Making Fish Traps From Whatever Is Available

The easiest food source to find in the wild is usually fish. No matter where you go, unless it’s so dry that there’s no water to be found, you’re going to find fish swimming around.

They may not be the biggest and the best, but they will be there and they can work as a source of food. On a worldwide basis, there is actually more fish consumed today than meat and poultry combined.

The trick is figuring out how to get those fish out of the water and into your frying pan (or onto a stick, if you prefer). This problem has been faced by mankind throughout the ages and has forced people to invent a variety of solutions.

People have invented many different fishing methods over the years.
People have invented many different fishing methods over the years.

Standing on the riverbank or lakeshore with a fishing pole is probably the least effective method there is of catching fish. While it’s great for a relaxing day out in nature, it’s not all that practical for a survival situation – where you’ll have more work to do than you have hours in the day.

Trapping is one of the best methods to use for survival fishing, and it has been used by our ancestors for centuries. Ever since man began catching fish, he realized that the way to do so effectively – so that he would have enough to eat while still being able to do the other things he needed to – was to trap them. This has caused the invention of many different sorts of traps.

Catching fish without a pole can be broken down into two basic categories: catching them with a net and catching them with a trap.

But the breakdown isn’t really quite that clear because nets can also be used to make traps, even though they are normally used by drawing them through the water to scoop up whatever fish are there.

When nets are used for trapping fish, they are most often strung across a river or stream and the fish are driven into them. But this is more labor-intensive than most forms of trapping fish. It also requires having a net with you – an item that most of us don’t keep in our survival kit.

The Concept of Trapping Fish

Fortunately for us, fish aren’t the smartest of creatures; nor does the environment they live in ensure they always have good vision. We use these two characteristics against them in the process of creating any fish trap.

The basic idea is to create a place for fish to swim into that they can’t easily swim back out of. Fish are accustomed to swimming through narrow spaces normally.

They don’t think about whether their bodies can fit through a certain space as it is normal for them to swim through places that seem too small for their bodies merely to have the plants they are swimming through pushed aside by their passage. If they aren’t, the fish just try another way.

The basic idea is to create somewhere for fish to swim into
The basic idea is to create somewhere for fish to swim into

In order to increase the chance of fish swimming into the trap, the opening is funnel-shaped with the wide part of the funnel pointed outwards. This causes the fish to swim towards the narrow opening that leads to the holding area of the trap.

While it is easy for the fish to swim into the trap, once inside it’s difficult for them to find the way they came in to swim out. The secret to any fish trap is the fish’s inability to find the exit that traps them – just like a child walking around in a house of mirrors at the amusement park. So, the number one priority when making any effective fish trap is to provide a narrow entryway that is not easily visible once the fish are inside.

Making a Trap

Fish traps also come in may shpes and sizes.
Fish traps also come in may shpes and sizes.

There is no one single design of fish trap that can be used; just follow that same basic concept. I’ve seen fish traps made of everything from grass to soda bottles.

It all depends on what one has available to use. Native people, explorers, and frontiersmen used whatever they had available to them to make their traps. If you were caught in a situation where you needed to make such a trap, the first step would be to look and see what materials nature had made available.

One of the key things to remember when making these traps is to make sure that you close off gaps, ensuring that you only leave spaces that are too small for the fish to swim through. Think about the size of fish that you are trying to catch and make sure that all the spaces are half that size or less. Otherwise, your trap isn’t going to be effective.

You can increase the effectiveness of any of these designs by adding a fence on either side of the trap so that fish are forced to go into the funnel rather than going around it. Put the trap in water that is shallow enough that they can’t go under or over it as well, for the same reason.

Woven Grass

Grass traps are one way to construct this useful device.
Grass traps are one way to construct this useful device.

Probably the most well-known method of making a fish trap involves using tall grass and weaving the grass to make a trap.

The basic idea is to make two cones out of grass: a long one and a short one. Both are made of pieces of grass woven together to form a rough basket. The shallow funnel is then attached to the opening of the longer one, acting as the entry funnel.

The problem with a woven grass fish trap is that it isn’t very strong. This is nothing more than a temporary trap to be used in emergencies. It won’t be long before it needs to be replaced by something stronger like a trap made of sticks.


Cone fish traps are simply made of sticks
Cone fish traps are simply made of sticks

Years ago, humans quickly realized that their grass traps wouldn’t last for long and that something stronger was needed. They turned to sticks – cutting reeds or twigs from trees. These could be tied to hoops made of flexible branches to form a stronger funnel. This also had the advantage of leaving smaller spaces than the grass trap as the sticks could be tied within a half inch of each other.

Sticks Into the Riverbed

A temporary fishing camp and a fish trap made of sticks shows ingenuity and inventiveness.
A temporary fishing camp and a fish trap made of sticks shows ingenuity and inventiveness.

Another way of using sticks without having to take the time to tie them together to make the trap is to drive sticks or reeds into the soft riverbed – forming a corral for the fish to swim into. This method is much faster and allows you to get a trap in place with little effort. Problems occur if you don’t take the time to ensure that your sticks are close enough together.

For this kind of trap, the tops of the sticks need to be tied together or tied to a horizontal stick – kind of like the top rail on a wood fence. Otherwise, the fish are able to swim through any gap they find simply by pushing on it like a dog pushing a door open with its muzzle.

One advantage of this design is that it is easy to make a wide trap funnel, which could even stretch all the way across a river as long as the river is shallow. This increases the number of fish that can be trapped without making the trap itself much more complicated.


Rocks have been used to make fish traps many times over the years.
Rocks have been used to make fish traps many times over the years.

The same basic design can be done with rocks instead of sticks. Many riverbeds are covered with rocks, providing ready materials to use. You can even find rock basins at times, which are surrounded by rocks. In those cases, all it takes is completing the encircling of the existing basin with more rocks and building the walls up high enough that the fish can’t swim over the top.

As with the sticks in the riverbed, the key here is to make a wide funnel either out of more rocks or any other material available. The holding area itself doesn’t need to be large, but the funnel opening should be as large as possible.


fmssolution is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival