In any endeavor or occupation, the experience is the best instructor. Freshwater foraging is no exception. To develop expertise usually takes months, years to accomplish. Practice “hands-on” as much as possible. For the neophyte or a moderately experienced angler, I’ve compiled information that will aid in fish capture.
🌊 Take advantage of your surroundings.
Don’t overlook farm and neighborhood ponds in urban/suburban locales as possible food sources. Determine the availability of food species as well as estimating the potential yield of fish production (protein).
If the watershed is questionable due to possible industrial/domestic/institutional pollution, have a representative sampling of fish analyzed by a reputable laboratory if the site is a food source provider in your survival food plan.
Weed and farm crop stalks are right suppliers and storage facilities for freshwater fishing baits. Corn stalks and weed stems harbor larval stages of insects that are in top demand by trout and a variety of panfish (i.e., bluegill, crappie, perch, etc.). The harvested stalks remaining in the field or about farm feedlots are simply slit open, and the larva is extracted.
Ragweed, goldenrod, and other weed types usually exhibit swollen or enlarged bulbous features along the stem (about the size of a thimble). Cut them open to obtain the larvae (“grubs”). In colder climates, if space permits, the vegetative stems and stalks may be stacked or boxed as a source of bait self-storage.
Water clearness or visibility is a critical factor in hook & line capture of food/game fish. Fishery scientists call this phenomenon turbidity, assigning a numerical coefficient to measure the amount of suspended/dissolved materials present in the water column. The targeted fish, in many instances, feeds primarily by sight.
In bright or relatively clear water situations (visibility 4 to 6 feet or more), subdued or natural colored (grey, brown, black, natural fish patterned) lure plugs, bronze, black, copper, or gold spinners/spoons provide sufficient color transfer or flash to solicit strikes.
In more turbid waters, bright fluorescent, iridescent and light-absorbing colors on plugs, spoons, spinners offer a better fish attraction. Besides, in more colored (turbid) waters (i.e., muds, silts, algae blooms, tannic swamp stains. etc.), sound and scent play vital roles in fish capture.
Sonic waves produced by rotating spinners, oscillating spoons and sound chambered plugs (providing a noise usually created by BB shot), give the “dirty water” fish an additional source to home in on. Many fish that feed basically by sight (e.g., largemouth bass) can hear mackerel fishing lures or bait many feet beyond their sight limit. Live fish baits, including shiners, mummies, small panfish, frogs, etc., produce natural sounds that fish will respond to.
👃 Using scents
Scents play a vital role in fishing turbid waters. Live, and dead baits exude natural oils and fluids that penetrate the water, either by the current or molecular travel or dispersal in “standing” waters.
A hunk of decaying fowl gizzards, placed on a catfish trot(set) line on a sluggish river will penetrate and “call” fish for at least several hundred yards downstream. The same bait arrangement might penetrate a 50-foot radius in a standing water pond.
Other scent options to aid murky water fish capture include the rubbing of natural bait of food on artificial lures or even the use of commercially available (and easily stored by survivalist anglers) liquid fish scents. These scents are available in a variety of “flavors” either in spray form or liquid.
When foraging small to medium size wadable streams, try to head upstream against the current to avoid spooking or alarming the resident fish. This action prevents stream bottom silt/sand from your progress preceding you.
Also, wade as quietly as possible. Avoid heavy underwater footfalls that produce alarming fish vibrations, as well as concentric surface ripples that will notify fish of approaching danger.
On the visibility scene, avoid shadows and fast body movements. Wear somber colored attire (i.e., camos suitable for wooded streams), and try to break one’s outline with shore vegetation, rocks, or other available structures.
A quiet, undisturbing approach to fish-holding areas is vital to fish capture in most instances (via wading, shore, boat). After this is accomplished: in rod and reel fish capture how one “attacks” or “addresses” the water will determine the yield of a given site before the casting, fish playing activity (combination) will “shut ’em down.” Experienced anglers fish the closest potential lies (fish-holding sites) before lengthening their casts.
Makeshift lures/flies can be fabricated from short 1 ½ – to 3-inch sections of colored yarns, fluorescents included. Simply tie with thread (or wrap with a soft wire to achieve greater depth). These can be cast, jigged, drifted, etc., depending on the amount of weight added, and style of hooking arrangement.
Also, don’t hesitate to add commercial fish scents/oil to the absorbent yarn. If not available, grind up a few minnows/worms into a watery paste. Soak the “yarn lures” in it—Re-soak during a fishing excursion. Water will wash or dilute it.
Line (leader) size may be increased in cloudy (turbid) waters, at night, and in moving pools—streams and wave jostled lakes in many instances. The brighter, quieter, shallower, and less rush jostled waters, along with increased lighting (clear skies vs. fog/overcast), days might dictate the need for lighter lines.
