Disaster Preparedness – Fishing As A Family Survival Skill

When it comes to collecting and foraging for food during hard times or during a long-lasting post-disaster period, almost everyone in the family can engage in some form of fishing.

There are many methods that can be used, which target various species of fish and crustaceans in both freshwater and saltwater. One of the great benefits is that in addition to putting a lot of food on the table, fishing can help families maintain bonds while reducing stress during tough times; fishing is fun! Fishing may not be an aerobic exercise, but it does provide some exercise without burning excess calories during times when food supplies may be short.

Fresh Water Crustaceans: Crayfish


While maybe not quite as popular as fish, freshwater crayfish (AKA; crawfish, mudbugs, etc), which are related to lobsters, represent a significant source of food during tough times. Crayfish are widely distributed around the globe and it is estimated that there are over 300 species of freshwater crayfish in North America and they are available year-round. This is good news for Preppers and survivalists who may require sustainable sources of easily prepared foods (you can as a minimum; boil them in water for 20 minutes and then eat the meat in the tails).

The basic methods for catching crayfish are:

First, if you’re on the run or in bug-out mode ‘traveling light’, you can actively search shallow underwater areas for crayfish by looking under rocks, logs and other debris in riverbeds or shallow waters on the shores of lakes and ponds. In a pinch, you can grab the crayfish on his body behind his head and pinchers, and drop them into an old plastic bottle modified with shoulder sling (line tied to bottle for carrying) and a hole cut near the top just large enough to accept them. Keep in mind that when you’re trying to catch them; all crayfish (lobsters included) swim backwards using their powerful tail. Unlike their larger cousins (lobsters) most freshwater crayfish don’t have the power in their pinchers to inflict a serious injury unless you happen across a grand-daddy crayfish. Most freshwater crayfish are less than 8 inches long and pose no real threat. However, there are some species of freshwater crayfish such as those in Tasmania for example, which can reach up to 11 pounds, and any crustacean of this size should be respected and treated with great care because their pinchers (claws) can inflict a serious injury to a finger or hand. When capturing any crustacean by hand, always grasp the animal from behind (don’t worry; they cannot reach backwards to pinch you). If you have a pair of gloves (I use leather) you can handle any crustacean with care.

20 spiny lobsters

Photo: Capt. Bill’s son ‘Billy’ with 20 spiny lobsters caught during a single 20 min. snorkeling session (sailing expedition 1991-1994). Photo by: Capt. William E. Simpson - USMM

I am speaking from experience having captured hundreds of lobsters (seawater) as well as freshwater crayfish. All of the lobsters in the photo above are Pacific spiny lobsters which don’t have any large pinschers (claws); instead their defense is made up of an armored body cover with spines. You never want to grab any lobster without good gloves on, and you always grab them on their body (just above the tail).

If you enter the water (snorkeling) to search for crustaceans, you’ll want to have the proper gear to ensure your success in foraging.

searching for fish

Photo: Capt. Bill’s son ‘Billy’ preparing to enter the water in search of fish and crustaceans. Photo by: Capt. William E. Simpson - USMM

Snorkeling in order to forage for food is usually very productive if you have the right equipment. And almost anyone can without any ‘training’ use snorkeling gear successfully. First of all, you will need a properly fitted wetsuit so that you can maintain your body temperature in cooler waters. In the picture just above, ‘Billy’ is using what is known as a ‘shorty’ wetsuit, which has short sleeves and legs and is made of light weight neoprene rubber (3mm. thick). This wetsuit is well suited to the warmer waters of Hawaii or Mexico. However, in the other photo above where Billy is seen with his catch of lobsters, he is wearing a full wetsuit (his hood is not seen) that is made of ¼ inch thick neoprene rubber, which is suitable for cooler waters. It’s important to use the right wetsuit, otherwise you’ll burn too many calories if you start to shiver, and you’ll want to remain comfortable. The nice thing about any wetsuit is that it makes you more buoyant and therefore, you float easily. In some cases, depending on the amount of buoyancy of the wetsuit used, you may need to wear a weight belt in order make it possible to dive down to the bottom (yes, some wet suits are that buoyant!)

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You will also notice the spear that Billy is holding which is called a Hawaiian sling. It has three long sharpened stainless-steel prongs with small barbs on the ends; sometimes known as a ‘paralyser tip’. These rubber-band propelled spears are excellent for spearing fish, and in cases where you are in emergency survival mode, it makes spearing lobsters or crabs that you can’t reach under rocks very easy (Note: it’s illegal to spear crustaceans in many countries, including the U.S. and that’s because it’s like shooting ducks in a barrel). The other important piece of equipment that is seen in the photo is a mesh net ‘goodie bag’ that allows you to easily carry an assortment of foraged items; fish, lobsters and mollusks. Finally, in the same photo, Billy is seen with his diver’s knife, which has many uses underwater, including dislodging shellfish or other critters from rocks. A quality mask and set of fins is also important since the cheap ones don’t hold up. Check with your local diver’s supply to get advice on what’s available.

The second (and best) method for catching all crustaceans is through the use of traps. And by deploying more traps, you can greatly increase the amount of your catch, with little more energy expended; this increased efficiency in the utilization of calories (food used) is ideal for long-term survival and dictates the value of these traps. Traps can be acquired (in good times) or made by hand.

