Your survival will depend on several factors if you get hopelessly lost. When and if this occurs, and it happens to hundreds of people each year, the very first tip is not to panic. Calm calculation of your special situation is a must. The Boy Scout motto of “Be prepared” is crucial to be able to survive in the alien world that our modernity has put behind us.

Only in the dimly lit past did our forefathers have to endure true survival as a given reality, the life situation of living the savage way. By savage, I mean a nomadic life of foraging, gathering, hunting and fishing. They were completely responsible for themselves and their families just to stay alive in a hostile, lawless and predator-filled world. Today, millions of American outdoor recreationists still enjoy a bit of that fending for themselves away from the TV and AC by fishing, hunting and camping.

Survival fishing fish
Simple tools can be quickly crafted with virtually any sharp fixed-blade or folding knife, which everyone should carry when they venture out into the deep woods.

Perfect Protein

Why fish for survival? You can survive for up to a month without eating anything, but only about four days without water. To survive, you need energy to burn and to stay healthy enough while working towards getting out of your predicament. Without the energy and stamina to be mobile and have your wits about you, you’re in danger of ultimately not surviving. A few fish per day can be a lifesaver.

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The World Book Encyclopedia notes that 90 percent of the world’s population subsists on the protein of fish, specifically the carp, of which there are more than 500 varieties in the world. Besides carp, the tilapia family, eels, catfish, the entire salmonoid families of fish (trout and salmon) and the perch and sunfish clans make up most of the varieties of fish that people boil, poach, roast, broil, fry, smoke or steam. I prefer a fish skewered and roasted over a fire.

The experience and knowledge of how to obtain safe, protein-rich fish (and other water creatures likes frogs, turtles and snakes) can help sustain you indefinitely. They can be captured with some learned, on-the-run craftiness. Not panicking and thinking out all predicaments kept me in good condition during most of my years of traveling in the outdoors. An 8-inch trout roasted over a flame or eaten raw provides about 200 calories, while a sunfish of about the same size offers about 275 calories. A few fish per day will not stop you from losing weight over time in the wilderness, but you may still keep your muscle mass and mostly burn just fat reserves.

Survival fishing fish
You can easily make a net from willow branches and grass.

Prep Your Kit

If you’re lost in the wilderness without the necessary gear to catch fish, think improvisation. Simple tools can be quickly crafted with virtually any sharp fixed-blade or folding knife, which everyone should carry when they venture out into the deep woods. A small fish trap can be crafted from fresh-cut willow branches and put in a stream with the open end facing into an upstream current. You can catch a fish with a pronged spear made from a tree branch, or you can make a net from willow branches and grass.

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Where there are salmonoid fish such as trout and salmon, you can chase down and hand scoop a fish as they are heading upstream in shallow waters to spawn. Cold water can equate to hypothermia, so try to stay as dry as possible. Also, as you approach any body of water in the wild, beware of your surroundings. Many times, venomous snakes can be hiding in the weeds by the shore. Have your walking stick and pack rifle ready.

Most wild fish are not attuned to (or have even had contact with) man’s devious ways. Wild fish are more naïve than in areas where anglers regularly fish. They can be caught more easily, without any fancy modern tackle. However, there is no reason not to carry gear like a handy survival knife or a compact survival kit with some line, hooks, weights, lures and flies. Just add a stick to this kit and you have a fishing rod!

For bait, dig around a pile of leaves or look under a rock and find worms or nymphs, or even catch a grasshopper or cricket. All these options, as we all any other small insects, will entice fish to bite. A good lightweight backpack will allow anyone venturing into the deep woods to carry all of the above and more.

Survival fishing fish

Wear a hat, polarized glasses and take along a long-sleeve camouflage shirt. The shirt’s sleeves will protect you somewhat from mosquitoes, sunburn as well as chilly mornings and evenings, and the camouflage pattern will make you less likely to be seen by the fish. The hat will save some of the heat you’ll lose through the top of your head and the bill will allow you to see clearly.

Another important tip is to carry a stout walking stick. You can quickly make one on the trail. It can steady you in rough terrain, it can be used as a defensive weapon and crossing a swift stream without this third foot can be dangerous.

If you have nothing but a knife, you can create a spear, cut saplings for an emergency shelter, use it as a weapon against critters, cut firewood and a myriad of other chores needed to survive in the woods. When you are alone and rely on these tools, they can be the difference between life and death.   

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE ™ Spring 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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