a man uses a spear for wild fishing

Wild Fishing: Primitive Survival Guide

Fishing is often viewed as a tranquil pastime, an opportunity to cast a line and wait for a bite in the peace of the natural world.

But, for those who know, fishing can be a vital survival skill. In the most testing of circumstances, knowing how to wild fish can be the difference between survival and demise.

This article aims to provide a detailed, all-encompassing guide on the art of wild fishing, demystifying the techniques and tactics that can help you turn this quiet hobby into a practical tool for survival.

What is Wild Fishing?

Wild fishing, in essence, refers to the act of catching fish in the wild without relying on traditional modern fishing gear or equipment.

It involves making the most of what nature provides in terms of materials, and employing innovative techniques, to catch fish for survival.

At its core, wild fishing is about adapting to your environment and utilizing your resourcefulness and creativity to overcome the absence of traditional fishing gear.

Wild Fishing Techniques During Times of Survival

two fish next a spear that was used to catch them

Survival situations necessitate an adaptability and resourcefulness not commonly required in everyday life.

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In the absence of traditional fishing gear, a survivalist must leverage what nature provides and use a variety of innovative techniques to procure food.

Here, we delve deeper into the art of wild fishing, providing a more comprehensive overview of several techniques used in survival situations.

1. Fish Spears

A time-tested method, spearfishing is a fundamental wild fishing technique. The main component is the spear, which can be crafted from various materials such as a straight branch, bamboo, or bone. If available, you can use a knife or a sharp stone to hone the spear’s tip, or you can fire-harden it by gently toasting the tip in a fire.

Spearfishing is typically done in shallow waters where fish are visible. The technique requires precision and speed, as the angler needs to swiftly stab or throw the spear into the fish. The refraction of light in water may distort the apparent location of the fish, so experience and practice are beneficial to account for this optical illusion.

2. Bone, Wood, & Cactus Hooks

Creating a fishing hook from naturally occurring materials is an essential skill for wild fishing. Potential materials for hooks include bone fragments, thorns, and hardened pieces of wood. These can be sharpened and curved into a hook shape.

The line can be created from plant fibers, such as stripped bark or vine, or from animal materials like sinew or hair. Bait can range from small insects, grubs, or pieces of fruit or other vegetation. After constructing the hook and line, it’s a matter of patience as you wait for a fish to take the bait.

3. Fish Traps

Fish traps, often called fish weirs, are another versatile technique used in wild fishing. These structures are designed to trap fish, allowing them to swim in but not out. Depending on your environment and resources, you can construct these traps from different materials like bamboo, reeds, or stones.

The design of fish traps can vary, but most involve creating a funnel-like or maze-like entry point that confuses and prevents the fish from escaping. After setting the trap, you can leave it for several hours or even overnight. This passive method allows you to focus on other survival tasks while simultaneously capturing food.

4. Hand Fishing

Also known as noodling, hand fishing is a technique that can be used in survival situations. It involves reaching underwater into likely hiding spots for fish—such as holes or under rocks—and attempting to grab the fish directly with your hand. It requires courage and caution, as some fish have sharp teeth or spines.

5. Improvised Fishing Rods

Even without professional gear, you can improvise a fishing rod. A long, sturdy stick can serve as a rod, while the line can be created from various materials as mentioned earlier. For the float, a piece of bark or a feather can be used. This technique imitates traditional fishing and can be particularly useful in bodies of water with fish that are shy or elusive.

Each of these techniques requires practice and patience to master, but with determination and ingenuity, wild fishing can provide a reliable food source in survival situations.

Where Can You Wild Fish?

a river running through the trees

Wild fishing can be done in almost any body of water that supports fish, from the smallest streams and ponds to large rivers and lakes. The coast also offers opportunities, with a variety of sea fish available to those who can tackle the challenges of saltwater fishing.

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The most important thing is to understand the fish species in your area and adapt your methods accordingly. Local knowledge and observation are vital; look for signs of fish activity, such as jumping fish, ripples, or birds feeding.

How to Clean the Fish After You Catch Them

The process of cleaning fish, often called “dressing,” is an essential skill for anyone who fishes for sustenance. The objective is to remove the parts of the fish that are not typically eaten, such as the scales, internal organs, and, in some cases, the head. Proper cleaning of fish not only enhances its taste but also ensures that it’s safe to eat.

Before you start, it’s crucial to have a clean, flat surface to work on and a sharp tool. In the absence of a traditional knife, a sharpened stone, bone, or piece of hard wood can serve the purpose.

