How to Fish Without a Pole – Survival Skills

Do you know how to fish without a pole? Most emergency/survival kits include a small assortment of hooks, line, and perhaps a few swivels and weights – but no fishing pole. Quite understandable since it’s assumed you’ll simply cut a branch off and use it as a cane pole.  However,  there are several ways to catch fish without the need of a rod and reel. And doesn’t have to be only in survival situations, either.

How to Fish Without a Pole

There are several methods and techniques within the three main categories of fishing without a pole, each one requiring certain bait on certain size hooks attached to certain weights of main lines and drop lines – all in the quest for a certain fish, which in most cases is catfish.

Three classic ways to fish are limb lines, trotlines, and jug fishing. Some consider a “throw line” as a fourth method, but in my book, that’s just a variation of a limb or trotline. Some methods work best in the gentle circulating currents of a lake, while others can be used in flowing waters. Either way, both approaches rely on adequate anchor weights to hold them in place if stationary or drift weights that limit the movement caused by the struggling of a large, hooked fish.

Weights to restrain/control your fishing lines can vary from lightweight sinkers often found in a tackle box to a huge brick.  In an emergency situation, a rock or other heavy object can be attached to control the depth and drift of these lines.

RiverBum Fly Fishing Gear

Limb Lines

how to fish without a poleLiterally a line with a baited hook that is tied to a tree or bush branch hanging over the water’s edge and dropped down below the surface.  Several limbs can be rigged in sequence along a bank varying the bait and depth to see which set-up is more productive.

Access to checking the line can be by the shore or in a boat cruising just beyond the tips of the limb line branches while checking/maintaining each line.



how to fish without a poleA length of strong fishing line outfitted with a hooked and baited drop line hanging down every couple of feet and spread across a stretch of water is a trotline. I’ve set them up across a small stream, attaching each end to a tree along the bank while others might stake one end and attach a weight to the other to stretch across a section of water.

A critical step in creating a trotline is developing a method to keep the drop lines with the baited hooks about two feet apart while preventing them from sliding up/down the mainline when a fish is pulling to get free. A small knot or some sort of stopper clamp on each side of the attachment point where the dropline is connected to the mainline will keep that hook in place along the trotline.

In my youth, we’d use a huge treble hook loaded up with a cake of catfish bait. Many trot liners today use a circle hook since larger ‘cats’ tend to bend the classic “J” hook.

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Jug Fishing

how to fish without a poleThis is my favorite method, especially when rafting down a river. Basically it’s a huge bobber with a baited line hanging down into the water and free-floating with the current.  A jug fishing rig provides the flotation from which a drop line is hung. Drift can be controlled by a weight that hugs the bottom or hangs free. This enables the angler to set the depth of the free-hanging bait as it floats unhindered down the river.

Not all states allow all these methods and those that do have their own regulations as well. Limits, marking lines and other fishing laws may prevail for a particular waterway, too.

Typically the baits include worms, shad, minnows, clams as well as chicken livers, and the classic home-remedies of “stink” baits. Most importantly, the bait needs to be able to stay on the hook for a long period of time. Equally important is to check your limb, trot, or jug lines routinely. Furthermore, some states designate a maximum time range between checks.

These methods are effective ways to catch dinner during a survival situation. Equally fun and challenging as an alternate means to using a rod and reel. This is a good way to hone your emergency angling skills.

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