Subsistence Fishing After TEOTWAWKI by, CentOre

Thursday, Dec 29, 2011

Introductory Disclaimer: Many ideas expressed within this article may not be legal in all jurisdictions.  Items covered and methods discussed are strictly theoretical in nature unless otherwise stated.

Many people have a love of fishing.  Take a pole, and maybe a youngster, down to the shore, or a dock, baiting up, casting out, and waiting for a bite.  It’s a great time to just sit, talk, and enjoy nature.  Right?
Not after TEOTWAWKI!  There will not be many ‘restful’ days, or nights for that matter.  Our group has a saying that: “Sportsman-ship goes out the window when Survival-ship comes in the door.”  Catching as many fish as you can properly make use of with a minimum of effort will become the rule.  It is wasteful to catch more of any game than you can make use of.  If you can dry and/or smoke ten pounds of fish per day don’t go out and catch a hundred pounds unless you have the means to keep the unprocessed fish from spoiling.
Looking back at the Native Americans and their ways is a good place to start. In the Columbia River Drainage they fished with both nets and spears.  They still do, where the white man hasn’t messed up the stream flow.
Let’s discuss several methods of catching many fish.  Gigging, Netting, Bow Fishing and Trot Lining.

Gigging

Gigging involves using a device that resembles a spear with two or more points.  A quick search online for “fishing gigs” will show the full range of styles that have been used and are in use today.
Using a fishing gig generally requires being able to see the fish you are hunting, getting close enough to reach it with the gig, and doing all that in a stealthy enough manner that you do not spook the target.  Another method involves finding a spot that fish are known to pass, setting up and waiting for the fish to come to you.  Again, you must be ready to strike at the proper moment.  You may miss the first few times.  There is a trick of optics called ‘parallax’ that we will discuss in depth a little later on.  A fish is not where it seems to be and the gigger must learn about and adjust for this before many fish are gigged.

Netting

The net has been used down through the centuries and has evolved into very sophisticated ‘fishing systems’ used on all modern fishing vessels.  In this paper we are talking about a simple net you weave yourself and use up close and personal.  Go online and do a search for fishing net making.  You will find the size and shapes of the shuttles that are used, and the one very basic knot that creates all good nets.  Generally you need to decide where you are going to use the net before you begin to build it.  If it is a stream situation, then determine the width and maximum depth at the place you will be fishing.  If I were to make one, I would generally make a net that is one and a half times the width of the water and twice as deep as the water.  The size of the net openings is determined by the size of the fish you wish to catch.  For instance, if you are going out to catch all the fish you can regardless of size, then a net made with a mesh opening of 1 inch would probably be good.  If, however, you only want to catch large fish [say, for splitting and smoking] then a net mesh size that will allow the smaller fish to escape and keep only the larger fish then you want to make a mesh size commensurate with the fish size.

EXAMPLE: We have a large annual run of German Browns every fall in a small creek off a large reservoir. The larger fish can be well over ten pounds.  The creek is about thirty feet wide and 5 to 6 feet deep (at a spot that would work for netting).  Personally [If I were going to net this creek which of course I am not since it is not legal], my net would be about forty to fifty feet long and ten to twelve feet tall.  One note to remember, a 4” mesh net takes ¼ as many knots as a 1” mesh.  When you multiply that out to the total size of your net you might come to the decision to make a course net first.  Maybe you should/could make just a small one to keep the deer out of your garden, before you tackle a really fine net.

One word of caution.  You will read many articles and, in fact talk to many people who will write or speak of making a ‘gill net’.  I see the word tossed about as if it were the only net to make or use. A gill net is a very sophisticated fishing tool that is sized precisely to the size fish you are going to take.  Fish too small can swim right through it.  Fish too large will run into it and go away.  Only the ‘right’ sized fish will be able to poke its head nearly through the primary netting to the extent the much smaller gill strands of the net will catch behind the fish’s gills and hold it securely until harvested.  I will not say you cannot make one.  I will say I would never invest the time and precious materials needed in making and then maintaining a gill net.

Bow Fishing

Anyone who has used a target bow, a hunting bow, or a sophisticated archery competition bow might want to consider its’ use in the area of fish harvesting, provided of course that it is legal in your area.  For many summers when I was a kid I would take my trusty long bow, attach an old spinning reel below the grip with electricians tape.  I would take an old, damaged but pretty much still straight target arrow shaft, drill a small hole through the metal tip just about as far back on the ferrule as I could and still be on the metal.  I would drill the hole so a 1½ to 2 inch finishing nail would fit loosely.  The head end of the finish nail plus about a ½ inch would be bent 90 degrees? and hammered flat enough that I could attach a small fishing swivel-snap to it through a very small hole I drilled in the flattened nail head.  I would then slide the nail point through hole in my shaft.  The pointy end would now be bent about 45 degrees?, such that the swivel-snap and the point would both be pointed up the shaft.  Attach some old about 30 lb monofilament or braided line to the swivel-snap and wind about 50 feet onto the reel.
When I went fishing I would nock the arrow, open the bail on the reel and I was ready to fish.  Carp were always in season [and legal at the time to hunt with bows].  Upon spotting a likely candidate I would draw my bow and loose the arrow.  If I struck the fish I would play it on the spinning reel.  When I landed the fish all I had to do was make certain the barb went completely through the fish.  Then a light pull on the shaft would flip the barb/swivel-snap/nail over so it was pointed down the shaft.  Then the arrow could be withdrawn with minimum damage to the flesh of the fish, and no damage to the arrow.  I could be back to fishing in under two minutes once I had landed the fish.

