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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tis the Season For Fishing

Note- the following is an excerpt from Tony's forthcoming book on food procurement due out this summer. In the book, this chapter will also cover gill and cast nets, cleaning and cooking fish, and an assortment of primitive methods.

Improvised & Modern Fishing Gear

Fishing was a huge part of my life growing up in the Great Lakes. I could walk in any direction and practically run into a river, lake, or creek. Nowadays in the Southwest where I live, good fishing is hard to come by so the focus is on wild plants and small game. For those who live near riparian areas, you should definitely become versed in the fish of the region and the (legal) methods for catching them.

Having access to such freshwater ecosystems is the best of all worlds for a modern hunter-gatherer. With such a water source, you not only have fish to subsist on but edible plants such as cattails and bulrush along with an excellent chance of spotting animals coming down for a drink. Plus, in a survival situation, your hydration needs can be easily met.

Fishing Kits

Every fisherman has their take on what should go into a fishing kit. I have two setups. One is a reductionist survival fishing-kit and the other is a collapsible fishing pole with a standard reel. Be sure to obtain a fishing license for your state and to follow the guidelines. The rules are in place to protect the ecology of rivers and lakes so stick to them.

I have to say that you will dramatically increase your catch if you talk to the locals in the region. Stop in at the tackle shop and pick the brains of the people who are out fishing the region daily. They will give you a feel for what type of bait to use and where the best spots are for fishing. There is no substitute for local knowledge.

My minimalist fishing kit for the backcountry is pretty simple: three dozen assorted hooks secured on a safety pin, two dozen split-shot sinkers, small roll of 6 lb monofilament line, and a few bobbers.

I don’t use a pole but rather cast off of my hand, a stray pop can, or a smooth stick. I have probably caught more fish on survival outings using this simple “hobo reel” than through using any of my expensive rod and tackle sets, most of which are gathering dust. I was first introduced to this setup in the Boy Scouts but have found it to be pretty universal and still in use by native cultures throughout the world which is no surprise given it's low-tech appeal.

If you would rather purchase a pre-made survival fishing kit, then I would consider picking up one of the fine kits from the BestGlide Company in Texas. I recently obtained a sample kit to try out and was really impressed with both the quality and well-thought out components that went into their Standard Kit which retails for $24.95. This company sells a kit that will take care of your emergency fishing needs if you are not inclined to assembling your own. For info, check out

Carry A Big Stick

For a longer wilderness trip, I will bring along a collapsible fishing pole with a quality reel and an assortment of artificial lures. As you can guess, we are not talking about an expensive fishing kit with either of the above setups. If weight is an issue, then just pack along the hobo reel. Remember, you will need the appropriate license and be mindful of harvesting regulations for your state.

Successful fishermen are ardent observers of their surroundings and constantly filing away information on weather, insect hatches, etc…. Awareness is critical to subsistence hunting and fishing so pay attention not only to the waterhole where your line is dangling but to the immediate landscape and weather.

Lastly, remember when fishing to not overharvest a river or lake and to only take what you need. Other creatures, beside us humans, depend on aquatic wildlife for their survival too.

The Film World

I recently had the pleasure of taking actor Josh Brolin ("W", "No Country For Old Men") out for a survival training course to help prepare for an upcoming film. He picked up the skills like an old pro.

Often times on courses, folks ask about accuracy in films in terms of survival skills. Some are better than others but below are a list of the ones that myself and my fellow instructors have enjoyed and either excel at showing the atmosphere or accurate skills (or both).

Some of these are not appropriate for youngsters.

Into The Wild
Last of the Mohicans
The Snow Walker
The Fast Runner
Black Robe
The Naked Prey
Quest for Fire

Ten Canoes
Derzu Usala
The Edge
Jeremiah Johnson
Ten Canoes
Defiance (at theaters in 2009)

About Ancient Pathways

Tony Nester is the author of numerous books and DVDs on survival. His school Ancient Pathways is the primary provider of survival training for the Military Special Operations community and he has served as a consultant for the NTSB, Travel Channel, Backpacker Magazine, and the film Into the Wild. When not on the trail, he lives in a passive-solar, strawbale home in northern Arizona. For information on Tony’s books, gear, or bushcraft courses, visit

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