Singular fish (or small groups) tend to be more selective and spooky than large schools. The larger groupings of fish tend to be more aggressive. The internal competition is to grab the bait before their cronies do. The large numbers also provide for a sense of security.
It is essential to try a variety of colors to solicit strikes. Don’t be afraid to try a half dozen or more (if available) lures until the proper one is found.
If time allows, a daily “fish diary” is an excellent assistant in planning fishing forays. Data that should be recorded include locale (pond, stream, etc.), date, time of day, weather conditions (if possible include air temperature, barometer, wind direction, and velocity), and water conditions (temperature, amount of turbidity, wave heights, stream velocity) as well as listing the successful baits/lures, typo and amounts of fish caught and any additional fishing technique that produced.
On more open waters, such as large lakes/wide riven, productive fish producing sites away from the shoreline, you need a way to mark the action. A colored ball or bleach bottle rigged with a stout cord, attached to a heavyweight (rock, scrap metal, large lead sinker), can be used.
When trolling for salmon, trouts, etc., a particular boat speed might be the only productive one. e.g.. 3.8 mph. A device called Accu-troll does it nicely. The consistently successful troller relies on his ability to know everything he can from water depth to water temperature. This device allows calculations of exact trolling speed the instant a fish is captured so the rate can be duplicated precisely. It mounts on the boat in any position and determines the correct trolling speed of the ship regardless of wind effects.
An electric outboard motor (trolling) has dangerous fishing possibilities for powering small craft (canoes, johnboats, etc.). as the need for fossil fuels (gasoline) is eliminated. Storage batteries used to power the work can be recharged by wind/water/ solar systems. Also, these motors are virtually silent in operation—a plus for service in less than ideally secured locales.
Artificial reefs positioned by anglers on a given body of water can improve risk spawning and rearing areas, as well as creating a “fish magnet” that concentrates harvestable fish. Along a wooded shoreline, if available cover (rocks, stumps, etc.) is scarce or absent, cutting a few trees and letting them fall into the water will create habitat for crappie, bass, pike, etc.
Further offshore, trees (brushy trees/small fir trees) can be sunk with the aid of concrete blocks, etc.—again creating a fish haven. Rocks, concrete boulders, and other “clean” nibble also have possibilities as reef material.
In essence, by creating a more favorable/hospitable locale, small organisms at the beginning of the food chain take hold; in turn, this attracts small baitfish and immature tool/game fish, with the large predatory fish coming last.
The shore habitat improvements are readily visible. The one positioned offshore (submerged ones) can be relocated by Loran-C “fixes” or by “taking ranges” or visible shore features. Insecure locales or areas without excessive competition, buoys anchored can give notice. Rod and reel, gill netting, traps can all be fished near such man created structure.
For extreme needs for mobility as well as a lack of storage space, “telescoping rods” are a survivalist angler’s dream. When extended, these rods roughly equal the length of “standard issue” fly, bait, or spin rods with the added advantage of being reduced to 1 ½ – to 2 ½ -feet lengths. The material of construction includes aluminum, steel, fiberglass, and plastic.
🔫 Firearms for fishing?
Fish can be shot with firearms, but it is not recommended as water, and surrounding bottom tend to rebound the projectile(s). Years ago, while hunting ruffed grouse in a hilly section of New England, my only access further into the “highlands” (due to excessive vegetation) was to wade a shallow trout brook.
Doing so, I spooked a beautiful native trout, which passing through the pool connecting riffles “fell” to a charge of #7 ½, shot fired next to it, the concussion sufficiently killing the trout. Later on, I realized the fatal possibilities of the shot “coming back” and striking one. The bottom was composed of hard gravel laced with several large boulders.
Shotgun pellets are round and tend to penetrate without deflection. If I had used a rifle (or any firearm with one solid projectile), it could have been me, not the trout bagged. While I was living in Utah, a ranch hand told me a hunter out for mule deer spotted a nice sized trout in a shallow creek. He aimed and let loose with a high powered rifle. The bullet bounced back and knocked his left eye out. Whether or not this story is nothing more than a campfire yarn, it makes a point—don’t shoot at fish!
🌡️ Temperature’s role in fishing
Warm water discharges originating from power/industrial plants (cooling systems) into impoundments, lakes, ponds, and streams usually provide a favorable habitat for food/game fish during fall, winter, and spring months in temperate regions (the bulk of North American Continent). A temperature gradient spanning hot-warm-luke warm-cool extends outward up to 1 mile in lakes, and anywhere from several hundred yards to miles downstream on moving waters.