Here’s a great video that has step-by-step instructions for building your own crayfish traps (you can modify the entrance size of the trap to match the size of the species you intend to catch, up to and including lobsters):


Game Fish

Almost anyone can catch fish with a minimum of experience and equipment. Back on the ranch, we use to catch fish out of our pond using a simple bamboo pole with a piece of monofilament line tied to the tip of the pole that was the same length as the pole (say about 7 feet long). At the end of the line was a suitable sized barbed hook where we would affix a grasshopper (when is season) or a worm, and above that was a clip-on ‘bobber’. The ‘bobber’ could be set at a specific length above the hook and bait and that’s what controlled how deep the baited hook would be in the water. When a fish nibbled on the bait, the bobber would bounce a bit and that was the prequel to hooking the fish as soon as the bobber got pulled under the water by a fish. Nothing fancy, but it worked all day long. If we wanted to fish the bottom of the pond, then we’d remove the bobber and let the baited hook hit the bottom, which is where the catfish roamed.

By using a fishing rod with a spinning reel, which is more costly, you can ‘cast’ to areas that may contain more fish (or larger fish), something that you cannot do with a ‘Tom Sawyer’ fishing pole and its fixed length of line. A spinning rod and reel also allows for the rapid retrieval of a lot of line over a large area of water, which in turn allows you to ‘troll’ a lure through the water in manner that emulates prey for certain fish. Using a spinning rod and reel to cast to reach fish also takes a bit more skill than the ‘Tom Sawyer’ pole, so practice is important if this method is to be productive at a time when ‘catching’ is important.

tuna catch

Photo: Capt. Bill’s wife Laura showing how it’s done with part of a total catch of 21 tuna during a two-hour fishing session. Photo by. Capt. William E. Simpson –USMM

Some people who have small row boats with oars or small boats with an outboard motor (or a solar-charged, battery powered electric motor) can use their boats with a great degree of success by covering a lot of fishing area quickly. This allows a fisherman to find the fish and focus the greatest amount of time in that area. In this method, fishing rods are set into ‘rod holders’ that are mounted on the sides of aft part of the boat, and the lines with the lures are let-out to varied distances behind the boat. This allows the boat to ‘troll’ (pull) the lures through the water behind the boat as the boat continually moves forward through the water. When a fish grabs a lure, the fisherman grabs the rod and hooks the fish, and the boat is then slowed or stopped while the fish is then reeled-in and netted. You can use a ‘Tom Sawyer’ pole as well, but it should be very flexible with a lot of ‘give’ so it doesn’t break-off when a larger fish strikes a lure hard.

Yet another method for obtaining a lot of fish with even less work, is to set-out a long-line (this ‘main-line’ can be up to 100 yards long or more), which has shorter lines (4-6 feet long) with baited hooks that are tied to the main-line, and distributed along the main-line at a pre-determined distance (one every 15 feet). The main-line will normally have a buoy secured at each of its ends as well as an anchoring system to keep the main-line stretched out (also keeps it from becoming tangled). In the open ocean, some long-lines can extend for miles, and may or may not be anchored on the bottom, depending on the depth.

In fresh water, this method is also sometimes called ‘trotline’ fishing. Here is a great video of such an operation, which is very productive.


Yet another fishing method that can be employed near-shore in both freshwater and saltwater is cast-netting. This method requires a weighted cast-net and the skill to properly throw the net once fish have been spotted. As some people learn, this isn’t as easy as it looks… but the method can be mastered with some practice.

Here is a video of a man using a cast net:


The key to success in sustainable food via fishing is to get out there with your own family and do some fishing! With some practice, you’ll find that it’s not just great family fun, it’s a legitimate way to put food on your plate!

Cheers! Capt. Bill
Capt. William E. Simpson – USMM
Twitter:  @NauticalPrepper

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About the Author:


Capt. William E. Simpson II is a U.S. Merchant Marine Officer with decades of boating and expedition sailing experience, having logged more than 150,000 miles at sea. Capt. Simpson has successfully survived long-term ‘off the grid’ at sea and at remote uninhabited desert islands with his family ...


Emergency Preparedness, Food Storage, Prepping, Recent Articles, Self Reliance, Survival Skills


learning to fish as a family, fishing survival skills, Fishing as a family survival skill, fishing, family fishing

5 thoughts on “Disaster Preparedness – Fishing As A Family Survival Skill”

  • Larry Fleming

    A really informative blog. I learned to fish with my dad. Besides learning the skill, we bonded better which added to my trust level. I still remember him showing me the different methods of fishing. I did go beyond him and learned to scuba dive, which I passed on to my kids.


  • George

    There is a reason Jesus had a basket of fish that never finished. Because it is a great resource. Easy to catch. Easy to cook and healthy. Once again, captain B is a wealth of knowldge to preppers. Thanks for sharing some great info.

  • patti

    What did you do with that much lobster and fish?

  • Hujonwi

    Not the way we run trot lines in this neck of the woods but good info. Don't forget about jug lines... we also use crawdeads as bait for catfish...

  • Capt. William E Simpson - USMM

    Hi Patti: Over the course of our most recent expedition, we fed a lot of people other than our own family; We had lobster and fish feeds; we gave fish to sailors (amazing they didn't have the skill) who couldn't seem to catch; and we froze a lot of fish and lobster tails.... you remove the tail from the lobster, then using a pair of Fiskar garden pruners, you cut off the very end of the tail (flipper) and then along the back of the shell on the tail and open it up and remove the meat in one piece, then you remove the intestine and wash the tail before placing it in baggie for the freezer. We use the one quart freezer bags and put four cleaned/shelled tails in the bag. The cleaned-shelled tails can be used in many ways... one of the best is to cube the meat into half-inch sized cubes which you can deep-fry in garlic butter.. once they are well browned, they can be drained (remove excess oil) and used in salads (like croutons) or, another way; use the lobster croutons in scrambled eggs! Either way, they taste great!

    Cheers! Capt. Bill

    Capt. William E Simpson - USMM
    Twitter: @NauticalPrepper

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