing lines can vary from lightweight sinkers often found in a tackle box to a huge brick. In an emergency situation, a rock or other heavy object can be attached to control the depth and drift of these lines.
Limb Lines: Literally a line with a baited hook that is tied to a tree or bush branch hanging over the water’s edge and dropped down below the surface. Several limbs can be rigged in sequence along a bank varying the bait and depth to see which set-up is more productive.
Access to checking the line can be by shore or in a boat cruising just beyond the tips of the limb line branches while checking/maintaining each line.
Trotlines – A length of strong fishing line outfitted with a hooked and baited drop line hanging down every couple of feet and spread across a stretch of water is a trotline. I’ve set them up across a small stream, attaching each end to a tree along the bank while others might stake one end and attach a weight to the other to stretch across a section of water.
A critical step in creating a trot line is developing a method to keep the drop lines with the baited hooks about two feet apart while preventing them from sliding up/down the main line when a fish is pulling to get free. A small knot or some sort of stopper clamp on each side of the attachment point where the drop line is connected to the main line will keep that hook in place along the trotline.
In my youth, we’d use a huge treble hook loaded up with a cake of catfish bait. Many trotliners today use a circle hook, since larger ‘cats’ tend to bend the classic “J” hook.
Jug Fishing – my favorite method, especially when rafting down a river. Basically it’s a huge bobber with a baited line hanging down into the water and free floating with the current (or weighted/tethered in place). A jug fishing rig (gallon milk cartons, liter soda bottles, DIY floats using pool noodles, etc.) provides the flotation from which a drop line is hung. Drift can be controlled by a weight that hugs the bottom or hangs free to enable the angler to set the depth of the free-hanging bait as it floats unhindered down the river.
Not all states allow all these methods, and those that do have their own regulations as well. Limits, marking lines and other fishing laws may prevail for a particular waterway, too.
Catfish are the common targeted species for jug fishing. Typically the baits include worms, shad, minnows, clams as well as chicken livers and the classic home-remedies of “stink” baits. Whatever bait you choose, it’s important that the bait is able to stay on the hook for a long period of time. Equally important is to check your limb, trot or jug lines routinely (some states designate a maximum time range between checks).
These methods are effective ways to catch dinner during a survival situation but equally fun and challenging as an alternate means to using a rod and reel – and a good way to hone your emergency angling skills.