There’s a reason most people fish with hooks – they make things easy. But if everything were easy, you’d be back in your house, probably reading survival articles in a comfortable chair.

If you’re stuck without a hook, there are still tons of excellent primitive fishing techniques to use. Just because you can’t stab a fish through the face with a tiny hook doesn’t mean you can’t stab it through the face with a spear! Or trap it in a net, or grab it out of the water, or … well, you’ll see. That’s why we’re writing a whole article. Happy eating!

Trapping Techniques

Bucket Trap

The bucket trap is the absolute simplest trap you can make. You make it by putting a bucket in the water.

Well, there’s a little more to it than that. Put bait in the bottom of your bucket. Hold it on its side, close to the surface of the water. Stand very still until the fish grow used to your presence.

When a fish swims in for bait, flip the bucket out of the water. Yep. That’s seriously it.

As you probably noticed, the drawback to this technique is that you have to stand there for a very long time — far longer than it will take you to reconsider using the bucket trap.

Basket Trap

If you’ve got the survival skills to make one, a basket trap is the gift that keeps on giving. The work of trapping is passive. It means you’ll have more time to build shelter, forage plants, or tend to the wound you got when you experimented with more active hunting.

If you’ve got the survival skills to make one, a basket trap is the gift that keeps on giving.

To make a basket trap, weave reeds or vines around an odd number of sticks to create a wide cone. In order to catch anything significant, your cone should be at least four feet long and a couple of feet wide at its opening.

To close the cone, weave a funnel with a narrow opening that nests into your original basket. Bait the insides, tie it shut, and submerge it in the water.

The fish will swim into the funnel and be unable to figure out how to escape through the now convex opening before them.

Fortunately for those who rely on primitive techniques for survival, fish are incredibly stupid. Even stupider than that jackass who cut you off the other day on your way to work.


A fishing weir channels fish into places where they can be easily caught.

To make a fish weir, find an area with a high fish population – preferably one where tidal waters are in play. Use sticks or rocks to build a large structure so that a large group of fish will be guided into a small area.

Strategies here can be varied. Some people construct weirs that will strand fish in a small tidal pool. Others use the weirs to funnel fish directly into traps or nets.

The construction of a weir will take a lot of work. Unless you’re planning on staying a while, we suggest a quicker technique. A weir, however, is the only technique on this list where you can feasibly catch dozens of fish at one time. So if your survival dream is a wilderness all-you-can-eat seafood buffet, stick it out.

Net Fishing in Sri Lanka

Net Techniques

If you want to utilize net techniques when fishing, it’s best to bring a synthetic net. Barring that option, you can weave one from paracord or even natural fibers.

Casting Net

To make a casting net, attach rocks to one edge of your net that is large enough to weigh it down. Wade waist-deep into the water, then throw your net into an area with a lot of fish and drag it back towards you.

This is a survival skill that involves a lot of technique. Which means that in the beginning, you’ll spend hours screaming a large variety of curses as fish swim past you and bump into your legs.

It builds character.

Cornering Fish

Cornering is a net technique that works best with two people. To use it, find a place where a river or pond branches off into a dead end.

Guide the fish towards the dead end by stretching your net over the full width of the river. Move slowly, backing the fish into an area where they can be easily trapped. Then let them all go, celebrating the blessing that is life.

Just kidding. Grab ‘em and cut their guts out.

Get the original book on trapping and snaring: The Trapper’s Bible: Traps, Snares & Pathguards

Fisherman with Salmon

Wacky Techniques

Bail Out A Pool

If you encounter a tidal pool full of fish and you have no equipment, simply bail the water from the pool until the fish are easy to grab.

Obviously, this takes a lot of work, so think with your head and not your gnawingly empty stomach. It doesn’t count as a survival skill to attempt to bail the water out of a lake.

Spear Hunting

Of all the wacky techniques, this is probably the least wacky, because spear hunting is a serious survival skill that some people are truly excellent at.

If you are not excellent, however, it will take a lot of time and energy to learn how to make a fishing spear and use it property, during which you will not be eating. So we hope you have the survival knowledge to back this one up.

Practice your aim before shooting for a fish – light refraction makes things that are underwater seem closer.

Oh yeah – and you might want to get a spear.

Fish Tickling

With the right survival skills, you can actually catch fish using nothing but your bare hands.

This technique works best for catfish and other ground dwellers, who rest on the bottom of streams and pools.

The key here is moving slowly. Probably more slowly than you thought it was possible to move. Slide your hand under the fish, and when you’ve got it surrounded, snatch it up as quickly as you can.

You’ll be very happy to know you’ve got dinner in your hand. The fish, however, will feel awful. You betrayed its trust. How could you?

Upgrade your primitive fishing skills and learn more about survival with the Wilderness Survival Handbook!