Is Catching Fish with Your Bare Hands the Ultimate Survival Angling?

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People have enjoyed the taste of fish for millennia beyond reckoning. And in all that time, it’s still always been a struggle to pull the fish from their watery home. Of all the ways to fish, the simplest methodology by far is hand fishing. This is about as primitive as fishing can get. Actually grabbing the fish from its liquid lair with your bare hands is nothing short of primal. But does that make it the ultimate method of survival fishing?

Although the idea of hand fishing is simple enough, like many survival skills, this “simpler” process requires a lot of technique. Hand fishing also requires an understanding of the fish’s habitat. Flathead catfish, for example, will hang out in underwater rock ledges, in holes, and under submerged logs in rivers and lakes during the daytime or while guarding eggs. These confined spaces make this species easier to catch, as the fish will be trapped with its back against the “wall.”

To get started in hand fishing, find a waterway that is known to contain catfish and other large slow species (in an area where this activity is legal). Wear shoes, long pants, a long sleeve shirt, and gloves, and wade out into the water. Use your feet to feel for structures that could harbor a fish, and then reach your hand into them. This almost always requires diving. If this works as planned, the fish will move forward and bite your hand. Fight your natural urge to pull your hand away. Leave your hand in the fish’s mouth and pull it toward you. Wrap your free arm around the fish, being careful to avoid contact with the barbs on the fish’s fins.

Never try this solo. Aways go with others so that they can help you if you become injured or entangled. The typical weight for a catfish caught by hand fishing is 22 to 39 pounds—not bad for a method that uses no fishing tackle whatsoever. It’s definitely the most bad-ass primitive method. But you also need to take into consideration the dangers inherent in this form of angling. I think your safer bet is to carry a survival fishing kit with hooks and line. You can’t afford to take big risks and risk big injuries in an emergency setting. No, hook and line fishing is not as cool—but there’s less risk of drowning, and I like that a lot. And in certain situations, getting soaked and risking hypothermia is a bad idea.

Ever grabbed a fish with your bare hands? What was your biggest catch? Let us know by leaving a comment.