Here are the basic steps to clean most common types of fish:

  1. Descale the Fish: Start by laying the fish on one side. Hold the fish firmly by the tail and use the edge of your tool to scrape off the scales, moving from the tail towards the head. Make sure to remove all scales as they can be unpleasant to eat. Flip the fish over and repeat the process on the other side.
  2. Gut the Fish: Once the fish is scaled, it’s time to remove the internal organs. Make a cut from the anus of the fish, which is located just beneath the tail, up to the base of the gills. The aim is to open the belly of the fish without piercing the internal organs.
  3. Remove the Entrails: Reach in and pull out all the internal organs. The organs should come out relatively easily. You should also remove the gills, which can impart a bitter taste if left in.
  4. Scrape the Bloodline: Along the spine of the fish, you will see a dark line, known as the bloodline. This should be scraped out as it can give the fish a strong, unpleasant flavor.
  5. Rinse the Fish: If clean water is available, rinse the inside and outside of the fish thoroughly. This will remove any remaining scales, blood, or pieces of entrails.
  6. Fillet or Cook Whole: At this stage, you can choose to either fillet the fish or cook it whole. If you decide to fillet, cut along the backbone of the fish, keeping the blade as close to the spine as possible, and remove the meat. Flip the fish over and repeat.

Remember to always dispose of the entrails responsibly. In a survival situation, you can bury them to avoid attracting predators to your camp. While cleaning fish may seem daunting initially, with practice, it becomes a quick and straightforward process. After a successful catch and clean, you’re one step closer to enjoying a well-deserved meal.

Cooking Your Fish Using Primitive Techniques

After the crucial steps of catching and cleaning your fish, the next challenge in a survival situation is cooking it. While you might not have your usual kitchen amenities, there are several primitive methods that can be used to cook fish effectively and safely.

1. Direct Cooking on Coals

One of the simplest ways to cook fish is directly on the coals of a fire. This method works best for whole fish. Once your fire has burned down to hot coals, simply place your cleaned fish directly on them.

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Turn the fish periodically to ensure even cooking, usually taking about 10 minutes for an average-sized fish. The skin will char, but it helps to seal in the moisture, keeping the flesh inside tender and flavorful.

2. Cooking on a Stick

Another method involves skewering the fish on a green stick, which is less prone to catching fire. Insert the stick into the mouth of the fish and out the tail, then angle the stick so that the fish hangs above the fire. This method allows the fish to cook slowly and evenly, basting in its own juices. Make sure to turn the fish occasionally for even cooking.

3. Hot Rock Cooking

If you have access to flat, sizable rocks, these can be used as a primitive “frying pan.” Heat the rock in the fire until it’s extremely hot. You can then lay the fish on the rock, flipping it occasionally until it’s fully cooked. This method imparts a unique flavor to the fish, especially if herbs or other edible plants are available to place under the fish while it cooks.

4. Stone Oven

A stone oven can be used to cook larger fish or several small ones simultaneously. To build a stone oven, you’ll need a fire and some large, fire-safe stones. Arrange a circle of stones around the fire and let them heat up. Place your fish in the center, then cover with leaves (if available) and more hot stones. The heat from the stones cooks the fish slowly and evenly. This method is somewhat similar to modern slow-cooking techniques and can yield very tender fish.

5. Clay Baking

If clay is available, you can encase the whole fish in a thick layer of clay. Place the clay-wrapped fish directly into the coals of a fire. The clay hardens and forms an ‘oven’ that cooks the fish evenly. Once the clay shell is hard, crack it open to reveal a perfectly cooked, moist fish inside. This method also has the advantage of easy clean-up; the scales stick to the clay and come off when you break it open.

Regardless of the cooking method chosen, it’s crucial to ensure that the fish is cooked thoroughly to kill any potential parasites or pathogens. You can check this by ensuring the flesh is opaque and flakes easily with a fork or your fingers. These primitive techniques not only serve a practical purpose but also can elevate your wilderness cooking experience, adding a unique flavor and enjoyment to your survival catch.


Wild fishing is a vital survival skill, leveraging resourcefulness and knowledge of nature to catch fish in situations where traditional gear is unavailable. By learning to create tools like spears, hooks, and fish traps, you can effectively fish in a range of environments.

It’s also crucial to learn how to properly clean and cook your catch using primitive techniques. Mastering these skills may not only elevate your next camping trip but could also be a lifeline in a survival situation. Whether you’re an avid outdoorsman or a survival novice, understanding the principles of wild fishing is a powerful addition to your survival skills toolbox.