6 Ways to Catch Fish in an Emergency

It’s not uncommon for outdoorsmen to find themselves lost in the backcountry, miles from aid and running low on supplies like food and water. And while we pray such a predicament never happens to us, sometimes the worst does happen.

It pays to know how to find food in an outdoors emergency and fish are a great source of energy and vital nutrients. Not everyone ventures onto the trail with a compact fishing kit, though, which means some determination, patience and craftsmanship are needed. Here are six tips to help you catch fish in an emergency.

Make a spear

A spear can be an effective tool at catching fish and the good news is there’s generally no shortage of wood to sharpen in the woods. Don’t limit yourself to just branches, though; if your options are scarce, a bone or even a trekking pole can be used to spear fish, too. Simply fashion one end to a point and wade a little into shallow water. Patience and practice are key as the fish will take time to get close and it may take a few tries before you land dinner.

Fashion a hook

Some may think that without a proper fishing hook, all is lost. However, hooks can be improvised from many materials in an emergency situation, including needles, safety pins, nails, paper clips, thorns, a piece of bone, animal claw or even the tab from a pop can. For line, you can use a shoelace, thread from your clothing, dental floss or a long piece of twisted tree bark—whatever is available.

RELATED: How to Catch Fish in a Survival Situation

Use a gorge hook

Sometimes called a toggle hook, a gorge hook consists of a short, straight piece of durable material—a bone, piece of wood, part of an antler—that has been sharpened at both ends. You’ll need to delicately make a notch in the middle where it’s attached to the line, too. Insert the gorge hook inside a piece of soft bait and when a fish swallows the bait, pull the line and the gorge will turn sideways, lodging it in the fish’s throat.


Popular in the southern United States, noodling involves wading through deep rivers and lakes to pull catfish from holes by hand. This will likely need to be a last resort, though, as it can easily make your emergency worse if you step on something sharp while wading, come across an ornery snapping turtle or even grab hold of a huge catfish that’s strong enough to pull you under. Again, last resort.

RELATED: A Step-By-Step Guide to Noodling

Construct a dam

Another great way to catch fish in a survival situation is to construct a dam that will act as a funnel and from there you can either spear the fish or catch them in a net at that point. If the water is shallow enough you may even be able to stun them with a large rock, giving you just enough time to scoop them onto the beach.

Survival, Not Sport

Leave any reservations you may have about not catching fish in a sportsmanlike manner at home. Yes, these methods may seem crude and painful to the fish, but in an emergency, survival is top priority. Hesitating because you feel bad about spearing a fish or using a gorge hook can mean the difference between life and death in an emergency.