Trotlines: Catching Multiple Fish in a Survival Situation

In a Survival Situation, it’s important to do everything you can to increase your chances of catching food. A great way to catch a lot of fish, without having to worry about watching your line, is to set up a Stream Line fishing system known as a Trotline.

Catching Catfish with Trotlines

A Trotline is basically a long line strong up with swivels and drop lines with baited hooks

You can use a trotline to completely cover the width of a river, stream or creek; giving you a good chance of catching any passing fish. This type of fish trap is great because it allows you to passively gather food while working on other survival related tasks. You can set your trot line out in the morning, and then check it in the evening – or vice versa.

While these can be setup as passive traps, to really get the most out of your trotlines check them every couple of hours. This gives you the opportunity to rebait empty hooks, and allows you to catch even more fish.

What can you catch on a Trotline?

Catfish caught with a Trotline

Trotlines are especially effective when trying to catch almost any kind of catfish. While catfish is your most likely catch, you can catch just about any type of fish using these lines, and they can even be an effective way of catching turtles and crabs.

How to make a Trotline

Pulling in a Trot Line

Building a trot line is actually pretty simple. During a non-survival situation I often build them using basic supplies like paracord for the main line, and swivels with an attached braided dropline and a baited hook. During a survival situation, you can use whatever you have.

I usually space them out so the droplines can’t cross. That means the space between lines should be about 12-18 inches longer than the dropline. In areas with strong currents, I sometimes add weighs to keep the line from surfacing. Once the line is set, I typically only check it once or twice per day.

How to Set up a Stream Line

trotline diagram

  1. Find a stream that you can easily cross back and forth.
  2. Drive a post or some wood into each side of the stream
  3. Tie a Rope or some 550 Paracord from post to post.
  4. Tie several Fishing lines to the rope, each with its own hook.
  5. The lines can be set to different depths to give yourself the best chance of catching fish.
  6. Check your line every couple of hours, or at least once a day.

To better your odds, you can set up similar lines at various points in the stream or river.


  1. Robert Floyd
    August 17, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    Hey Robert,
    something that I always have im on of my vehicles is a good pellet rifle. I have mine zeroed in so that I can shoot something the size of a quarter at about 100 feet. I do not think a pellet rifle gets enough press. As you know, every bird on this continent is edible. Also, a good Gamo 175 pellet traveling at over 1000fps wiil take all kinds of small game. Also, properly trained, a pellet rifle can take out a human to at least the point of them leaving you the hell alone. I have the Whisper model in 175 cal. and the shotgun model in 22 cal. and the shotgun shells are cool as hell and work very well. The shot shells are a little expensive though. Other advantages are that they do not attract much attention as well as noise goes in the woods. I personally would not want to go camping or fishing without my trusty old pellet rifle.
    Robert Floyd

    • Bryan
      March 15, 2013 at 6:05 pm

      I agree. A good pellet rifle can feed you pretty easily and fairly discreetly.

  2. Joe M.
    March 2, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    I realize this may be an older thread, but to continue Roberts point….keep a slingshot handy. They’re REALLLLY cheap, and you can pick up ammo while you’re walking along.

    • JMCD
      June 1, 2012 at 3:49 pm

      I have some pictures of a sling shot variation I made from some idea’s off youtube. It will allow you to shoot arrows from your sling shot. Ive done some small game hunting and after some trial and error figured out how to shorten the bands to the maximum tension. I haven’t tried it on large game yet, but Im getting `12-15 inches of penetration with field heads on a shot block, and a grouping with some practice of about 4 inches at 10-15 yards. I believe you could take down larger game animals like deer, and elk if you had to. It would probably be effective as defense for large predatory animals in a pinch. It can be fired a lot faster than any compound bow Ive ever shot before. If you want some pictures of it, send me your email and I’ll send some pics.

      • lil
        June 30, 2012 at 12:27 am

        can you send me the pics for the slingshot modifications

      • Roger63
        September 8, 2012 at 6:45 pm

        I would love to see the modifications.

      • Buster
        November 21, 2012 at 6:04 pm

        Would love to see the pics and any measurements you have. Thanks

      • john
        November 28, 2012 at 6:04 am

        I have many different options for self defence and hunting, however…I am always interested in new or different things… i would very much like to see a pic of the sling shot.

      • ziglviet b schtoonk
        December 12, 2012 at 8:10 pm

        you wouldn’t happen to be talking about Dave Canterberry’s sling-bow would you? If so give credit where credit is due.

      • Enter your name...
        December 29, 2012 at 7:51 am

        Please send pic and info

      • Marc
        March 15, 2013 at 7:15 pm

        Would like to see that info and pix!

      • Kerry
        September 9, 2013 at 10:15 am

        I would like to see pics. of that slingshot

      • Charles Forman
        May 27, 2014 at 8:58 am

        Thanks JMCD sounds cool, yeah show me your modification I’m fair with a sling shot
        never shot arrows though sounds fun. Could you send me some pictures of the set up &
        the size arrows and kind of arrows you hunt with.

    • craig.h
      November 29, 2012 at 12:20 am

      Check out this guy .He is on youtube.The slingshot man from NC. My dad told me about him local slingshot legond from our area.

    • William Hardee Cross III
      April 11, 2013 at 7:41 pm

      I would be very interested in seeing the slingshot modifications you made that allow you to use it for launching arrows.Thank you!(please note my E-mail address is:william hardee cross,FOLLOWED BY 3 LOWER CASE L’S TO DENOTE I AM THE THIRD,

  3. Ikarn
    April 28, 2010 at 9:50 am

    I agree and also recomend the bottle trap.
    1.cut the bottle in half and put the bose inwards.
    2.slip the bait into the back of the bottle.
    the fish will go in through the nose and wont be able to come out again.
    its simple,cheap and effective.

  4. Randy T.
    March 23, 2011 at 9:10 am

    Saw a hunting show not to long ago. Gamo rep was shooting 88ld-188lb hogs one shoot between the eyes they drop like rocks. I have one and they do kick ass.

  5. tyler
    March 30, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    I think thats a good idea it would be wiser to use it in a stream but it would work in a creek. i have caught catfish and bass like that and even a turtle.

  6. Dean
    April 5, 2011 at 9:08 am

    I love bottle traps for crawdads! They are good eating! Think baby lobster tails. Pellet guns are WAY under rated,I have a crosman 1000,aside from having to cock it,I love it!

  7. Robert
    April 27, 2011 at 8:31 am

    Great points made here. My kit usually includes several different tools for fresh meat. Be it fish, fowl, or flesh. Sling Shot, Tout Line, various hooks, and snare wire (about 100 ft)and a full spool of 25lb test. I’ve found the water bottle trick to be wonderful for not just crawdads, but excellent for catching minnows. Even though this article was intended on fishing, the pellet gun is grossly under rated. Birds and small game are easily taken, the ammo is cheap, and it’s quiet. I’d stay away from the CO2 versions, as it requires more junk in the trunk and once they’re gone, there’s no Wally World for refills and once a cartridge is installed, it’s used. Weather you shoot or not.

  8. TheNorthernSurvivalist
    June 23, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    Great tip on stream lining! Too bad the BIG GOV was up our ass with fish and game laws.

  9. frank sherman
    August 7, 2011 at 11:35 am

    hey northern survivalist: guess what?in a shth case the gov. rules and regulations are not really to important since there will be no one to enforce them. stream lines,traps, nets,even explosives are fair game.and forget seasons and limits.when it comes to feeding my family the sportsman rules don,t count

  10. dave boyle
    August 18, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    i have wilderness hike/camped mountains, deserts, snow, coasts, swamps, all that u.s.a. has to offer. now that websites, books,videos, dvds, etc. are available we all have a chance. we must learn to make do with less. aboriginals do it with style. the people around us are our biggest threat. they can go beserk. they can eat us when shtf. do not leave a trace behind, have many ways out, small dakota fires, no smoke. just like the “matrix”, our system/control is beyond corrupt/dangerous, and the people cling to it for dear life. trust god/all good spirit, pray always for guidance/hunches; trust them. learn survival techniques/practice in the field. the time may be closer than you think. love the planet, god, yourself, people, but; cast off baggage, your life depends on it. remember history, the holocaust, war for money, christians in the coliseums; we can be vicious cold-blooded folks. i don’t mean to be gloomy or radical, i love living as a aboriginal. it frees my mind, my beliefs, my soul. i pray we smarten-up as a people and fly right; but i also want to be happy and live to be old and free. never give up and bless you all. dave.

  11. B.K.Moore
    December 18, 2011 at 10:09 am

    Good article, this is a variation of a trot line. The state I live in allows up 100 hooks per trotline. You can attach the mainline to a tree limb also. The tree set works best with just one hook and the bait just below the water. The spring action of the tree limb plays the fish and there are few lost.

    • Ultimate Kayaker
      May 29, 2015 at 7:40 pm

      A blowgun is a good option. I’ve used one in the past and it was very quiet and didn’t disturb other wildlife in the area.

  12. JR
    December 28, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    I think the leftist lamestream media is using exactly this same method to track the gullible and easily led

  13. JR
    December 28, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Sorry – meant “trick”

  14. PeterAV
    February 2, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Along with the trot line idea is using the Yo-Yo fishing tool.
    It works great! Simply add some line to the end of the Yo-Yo line. add a hook with bait. Attach the Yo-Yo tool to the shore or an overhanging branch. The Yo-Yo is equiped with a spring that simply reals the fish back in after it stops swimming hard.
    These Yo-Yo tools are only a couple of dollars each and so you could set up a great trot line or attach some lines at the edge of the water.

    • DK
      July 30, 2012 at 10:03 pm

      So glad to hear that, I have equipment for the multi-line approach, but have been wondering about the Yo-Yo’s. Glad to hear, will get a few.

  15. Rex
    June 22, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    Whut bad spalling? (just kidding). You have a good point. There are a LOT of pellet rifles these days that are pretty close to 22 rimfire in terms of performance. And, yes, they are MUCH quieter, as it’s not a firearm you can supress them still more, and if things got REALLY bad, you could make your own ammo. All you need it lead, no brass, primers, etc.

  16. Dale
    July 6, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    Would like to see the pics of that sling shot., please

  17. Garrett
    October 29, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    Nice ill have to try it is this illegal

  18. Mark
    November 24, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    This idea is ok but i think you need to hide these kind of things. a stick drove in the water so it is under the water. you run 550 cord down stream 100 feet to a rock. Attach 20 inch fishing lines along it with hooks and bait for the type of fish you are going after. I like spiderwire braid. set lines for turtles, water foul etc also work if u know how to do it. snaring a beaver from the enterance of its house is very easy. as trapping a muskrat from inside its house in the winter. these animals are easy winter meat. where hunting is not. Deer can also be caught by the leg with a spring pole. These trapping techniques will put meat on the table faster than hunting, are concealable. and you can hunt as you check your traps.

  19. Ridale
    January 27, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    looks like a trotline built by city folks.

  20. Julian
    June 28, 2013 at 2:31 am

    Another thought I might have would be that If you have a mosquito net, you could also use that to corral fish into a small space where you can just scoop them out.

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