How to catch a fish without a rod

For lightweight convenience on backcountry fishing trips or just-in-case survival fishing
August 12, 2014

I love fishing, so when Merrell asked me to write a piece about how to catch a fish without a pole, I got excited. Fishing without a pole is not only a great adventure and a new challenge, but it’s also a key skill to master when you’re packing light or want to be prepared to survive. So whether you just love fishing like I do and want a new challenge, or you want to know what gear is necessary for survival fishing, check out my tips below!

What to bring when you’re fishing without a pole

Taking a small kit that weighs almost nothing is perfect for backcountry fishing or carrying along just in case you need to do some survival fishing. This way you can hike a little farther with a little less gear while still having a regular food source so you can stay away from civilization should you choose to!

photo 1

The fishing gear you can see in the above photo isn't anything mind blowing, and no amazing skills are needed if you want to learn how to fish without a rod. To try out my system, I simply bought a $20 kit from an outdoor survival store and went out with some bread to a local pond. The only other thing I took was a knife. The kit above is very simple, will give you enough line for most applications, and a good choice of hooks for both course fish (plain hooks) and game fish (hooks with hair/fly on). The hook you use will depend on where you are fishing. For lakes you'll be looking at using the course-fish hooks, whereas the game-fish fly will be the better application for rivers. Here’s an overview of the fishing gear I picked up for backcountry fishing without a pole:

Kit you need to catch a fish:

  • 1 x pack small hooks with hook link (these are pre tied, and connect to braid with a simple double over hand loop, are for use with a bait)
  • 1 x 40ft braid (stronger than standard line)
  • 1 x pack of weights (these press onto the braid to aid casting and sinking of bait)
  • 1 x pack larger hooks with hook link (as above but for larger fish, or if your REALLY hungry!)
  • 1 x pack small fly/game hooks with hook links (pre tied, for river/game fish, no bait needed)
  • 1 x pack of swivels with quick connection links (to connect hook links to braid)

Setting up your fishing gear for backcountry or survival fishing

The pictures show simple step by step instructions for setting up the “rig” itself. Before you bank on your gear in a survival situation, make sure you’ve taken time to set up your tackle and test out my method for yourself in a local lake or stream.

Weight the line

The braid is weighted along various points, the further the last weight is from the bait, the slower the bait drops in the water (giving it more chance of it being picked up by fish). Also, the further along the weights are spread, the flatter the braid will lay on the lake or river bed.

braided line_catch a fish

Bait the hook

I have shown here how, if you are using bread, to fold the bread around the hook itself. As the bread takes on water, I wouldn't leave it more than five minutes or so before bringing it in and changing for fresh bait. You can use almost anything as bait including, marshmallows, cheese, pepperoni, dog biscuits (pre moistened), worms or any bugs you can find. A general rule of thumb to follow is that if the bait is hard (like pepperoni), leave the hook tip exposed. Also, buoyant baits will sit higher in the water, which will give you a greater chance of catching fish.

How to catch a fish_hook

Speaking of bait, you can use almost anything: mash mellows, cheese, pepperoni, dog biscuits (pre moistened) and for outright adventure types, worms or any other bugs you can find. The general rule of thumb is that if the bait's hard (e.g. pepperoni) leave the hook tip exposed. Moreover, it's also wise to remember that buoyant bait will sit higher in the water which will therefore give you a greater chance of catching fish.

Use a stick to create a float

With my stick method, all you need to go fishing without a rod is a stick with a small groove made in each end, the line and hook. Jam the line/braid into the grooves (a few feet of line from the hook). The stick will act as your weight for casting and will float so you'll get an indication you have a bite! It also allows you to fish surface baits and flies and cover a greater area on rivers as the current takes the stick down river. Finally, using the stick allows you to fish in the top third of the water with a sinking bait, as again, the stick acts like a float and gives you indication when you have a bite!

Screenshot 2014-08-12 14_Fotor_Collage

Here’s my stick floating in the water, with the bait just behind. You can also see the line coming back in my direction on the surface of the water. When I’m trying to travel light, this is my preferred choice for backcountry fishing. It’s easy, you can cast further (a simple under arm throw is all you need) and it’s an effective and reliable method for catching fish with minimal gear.

photo 2 copy 2

Plus, if you are staying by the water overnight you can also add 4-5 of the hook links to the braid and cast this out. Tie the end of the braid to a strong stick placed in the river bank or a tree close by and check your haul in the morning.

4-5 hook_Fotor_Collage

My first time fishing without a pole I sadly didn't catch anything on my few hours out (fisherman’s luck) but hopefully you’ll see more luck than I did. Once you catch something, my suggestion to cause the least harm unhooking the fish is to cut the line (close to the overhand knot) and feed the line through the fish’s lip rather than trying to remove the hook, as this can be very traumatic for the fish. Of course if you’re survival fishing or just catching your lunch, you’ll be killing the fish anyway, but I hope you decide to think of the fish’s welfare before you do the deed! And when you’re fishing without a pole just for fun, make sure you have your fishing license, know local rules about catch and release, take your waste with you, and as much as you can, try to leave the river or lake bank as you found it.

Main image copyright of DrimaFilm


Russell Smith

Running, cycling, mountaineering & wild camping
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