Become a Survivor: Catching Fish

I thought I’d share with you some of the chapters I’m preparing for the second volume of Survivor: Your Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse. For those of you haven’t heard about the first volume of the book then you can check it out here, or subscribe to my mailing list to receive a free electronic copy!

Catching & Eating Fish for Survival

It’s been three days since you’ve bugged out and your store of survival biscuits is running very low. You’ve made a good dent in the journey to wherever you can, but now your priorities have changed. You need food, but there are no supermarkets around or they’ve been picked clean already. What can you do next?

There’s a fishing line in the Bug Out Bag. It’s a basic hook and a line, but it’s the best you’ve got. So how do you go about catching your dinner from the water? Here’s a guide.

In the UK we have plenty of lakes, rivers and canals, you’re never far away from water. If you have a map it’s easy, otherwise look for bridges, then peer down. If it’s not a road or railway then you’re likely to be above water.

There are over eighty two species of fish in the UK, both native and invasive. Seven of these species are both abundant and apparently easy to catch. Let’s take a look in more detail.

First of all how do you catch fish?

Step One

You’ll need a fishing line with a hook on the end. Add a sinker (a small metal weight) if you need to get the hook to sink below the surface of the water.

Step Two

Bait the hook. You can use worms, crickets, flies or other insects. You can also use vegetables such as corn, celery, carrots, lettuce, peas and any sort of plant, shrimp or small fish. You will get different results from different bait and you can also use an artificial lure to trick the fish into believing it is the real thing.

Step Three

Dangle the line in the water.

Step Four

Tug on the line to set the hook. Wait. When you get a bite, pull the fish in.

If you have plenty of bait you can scatter that across the surface of the water to attract more fish to the area.

Fish are best caught from running water, either rivers, canals or lakes as still water fish can test muddy.

That’s the basics, but why don’t we give ourselves a fighting chance and take a look at what else we can bring along to even the odds in our favour of getting a decent meal.

I’m interested in increasing the amount of line and quantity of hooks as you can go through them quite easily. The Bug Out Bag from Volume One only has one length of line and a single hook contained within the emergency survival grenade.

Following research, I found the NATO Universal Fishing Kit. This is a military specification fishing kit designed for use by NATO Forces at sea or in the wilderness. It’s suitable for sea or freshwater fishing situations and includes 30 metres of olive green fishing line, four fly hooks, four medium hooks, eight small hooks, twenty four split shot and four swivels.

A fishing swivel is two metal rings connected to a pivoting joint. The fishing line is tied one end and then connected to a rod and reel, or tied off if using a fixed line, then another length of line is tied to the other end and terminated with a hook, bait and sinker, all to be lowered into the water. The swivel is used to allow the line to untwist when retrieving from the water so it doesn’t get tangled.

Split shot are used as sinkers to weigh down the hooked end into the water to stop the line floating on the surface.

The kit is small and lightweight and comes in under £10. There are lots of other kits available too, even compact rods which would be suitable for reeling in larger catches.

Alternative Fishing Techniques

In addition to using a line and hook, you can also use nets to catch fish. Below are the two main types and techniques.

Gill Nets – A gill net is a single wall of netting anchored on the seabed to catch fish that swim into it.

Cast Nets – A cast net is a circular net with small weights distributed around its edge. The net is cast by hand so that it spreads out while in the air before sinking into the water. Fish are caught as the net is pulled in. This simple device has been in use for thousands of years.

The use of cast nets is illegal in some areas of the UK and around the world, however are only considering their use in a situation where there is no longer an effective government able to enforce such laws and where the environmental concerns of such effective techniques are no longer relevant.

‘Easy to Catch’ Fish

I’m based in the UK so we’ll start with the species available here, then we’ll take a look later on at some species in the USA.

Most fish we eat in the UK are sea fish. Coarse fish, which are described as non-salmon / trout fresh water fish, are often overlooked in the UK. Here are some of the common types of fish in UK waters that are the easiest to catch.

Common Bream

How to catch: Bream live in large schools near the bottom of rivers and canals. They generally don’t put up a fight once hooked.

Appearance: The common bream is a deep bodied fish that is relatively thin across the body. It has a green-brown back with golden bronze flanks and a white underbelly. Younger Bream have silver flanks, which change to bronze as they get older. The common bream has a small mouth and the young are are covered in slime.


How to catch: Immature chub are known for feeding on practically any type of bait and are therefore relatively easy to catch even for most inexperienced of anglers. Its head is large, round and comes with a big tough mouth and thick lips.

Appearance: Its back is greenish brown, whilst the flanks are silvery and its underbelly is a whitish yellow. The chub’s fins are well defined and range from colourless to red, depending on the age of the fish. Small chub can be confused with dace, an easy way to distinguish between the two is by looking at the fins. The chub has large fins which have rounded convex rear edges, this is not true for dace which have concave rear edges.

Specific Considerations: The chub is deemed to be an inedible fish, full of forked bones, the flesh is not firm, but short and tasteless. On cooking they turn into a fishy, fibrous mass, like mashed potatoes.


How to catch: Dace are a small silver fish that are are found in rivers, streams, and small bodies of flowing water and they often come closer to the surface to feed on flies. Due to their large appetites they can be caught easily using a lot of bait to attract their attention.

Appearance:  Dace have small, slim bodies, their backs are olive green in colour and they have bright silver flanks with a white underbelly. The forked tail is a translucent grey, as is the dorsal fin, whilst the fins on its underside range in colour from a brown-yellow to pale pink.

They are often confused for small chub but can be distinguished by the shape of their fins. Dace have a concave curve on the back edge of their fins, whilst chub have a convex shape instead.


How to catch: Gudgeon can be found in almost any canal or river and are said to be a very easy catch. They are perfect for novice anglers as they can be caught from the towpath of the canal.

Gudgeon is a member of the carp family. They are fresh-water fish, living at the bottoms of rivers and ponds with a good flow of water.

Appearance: Gudgeons have a short, heavy head, short fins, and short barbules hanging from each corner of their mouths. They have brownish-olive skin with black spots.

Specific Considerations: Gudgeons have finely-textured flesh that is considered tasty, but many people think the fish is only worth the bother if it is of a decent size. Some Australian fish are called Gudgeons, but they’re actually of another species.

Rainbow Trout

How to catch: If you are using a lot of bait then this fish will not be difficult to catch.

Appearance: Named after a rainbow because of their silver bodies, black spots and blue and pink bands, the Rainbow is a beautiful fish. They have a pinkish or reddish lateral stripe, sometimes with lavender or orange overtones, from the gill cover running the length of the body to the tail. The caudal fin has rows of small dark spots, and there are more small blackish spots sprinkled on the head and sides, and spotting on the dorsal and adipose fins. The belly is whitish. The lower fins are pale-pink without spots. At spawning time, males become deeply coloured with an intensely red side stripe.


How to catch: The Roach is the most common fish in the canal network and can be found in almost all canals. They can be caught in abundance from the boat channel and will gather in huge numbers if enough loose bait is distributed frequently.

Appearance: The roach is a slim-bodied fish, its back is a grey-blue colour, its flanks are bright silver and its underbelly is pale cream. Despite also being known as ‘red fins’, with the exception of its anal fin, roach have fins which are orange, although they do develop into a shade of red in older specimens. Its mouth is small, with the top lip extending over the lower lip, indicating its preference for bottom feeding.


How to catch: A bottom feeding fish that lives off the leftovers of other fish, they are common in almost all canals in the UK. When caught, the Ruffe will extend extremely spiky dorsal fins so you should always handle them care.

Appearance: Usually a sandy brown to dark brown colour with blotchy black markings and speckles across the upper body and dorsal fin. They have two dorsal fins which are are joined together; the front is generally hard while the rear is soft. They have a short triangular head and large mouth.

Catching Fish in the USA

In the US some of the easiest fish to catch include the Burbot, Largemouth Bass, Crappie, Sunfish and Bluegills.

General Notes on Preparing Fish

To help ensure your fish tastes as good as possible and to avoid food poisoning follow these steps:

1) Keep the fish alive to ensure the flesh is tender. It will otherwise perish within a very short time. Keep the fish away from direct sunlight, in a cooler or shaded area.

2) The most humane way to kill a fish is to stun it first then bleed it out. Fish should remain in water  until immediately prior to stunning. There are two methods that can be used to stun fish caught by hand: percussive stunning, hitting the fish with enough force above the eyes or spiking, or the insertion of a spike quickly and directly into the hindbrain, usually located behind and above the eye. This method stops the production of lactic acid which makes the fish sour.

3) Clean it as soon as you kill the fish. Lay the fish on its side and hold the head. Insert the fillet knife behind the pectoral fin (the ones at the side) and cut downward to, but not through, the backbone. Turn the knife flat with the sharp edge pointed toward the tail and use a sawing motion to slowly work down toward the tail; stay as close as possible to the backbone.

4) Be careful not to overcook the fish. It dulls the taste and makes the flesh tougher.

If you like what you read here then why not get your free copy of Survivor Volume 1 by joining my mailing list. If you find something not quite right with my post and want to set me straight then I welcome your words in the comments.

A big thanks to the following sources of information used in compiling this article.


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