We all know somebody who couldn’t catch a fish if his life depended on it. But what if your life really did depend on it? Would you be able to catch your dinner in a survival scenario?
It starts with putting together a DIY survival fishing kit. With a few essentials in a compact, portable package, you can be prepared to catch fish anywhere, any time.

And while you can definitely stuff this survival fishing kit in your bug-out bag in case of an emergency, it’s not only useful for an end-of-the-world scenario. I often take a kit like this with me on hiking and backpacking trips, just in case I come across some fishy-looking water or, heaven forbid, get lost and need to fend for myself.

Creating Your DIY Survival Fishing Kit

When putting together your DIY fishing kit, it’s important to remember its purpose. This is ultimately made with an eye toward fishing for survival, not for sport. You’re most likely going to be catching smaller species like sunfish and perch, or possibly crappie, trout or small bass depending on where you are. It’s not about catching huge fish, it’s about putting food in your belly.

Keep that in mind as you select your tackle. I find that live bait is usually not too hard to come by in the backcountry, and it’s typically more effective than artificial lures in a survival situation. Most of the tackle in my fishing kit is intended for fishing with whatever bugs, grubs and worms I can find (though I do include a few choice lures, as we’ll soon see).

It’s also okay if your kit looks a little different than mine. What follows are the select items of fishing tackle that I consider to be essential, but if you favor a different style of hook or have a particular lure you don’t want to do without, feel free to adapt your survival fishing kit accordingly.

Fishing Line

The choice of fishing line for your emergency fishing kit is very important. First and foremost, you need a good quality line that won’t break or weaken. Personally, I favor braided line over monofilament in a survival fishing kit because it’s stronger and more abrasion resistant, and because monofilament starts to break down and become weaker after years in storage. Braided line does not.

My go-to line is 10-pound-test Spiderwire Stealth Braid fishing line in moss green color. I get a 125-yard spool (the smallest size currently available) and keep the entire spool in my fishing kit. I like to leave the line on the original spool not only for organization—loose line can be a nightmare—but because I can turn the spool into a makeshift reel by inserting a stick or pencil through the hole in the center.

Hooks

Along with line, hooks are one of the only two items in your survival fishing kit that are absolutely essential. There are a lot of hooks you can choose from, but I consider circle hooks like Gamakatsu Circle Octopus Hooks to be the best because they don’t require a solid hook-set to hook a fish. With circle hooks, the fish essentially hook themselves, which, in a survival scenario, can be extremely valuable.

I generally favor smaller hooks for an emergency survival kit. Mine includes 20 circle hooks in sizes 4 and 6 (10 of each), which are great for panfish and trout. I also keep just a couple of hooks in larger sizes 1/0 and 3/0, because they’re useful for rigging up a jug-line for catching larger species like catfish.

Sinkers

A few small sinkers are handy for keeping your bait on the bottom if necessary, or for simply adding weight to your line, which allows you to get it out into the water farther. I find that BB-sized split shot sinkers are best for a survival fishing kit.

I don’t have a particular favorite brand of sinker—honestly, they’re all about the same—but be sure to get removable split shot instead of round split shot, because you can use them over and over again. I prefer tin split shot over lead because they are lighter and better for the environment. My kit includes 10 of them.

Bobbers

There are plenty of situations in which you’ll want to keep your bait suspended off the bottom, which makes a bobber pretty essential. I like Thill Classic Floats because they’re made out of durable, light balsa wood, and don’t break as easily as plastic red-and-white bobbers.

You can get Thill floats in several sizes; I always carry the “3/4-inch Oval Shorty” floats, which measure 3” x 3/4” and fit nicely in a small fishing tackle kit. I like to always carry two of them in case one gets lost or damaged.

Swivels

Swivels aren’t exactly essential, but they make changing baits and lures easy, and they prevent line twist. You could honestly take them or leave them, but I keep a few small snap swivels in my emergency fishing kit. They’re small and weigh next to nothing, and they really do come in handy.

Artificial Lures

I go back and forth on artificial lures in my survival fishing kit. Really, you can do without them, but ultimately I keep a small selection of lures that I like, and that I know can catch fish. Overall, I much prefer soft plastic lures because they don’t take up too much space, and they seem far more effective in a survival scenario than spinners, spoons and the like. My kit includes the following lures:

Soft plastic baits will start to degrade over time, but they should stay good for years as long as they’re kept dry and away from sunlight. Non-flavored and non-scented baits will last longer before they start to break down.

Blade

I carry a knife with me pretty much everywhere I go, and there’s certainly one in my backpack at all times. Even so, I keep a small knife in my survival fishing kit anyway, just in case I somehow become separated from the rest of my gear. A blade of some sort is crucial for cutting line and cleaning fish, so you don’t want to be caught without one.

Pick something small and sharp. My fishing kit includes an Opinel No. 6 folding knife, which is just 3.63” closed, allowing it to fit in nicely. I chose one with a stainless steel blade because it’s likely to come into frequent contact with water, and one doesn’t always have time to take good care of a carbon steel blade when in survival mode.

Storage and Organization

Once you have all your survival fishing gear assembled, the question is how to organize and store it. A lot of fishing tackle will rust, corrode or otherwise break down over time, so the most important thing is to keep it all dry and away from direct sunlight.

My go-to container to keep my emergency fishing kit is an empty Johnson & Johnson First Aid to Go Kit. The case the kit comes in is just right for all the aforementioned tackle. A small Tupperware-style container with a tight-fitting lid can also do the job, and I’ve seen folks use a metal tin with a hinged lid, kind of like an oversized Altoids tin.

As far as organization goes, I like to buy hooks, sinkers and swivels that come packaged in small zipper bags. I then simply keep them in their original bags which makes organization very easy. If that’s not an option, you can always buy small zipper bags to keep things nice and tidy.

A Note on Pre-Made Survival Fishing Kits

If you Google “survival fishing kit” you’ll find a variety of pre-made kits for sale on Amazon and elsewhere. You might be wondering if they’re any good, and the short answer is, some are better than others. At the end of the day, none of them are as good as a kit you can put together yourself using elements that you have confidence in.

Most pre-made survival fishing kits include low-quality line and a lot of poorly made lures that are essentially worthless. A lot of them promise something like “100 pieces of fishing tackle,” which turns out to include 50 split-shots, for some reason. They’re frustrating.

On balance, I’d say the Best Glide ASE Survival Fishing Kit and the Rule the Wasteland Survival Fishing Kit are better than most, but still not as good as what you could put together on your own. If you do buy a pre-made kit, be sure to open it and check the contents in advance so you know exactly what you have.