The tricky part is learning to compensate for the parallax that occurs when you look into water at an angle. [The natural tendency is to aim too high, so if in doubt, hold low.] All I can say is, you will get lots of fish just as soon as you figure the angle out.  The variables include 1) the angle you are looking into the water at, and 2) the depth of the fish in the water.  Each shot requires a fresh mental computation.

Trot Lining

Simply stated, a trot line is nothing more than a long line with many hooks.  However, there is a little more to it than that. 
Not having lived in the southern states where trot lining for catfish is nearly akin to a religion, I’ll just share the simple way I was taught up in the Pacific Northwest.  In the 1960s I had what I consider to be a real honor to know a gentleman in the State of Washington I will call ‘Bob Ford’.  Bob was an octopus fisherman.  He was on a scientific register back east somewhere and he supplied octopus parts for many science research projects.  Bob ran three trot lines.  As I recall two of the lines were 1,000 feet long and the big one was 1,500 feet long.  They were set in the shelter of Dungeness Spit in areas where he knew the bottoms to be sandy and free of snags.  Bob would go out every day and ‘pull’ his lines.  He would start by going to his marker buoy and hauling up the 75 to 100 feet of anchor line that anchored the trot line against the tides.  He had a roller assembly on the forward, port gunwale where he placed the line as he pulled it.  When he got to the anchor he would move it over the pulley and keep on pulling on the trot line. About every fifty feet or so was a cedar box that was about twelve inches square and four feet long.  One of the twelve by twelve inch ends was open.  Each trap was on about a five foot tag line off the main trot line.  He would pull each box up to see if it held an octopus.  Then he would pull again to the next box.  Now you might say one person pulling well over 3,500 feet of wet, soggy line festooned with a bunch of heavy anchors and water logged cedar boxes every day, and sometimes twice a day, is a little hard to believe.  Well he did it.  He did it every day for over twenty years.  I knew him when I was the Keeper of a nearby Lighthouse.  At the time Bob was in his ‘younger’ eighties as he put it.  Nobody, not even the young loggers in the area, ever challenged him to arm wrestling!!  Every Friday morning the Oriental market buyers would come over from Seattle to bid on any ‘extra’s’ Bob had caught.

So, how does this story fit in?  Well, if you want to be a successful trot liner you need to follow every one of the rules that old Bob taught me.  1) You need a bottom that is free of snags, 2) you have to attach your hooks to the trot line in such a way that the main line will not get tangled and broken, 3) you need to put each hook on the end of a short leader, and 4) fish with the right bait.  Old Bob’s ‘bait’ was the cedar box.  You see, octopi like darkness.  They feed at night, but when the sun comes up they look for a cave to hide in.  Well, in our area there must have been a real cave shortage because the octopi would crawl into the cedar ‘caves’ and defend it all the time it was being hauled to the surface.  A really large octopus would even fight him when he tried to get them out of ‘their cave’.  In your case you too have to use ‘the right bait’.  Yours will probably be something you know the local fish like to eat.  In our area I am well stocked up with many flavors of ‘Power bait™’.  It stores well and the fish around me don’t seem to care if it’s five or six years old.  My mainline is 100 pound test braided synthetic line.  Every six feet there is about a ½ to 1 inch dropper knot tied in the main line. 
For each dropper there is about an eighteen inch, 20 pound monofilament leader with a swivel-snap [see my aforemention of bow fishing] on the dropper end and a #6 or #8 2x treble hook snelled onto the business end of the leader. (You may want to use a different hook and system for your local area.)  A short study on the web will teach you the dropper knot and how to snell a hook.  I direct you there because Mr. Rawles properly frowns on pictures or drawings as some readers have trouble downloading them.

The leaders are all carried in a bucket. They are all pre-baited and placed in the bucket with a little water over them so they don’t dry out.  Each end of the mainline has an anchor on it and an anchor line that goes to the surface.  I frown on marker buoys as too many people might see them from too far away.  A small piece of driftwood three or four feet long works just fine as an anchor line float and has a much lower profile.
I put down one anchor and begin to pay out the main line.  Each time I come to a dropper knot I snap on a swivel snap with its’ leader and pre-baited hook.  When I get to the far end I set my second anchor, anchor line, and marker buoy.  You should always put a marker buoy on each end so if one marker buoy gets loose or damaged you can go to the other end and not lose your trot line.
Depending upon your situation you may need to place small weights every so far to keep the line where you want it.  Many cat fishers set their lines in the evening and pull them in the morning

As I stated earlier: You have an obligation to get food and keep your family fed.  But, you have an equally important obligation of not taking more than you can make use of at any one time.  So, I recommend you start small until you get an idea of what a ‘normal’ catch might be.  One method to do this is to only put a swivel, leader, hook and bait on every second or third dropper while you are ‘testing the waters’.
As a side issue, we like crawfish.  They supply some of the nutrients our other foods might be otherwise lacking.  We have a stash of crawdad traps picked up for peanuts at garage sales.  Anything you can open, close, and punch holes in will make a bait can.  Why not make use of the fish offal, I think that’s the word.  I call them fish guts.  Use them to bait a few crawdad traps.  If you get more ‘dads’ than you can eat at one time [a rare occurrence at our house!] they can up great with a water bath canner and a little vinegar and pickling spice.

Disclaimer: Many thoughts expressed here may not be legal in some or all jurisdictions.  Consult your state's fishing and trapping regulations! Items covered and methods discussed are strictly theoretical in nature unless otherwise stated. - CentOre
(CentOre is a loosely connected group of people in the Oregon High Desert interested in improving our existing skills, and learning new skills that will enhance our odds when it hits.)


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