Catching Fish for Self Sufficiency

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Aside from the obvious entertainment factor, catching fish can be a very effective means of supplementing the family food budget. Catching fish is one of the easiest and most reliable ways to collect meat from the wild. Equipment and supplies are inexpensive, it's not particularly difficult, and pays dividends with pounds of fresh fish fillets in your freezer - if you learn some basics first.

A small mess of bluegill.

If you're looking to increase self sufficiency, your objective in fishing should be focused on quantity, not size. It's almost always easier to catch 6-8 pounds of bluegill or crappie than one 6-8 pound largemouth bass. The type of fishing that we're talking about here is NOT sport fishing. When I go fishing, I'm not after the biggest fish in the lake, nor am I after a trophy to hang on the wall. I'm looking to put meat in the freezer, and dinner on the table.

You might have guessed by now that I don't practice catch and release fishing, and I'm not out purely for the enjoyment. That being said - it still makes for a really fun and relaxing day, but that's just the bonus.

I'd rather be catching a bucket full of 7-8 inch bluegill, or a stringer of midsized catfish any day rather than spending all day slinging lures hoping to catch that one monster bass or giant striper. I don't have the patience for that. Catching bluegill or other panfish on a good day is a non stop rush.

Catching Fish - Gear & Tackle

If you're interested in catching fish for food, it's important to know the basics about gear that you will need. Catching fish doesn't necessarily require loads of expensive equipment, in fact, catching fish can be relatively inexpensive. For less than $30 you can get a reasonable rod and reel. Hooks and other tackle can be had for less than $20.

The only other expense that you may have, would be a state fishing license, which in Indiana only costs $17 for a full time resident. Most states don't require a license if you're fishing in a lake or pond on private land (always have the owner's permission of course).

As you can see, you can get started with the basics for well under $100.00.

An assortment of small hooks and a swivel

Basic equipment includes something to catch fish with, something to hold them in and a way to clean them when you get home.

Catching Fish - Finding a place to Fish

The most important item that you will need for catching fish is a place to fish in. There are bodies of water in nearly all parts of the country - many are open to public use. If there is a city, county state or national park, game refuge, recreation area, or reservoir near you then you have a place to catch fish.

Catching Fish - What Kind of Fish to Catch

If you are looking to catch fish to put food on the table, you need to know which species are best for that use. Smaller, more aggressive, and easier to catch species are common in small lakes ponds and rivers across the continent. For fish to fit into my category they have to meet a few criteria:

First they have to taste good. There's no point in having a freezer full of fish, if no one wants to eat them.

Fresh fried bluegill fillets for dinner!

Second - they have to be easy to catch in significant numbers by an average fisherman. If you can't catch a meaningful number so you can stock up, it's not really self sufficiency fishing.

Third creel limits and minimum size limits have to be generous enough to allow you to stock up when you go fishing. A creel limit defines how many of a particular kind of fish you can legally keep in a day. Some species in some states don't have creel limits at all.

Know the laws, and follow them. Any place that sells fishing licenses should also have a pamphlet that lists basic state fishing laws. These laws are in place to help preserve a valuable renewable resource. You don't necessarily have to agree with them, but you should definitely to live by them.

Here are some of my favorite species of fish to catch:

Bluegill and other sunfish


White & Yellow Bass

Yellow Perch


Depending on where you live there are MANY other species of fish that you can catch enough to easily put food on the table and fill your freezer. Talk to experienced fishermen, as well as the folks that work in local bait and tackle shops and marinas in your area to find out what's easy to catch and good to eat.

Catching Fish - Cleaning Fish

One of the most important skill a fisherman needs to learn early on is how to clean their catch. There are several techniques, but my favorite is filleting. There is little waste, once you have learned the skill. It's easy to do,and you wind up with a nice, clean, boneless slab of meat perfect for eating.

Some folks leave the skin on the meat and the meat on the bones. They just remove the scales and gut the fish. It can certainly be quicker to clean them this way, but it makes for more work when you are eating them. It's a pay for it now or pay for it later scenario.

Catching Fish - Small Watercraft

For the fisherman who is serious about putting fish in the freezer, a small watercraft can really expand your options for getting to where the fish are. I have a 14' Old Town canoe that I use to get out on lakes in my area.

Having a small watercraft can get you to parts of a lake or slow river that aren't accessible on foot, and where the big boats can't go either. Dense stick-ups, small shallow bays and back waters, feeder streams, and dense weeds all become viable fishing spots with a small watercraft.

Some examples of small watercraft for fishing include: canoes, kayaks, and flatboats (john boats). I've even seen one elderly couple fishing from a pedal powered paddle boat in one of my local lakes - It seemed awfully noisy, but they were catching fish. I guess it's hard to argue with success!

Catching Fish - Guide Services

If you want to catch a lot of fish, and don't have a lot of experience fishing, hiring a guide for a day might be worth considering. A guide service can be expensive, but a using a guide can be a means of learning about a lake or river, and how to fish it. A professional guide knows where the fish are, what they are biting on, and what it takes to put fish in the boat.

A good guide will also be willing to teach you some things...within limitations. Remember these guys are making a living putting you on the fish, so they don't expect them to tell everything they know. You can learn new techniques, and get lots of practice casting, feeling strikes, setting the hook and landing fish. It's OK to ask questions, but you also need to pay attention to details like baits and lures, techniques, locations, and underwater geography. What your guide doesn't tell you is often as important as what he does tell.

You'll probably catch a lot of fish when you use a guide service, but the cost per pound will be VERY high. Think of the cost of a guide as an educational expense or for entertainment, like you would a vacation. It's tough to justify the cost purely for the fish you'll catch.

A word of caution here - just like in every profession, not every guide is good at what he does. Some are FAR better than others. Ask around at bait and tackle shops, local marinas, and fishermen that you know. Choose one that has a good reputation. They may charge a bit more, but you're more likely to get your money's worth. It's not worth being out for a day with a lousy guide, not catching fish, wishing you had spent that extra fifty bucks to hire the guy that everyone recommended.

Catching Fish - Family Togetherness

If you have kids that enjoy fishing, it's an awesome way to spend quality time with them. My daughter and I go fishing together several times each summer. We talk, laugh, enjoy each others company and generally have a good time - not to mention she's learning a skill that can help her be more self sufficient throughout her life.

My dad (who taught me how to fish when I was a kid) comes to visit from out of state a few times each year and I always take a day or two off of work so we can go fishing. We often spend 3 or 4 days in a row sitting in my canoe fishing and talking...and fishing. It's nice to spend that time with him, because we don't see each other at all except during these times. We can usually put a lot of meat in our freezers between the two of us.

I can even get my wife to go with me a couple of times a year. For those of you wondering, yes she DOES enjoy herself. In fact, she has been known to out-fish me on occasion, which is OK with me since we're out to stock the freezer anyway.

There's also something to be said for a little solitude from time to time as well. As much as I enjoy fishing with family members, once in a while, I love to hit the water by myself. A few hours of solitary fishing can do wonders to rejuvenate the spirit and refresh the mind and soul.

Catching fish is a fun, effective and inexpensive method of putting food on the table and meat in the freezer. It's an incredibly powerful skill that every family looking to increase their self sufficiency should know how to do. If you love to eat fish, all the better. I think that I could eat fish nearly every day and be perfectly happy doing it.

Fish is a healthy alternative to beef and pork because it's low in fat and cholesterol, and high in protein and omega 3 fatty acids. If you're looking to increase your level of self sufficiency, give fishing a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

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Catching Fish Topics:

Fishing Gear

Bluegill & Sunfish

Freezing Fish & Seafood

Canning Fish