The factors in control include initial discharge temperature, volume (rate) of discharge, the shape of accepting basin (i.e., shallow-deep, etc.), whether a still or moving water situation. Predatory game/food fish respond to the baitfish and other edibles (crayfish, etc.) that are attracted to the warm waters. Look for trout, bass, pike, Perch, Walleye, etc. (all at varying distances from discharge). All are seeking their preferred water/feeding temperature.
In addition, fish will be located along the edges of the thermal plume. Just imagine a “warm water” fish, say a largemouth bass of 4 to 5 pounds smashing a topwater plug during a January snowstorm.
In many instances, try to fish before the arrival of the so-called “cold front“—a meteorological term. Changing air pressure affects fish feeding schedules. Fishing is likely to be extra good at the approach of a storm, at a time where the barometric pressure, preceding the cold front, is low.
When cooler air is noticed, that implies the front has passed on. Usually, the feeding activity of the fish will come to a hall, and the fish will be found deeper if the basin configuration allows. In many instances, fish that have been located at a particular locale will remain there for a reasonable period if bait and weather conditions have remained relatively constant (stable).
In the aftermath of moderate/severe atmospheric upheavals (storms), fish tend to scatter for several days until wave/sediments settle down, then they regroup, often at new locales. The angler must then relocate them, thus setting up the “pattern “again.
The most favorable winds for angling are from the south, southwest, or west. However, during a hot spell when the wind shifts from the south to the northwest, bringing in colder weather, it often causes the fish of “summer slumps” to begin feeding. East and northeast winds are generally weak for fishing, but there are exceptions to the rule.
The adage “got to have the line in the water to catch fish” holds. A few years back, I remembered the boats on a particular piece of water bunched up at mid-morning, all without fish, the fishermen were blaming the weather, etc. for their combined failure. While the anglers chattered about their dismay, I lowered over the side of a partner’s boat a live baitfish and within minutes hauled up a 25-pound striped bass. The line must be in the water to catch ’em!
When is the best time to fish, survival, or otherwise?
Precipitation in the form of rain can affect stream fishing conditions. A crystal clear river populated by easily spooked clear water residents (bass, trout), is afflicted by these late-season low water conditions. The fish are just about to capture less unless nets and explosives are in order.
To capture on rod and reel, a moderate rainstorm affecting the upstream portion will induce lower stream temperatures, increased flow, and resulting turbidity, all adding to more conducive hook and line fishery. The fish will be on a more “active” feed and less alarmed by angler presence.
Note: too little rainfall will have minimal impact. Excessive rainfall with its associated flooding will negate its usefulness (then only fish in the first noticeable water level “rise”). Use caution in angling streams possessing flash flood potentials, such as in mountain and desert areas.
Snowfall in mountainous areas adjacent and upstream on the watershed can severely restrict fishable times in many flowing glasses of water. Melts of mountain snows continue well into June (Sierras, Cascades, Rockies, etc.). The results are that many streams remain unfishable to late June-early July green water (meltwater) tor-rents. Once receded inflow, these streams are quite productive for the remainder of the summer months, well into the fall and sometimes into early winter.
While ice fishing, live baitfish in buckets can be aerated and acclimated to fishing water (i.e., lake, pond, etc.), they are about to enter by the addition of chunks of ice (chips from the hole just cut). The cold water shock might otherwise kill them.
While stream fishing (wading or shore) or navigating streams, lakes, and ponds via watercraft (i.e., canoes, rubber inflatables, etc.), the use of polarizing sunglasses and visor hat (baseball cap) will aid in the locating of subsurface fish-holding structure and fish themselves, as well as exposing any underwater hazards to navigation.
To achieve this advantage, waters must be mostly clear. Also, the hat/sunglasses combo reduces eye strain and resulting fatigue. Furthermore, these eye protectors aid in the prevention of “night blindness,” the inability of eyes exposed to direct/reflected light (sunlight) to adjust (“see”) during low light levels (nighttime).
The use of insect repellents, at times, is necessary for a successful fishing outing. In northern climes, Deerflies, gnats, and “no see ’em” are quite annoying and can even shut down a fish capture expedition. Temperate and southern clime mosquitoes are also capable of operation ruination (more time spent swatting and scratching than fishing). Sprays and lotions are adequate under most conditions.
When fishing large bodies of freshwater via canoe or rowboat time your departures and arrivals to coincide with the least amount of wind activity, usually at dawn and dusk (exception is during active storm/frontal passages), unless security demands night moves. The use of prevailing winds can aid the propulsion of hand-powered craft. A simple, functional sail can be fabricated from several square yards of fabric fastened to two stout branches that are lashed to the vessel.
Spray and liquid fish scents are excellent candidates for the survival fishing kits. No special storage requirements are needed except to keep them from freezing (if possible, avoid excessive heat and sunlight). Scents are available in several “flavors”: baitfish, crayfish, etc. Simply spray (in some cases inject with a hypodermic needle) on artificial and live/dead baits.
This “odor concept” maintains that all fish have an olfactory system (sense of smell) and that it is responsive to both positive (attractant) and negative (repellent) odors dissolved or carried by water.
Certain odors “work” for the angler, while negatives don’t. Fish scents and bait oils create strike zones around baits and lures, help hide human odors, attract fish by stimulating their short and long-range chemical receptors, mask manmade odors such as gasoline and tobacco, increases visibility to fish by magnifying natural translucent factors. After soaking them in the bait oils, drift them down into salmon and steelhead holding areas.
Essential live fish storage for short intervals may be provided by a rope or chain stringer applied through the lips of a variety of species and then tied close enough to the water for the “detained” fish to submerge. Makeshift stringers can be readily fabricated from whippy forked branches. Remove all side sterns, except for the forked end. Slide fish on through lips (if possible to prevent gill damage) or through gills out the mouth. Jab pointed end into the bank just under the water surface.
Crappie (white and black) respond during warmer months to light held above the water at night (from a boat, dock, etc. E.g., a Coleman Gas Lantern. Lights that float on the surface and aim beams downward are expressly made for this use). In essence, the light attracts small terrestrial and aquatic insects, which in turn attract minnows, which have crappie following.
On many lakes and impoundments, largemouth, smallmouth, white, yellow, striped bass will often join the feeding melee. Lower a hooked live minnow below the light. Small jigs also work. Fish them vertically.
Pork rinds are artificial lures manufactured from pigskin and fat that are cut into fish catching shapes and are preserved in salt brines. The natural flesh writhes and wiggles in enticing moves and has the naturally soft feel that offers more time for the unsuspecting fish to munch on.
Rinds can be fished alone on hooks (weedless or regular), or in conjunction with jigs and spoons. They offer excellent storage potential with indefinite shelf life in the brine bottle (many times the rinds are reusable. Simply re-bottle them).
An angler should know how to tune a plug to obtain maximum fish-catching ability for everyday use or to optimize a new one. A properly oscillating cap will enhance one’s capture percentages.
When catfishing (trot, set, rod, and reel) in very turbid waters, use a 1- to 2 ½ -inch cube of sponge as a fish bait-attractor. Simply soak the sponge in bait oils, renderings of waste fish, etc. The sponge will leach out fish-attracting odor for some time. Change bait sponge every 30 minutes to ensure maximum fish-attracting scent.
Tailwaters or outflow from large impoundments, dams usually produce good, year-round fishing locales. The barrier itself blocks any further upstream movement of fish (thus concentrating them) and provides a site for feeding augmented by the small and large chopped up (by generator turbines) fish passing through the facilities (a kind of “chum line”).
Fish available vary with species present with striped bass, salmon, walleye partial to these tailwaters. Certain shoal areas adjacent to dam structures also provide concentrated spawning locales—exercise caution when fishing below dams, either wading, bank, or both. Many times the water release schedules are known. Others use horns sounding/lights flashing prior to the deluge. It is also worth noting that discharges might affect the relative position (in-stream) of the fish. Scout around and find the patterns (locales) the fish frequent at different flow periods.
Snapping and alligator snapping turtles can be readily caught by these two alternative methods:
1. A right size floating log (i.e.. 1 foot wide by 10 feet long) rimmed with stout treble hooks (i.e., 2/0 to 5/0 #35517 Mustad) fastened by heavy-duty wood screws at the perimeter waterline and spaced every 6 to 8 inches with bait consisting of fish, fowl, etc., nailed to centerline (above the water level primarily).
Fasten a chunk below the water line to aid in attracting the water habituated turtle. When the turtle climbs onto the log in search of additional food, it will get “hung up” with its feet on the hooks. Anchor the registration in known turtle territory, usually a sluggish river, backwaters, flooded marsh, ponds, etc.
2. Method 2 consists of a 50 to 55-gallon metal barrel equipped with metal rods (1/4 to ½ inch in diameter) inserted through the center of the barrel, all in parallel, leaving 6- to 8-inch spaces. Bait and ballast (rocks) are fastened to the bottom of the barrel, and the device is sunk in turtle territory, leaving 1 to 3 feet of water over the uncovered barrel top.
The turtle swims downward for the bait, passes through the parallel bars, and eats. When it’s time to exit the bars prevent it. The snapper tries to climb along the outer contours of the barrel, thus hitting the bars at the wrong angle and is captured.
The freshwater forager should also include spare reels parts, service manuals, rod guides, spools, and tools to ensure the operation of basking rod and reel fish capture gear. The tips listed in this article will surely help you during your fishing expeditions.
Suggested resources for survivalists: