photo of mourning doves


A trotline consists of a 25- to 150-foot-long main line with up to 25 baited hooks on 2- to 3-foot dropper lines. To minimize tangles, attach these via swivels spaced 6 feet apart. A split shot above each hook will help keep the bait near the bottom. Fasten one end of the main line to a tree branch or exposed root near the bank, and the other end onto a snag on a point of land or across the pond or river channel. You can also tie off one end to a rock, swim or wade out, and drop the rock into deep water (just be sure it isn’t too heavy to pull in when you start checking the line). In a current, anchor the trotline by tying rocks onto several longer droppers spaced along the main line.


The principle of trotline fishing is the same as with survival trapping: Think big, catch small (or more accurately, think many and catch a few). Use whatever bait you can dig up–crickets, worms, or insect larvae. You might want to carry flavor-infused salmon eggs or soft plastics in your kit. When you do catch a fish, bait other hooks with the entrails, eyeballs, and belly flesh. Check trotlines every few hours and always allow them to fish for you overnight, when catfish and other large predators become active and invade shallow waters. With some luck, you’ll have a fish fry for breakfast.


To have all you need to catch fish in a survival situation, throw these small items in a zip-seal bag and put it in your kit. It includes everything for making a trotline as well as baits and gear for pole fishing. String the hooks through their eyes on safety pins and sort hooks, split shot, and swivels in 35mm film canisters to make storage even easier.

1-inch bobber

25-pound monofilament on a tippet spool (160 feet) for the main line

No. 4 single bait hooks (6)

12-pound monofilament on a tippet spool (100 feet) for 20 droppers

No. 6 single bait hooks (6)

Flavor-infused salmon eggs (small pack)

No. 4 treble hooks (4)

Large hook for snagging fish with a pole

Swivels (20)

1/16-ounce leadhead jig hooks (4)

Split shot, assorted (30)

Flavor-infused tubes and grubs, various colors (4)

Colored twister-tails (4)

› Important note: Trotlines are illegal in some areas. Know the regulations first.