3 Ways to Make a Survival Fish Trap

Last Updated: September 5, 2019

In a survival situation, do you imagine yourself using the paper clip from your survival kit to fashion a fishing hook and catch yourself dinner?

Hate to break it to you, but that method of fishing probably isn’t going to work very well, and it certainly isn’t going to be very efficient.

But fish could still be your best source of food in a survival situation, so long as you know how to make these fishing traps.

Methods of Fishing

Before we get into the specific ways you can make a fish trap for survival, we need to go over the basic methods of fishing. There are many ways to fish, but they all fall into one of these 4 groups:

1. Hooks and Bait

This is what most of us think about when we hear the word fishing. You put a piece of bait, like an earthworm, on a hook which is tied to a line. Then you throw the line into the water and hope a fish takes the bait.

If you are near a body of water with a lot of fish (where does this still exist in America?), then the hook-and-bait method might work. It is also fine if you are fishing for recreation.

But, in a survival situation, I wouldn’t rely on it.

This method simply requires too much patience and luck. You might starve before you get a fish! I’d rather eat bugs for survival.

2. Stationary Fish Traps

stationary fish trap
This method involves making a fish trap which stays put in one location. There are a bunch of different designs, but most work on the same principle: the fish swim in through a larger opening (or are funneled into the opening), and then cannot get out.

A stationary fish trap is probably your best bet in a survival situation where you are staying put in one location.

You will still have to wait for the fish, but it has benefits like not requiring you to do any work (so you can do other things like make your survival shelter) nor requiring you to get in the water.

3. Moving Fish Traps

Fishing with net from side of river

Instead of leaving the fish trap in one spot, this method of fishing has you getting moving the netting/trap through the water.   For example, dragging a fishing net from a boat falls into this category.

The benefit of this approach is that you are more proactive. You can locate schools of fish, or large fish, and go after them instead of just waiting.

However, you will probably need to have a large net and, if you don’t have a boat, you will have to get into the water.

4. Spearing

Unless you are some wilderness survival expert, I doubt you are going to be able to spear a fish. Again, you’d probably be better off eating bugs than wasting your time with this. But, if you’ve got time to kill, go ahead and try it. 😉

DIY Survival Fish Traps

1. Fishing Weir

fishing weir trap
Image credit: fish trap by Tim Jones, found at Flickr. Creative Commons BY 2.0

A fishing weir is a good example of a survival fish trap you can make without any net. You can use branches or sticks to make a cage with an opening in it.

The opening should be placed with the current running towards it (to catch fish as they go downstream). But you can also make a small fishing weir (like the one in the picture) at the bank of a pond or river to get small fish.

The fish swim into the trap through the opening and then cannot find their way out. It isn’t as effective as using a net because some fish can still find their way out, but it is one of the easiest to make.

Pot Trap (aka bottle trap)

plastic bottle fish trap
Image credit: fish trap by Bill Bumgarner, found on Flickr. Creative Commons BY NC ND 2.0

In a survival situation, you will be thankful for how much trash is everywhere.

You can probably find a 2 liter plastic bottle and use it to make a small pot trap for small fish.

Here are instructions on how to make it:

  1. Take the label off of the bottle
  2. Cut the top off the plastic bottle off
  3. Poke some holes in the bottom of the plastic bottle (to allow water to flow through it)
  4. Put some stones in the bottle (to act as sink weights)
  5. Invert the top of the plastic bottle and put it into the lower part of the bottle. They should fit together snugly. You might need to cut a small slit on the top part of the plastic bottle to get it inside.
  6. Tie a handle to the bottle trap. If you don’t have cordage or string.
  7. Tie the string to something like a branch, then put the trap in the water.
  8. Check the trap to see if you caught any small fish.

Seine Fishing

seine fishing trap

A seine is basically a big fishing net that you drag along a river or pond to catch fish. This is a very effective method of fishing and it has been used for thousands of years – including by stone age people.

The obvious downside to this method of survival fishing is that you will need a net.

Hopefully you will have a lot of cordage or even dental floss to make a net. Or, you can get really crafty and use natural materials to make your own cord in a survival situation.

Your net needs to be fairly long (at least a couple meters) and wide. The larger the net is, the larger of fish you will be able to get.

Tie stones (as weights) onto the bottom of the net. Tie something which floats onto the top (this can be driftwood, closed plastic bottles, or Styrofoam you find in the trash, for example).

You will need two people to operate the seine. One person holds onto each side of the seine and walks through the water. Start by walking straight forward, and then come towards each other making a C shape. It helps to have a third person to grab any caught fish in a net.

Have you ever used any of these survival fish traps? Let us know in the comments.

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  1. I’ve always saved the plastic net bags that some vegetable like onions or some cheeses come in. I never like throwing them in the trash. I always thought they might be good to make fish traps. Has anyone ever tried something like that. I know some of the smaller ones make great nets to clean kids pools full of leaves or grass.

  2. A cast net is a good alternative to a seine net. It’s a circular net with weights and a sliding line around the outside edge.The net is thrown (think of a giant frisbee), drops over the target fish, and as the line to retrieve it is hauled back in closes the net around them to prevent escape. It only takes one person to operate, doesn’t need poles, and has surprise working for it since fish only have a moment to see it coming. It takes a little practice to operate, but only a little. They can be used from the shore or from a boat, and you don’t have to get wet to do it, which is nice after September or so. They’re cheap, available in different sizes and pretty light as well. If you wanted to make it lighter you could even remove the weights and replace them with small canvas sachets (reusable cotton tea bags) around the edge to add rocks to when you needed, so that you’re not carrying unnecessary weight. They also don’t need floats to work so it saves bulk in packing. If you really need to get fish though, it’s hard to do better than a treble hook and a doughball with grubs in it hanging from a float (log, bleach bottle, packing foam, whatever) tethered to the shore. You can put out multiples, and you don’t have to watch them since the float will “fight” the fish for you. Make sure you use heavy enough line and check pretty often though so that nothing else makes off with your meal. Oh yeah, those onion bags; they’re a good, cheap way to not have to refrigerate your catch. You can put your fish (bait too) in them and leave them in the water while you keep fishing so that you don’t have to cook them right away. They’re also handy for “cleaning out” crawfish you’ll catch in your bottle traps. Let them sit in the water, off the bottom, for a day or two to flush their digestive tract before you eat ’em for a less muddy taste. You could also tie part of it to a “Y” shaped branch to use as a butterfly/dip net to catch bait.

  3. I’ve seen a fish trap with a pit that lure the fish in. It looks good for recreation but I think a fish weir is better.

  4. I’ve used a bottle trap to catch fish in my aquarium. It’s a lot easier and gentler than chasing them with a net. A $2 jug from Walmart is a lot cheaper than a $60 trap from the fish supply companies.

  5. Hi
    Id just like to add that i think a simple trot line if hooks are available. Really like your site. Thanks.


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