While working at my 9-to-5 job during the week, my mind has a tendency to wander (not infrequently in the direction of outdoor pursuits, as you may have guessed). Last week, I got the idea of making a functional primitive fishing rig from a single plant/tree using my camp knife as the only tool. I thought this would be a good way to put some basic primitive/bushcraft skills to use in a practical application. When the weekend rolled around, I hit the woods to see what I could do.
Before I get into it, let me say that this project was based on my limited knowledge and experience, as well as the resources available at the time and place. There are probably many different (i.e. better) ways to approach this!
The plan was to first find and harvest a willow sapling/branch.
Then cut off the branches.
Slit the bark from top to bottom and remove it (this is most easily done in spring/summer).
Then split the bark into thin strips.
At this point, I would normally scrape the green outer bark off the white inner bark and then boil the inner bark for a while with the outer bark scrapings and some wood ashes added to the water. I didn’t have time for all this, though, so I only scraped off most of the outer bark.
Next, carve a “gorge hook” from one of the branches.
Then spend the next few months making several meters/yards of fishing line from the inner bark (see this post for info on making cordage). I should mention that willow bark cordage like this tends to dry out by the next day, so it should be processed further to keep its flexibility and strength (so far, I have tried both waxing and oiling, which seem to work well). Anyway, after getting the line started, slightly untwist the loop end, slip the gorge hook in and twist the line back again. Then untwist the next twist up the line and insert the hook in there as well, finishing by twisting the line back again. Eh, I’m not sure if I’m explaining this very well!
Try to finish the line before it gets too dark or you lose consciousness due to a lack of blood, which the mosquitoes, black flies and gnats have been drawing from you for the past several hours.
The next morning, wake up to find yourself wet inside your bivy sack and sleeping bag liner because you didn’t put up a shelter overhead and got rained on for hours (at least the rain kept the mosquitoes at bay!). Er, I mean clean up the ends of the pole, carve a notch around the top end and tie the line to it. You’re done! (or so you think….)
When I was finished, I still had lots of bark left over to make more cordage with.
So far, so good. But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding, so it was time to see if it could catch a fish. I intentionally started with an overly large hook, figuring that I’d probably have to whittle it down until I got the size right. I took a small piece of bread and smushed it around the gorge hook and line, making sure the hook was nearly parallel with the line (yes, that is a mosquito in the shot; there were swarms of them around).
It appeared that the hook and bait were too large for the small fish to take into their mouths (I could see them in the shallow water), so I whittled down the hook.
Having remembered that perch prefer worms over bread (though roach readily take both), I found a worm and used a piece of it.
After making these changes, I was getting some serious bites! I was surprised by how sensitive and responsive the rig was. It was at this point that the project took a (hopefully temporary) nose-dive. Again and again, I could see a fish take the baited hook into its mouth and tug on it, but each time it would spit it out again. They just would not swallow it! With this type of setup, as opposed to a curved hook, the fish has to fully swallow the sharpened stick so it gets stuck inside the fish (which, by the way, is why you should not fish this way unless you plan on dispatching and utilizing the fish).
So why weren’t the fish swallowing the bait?! The reason, I suspected, was that the line was too thick and rigid. It gave the fish the sensation that they were trying to bite a piece off of something larger, but could not. As I said, I suspect this to be the reason. I’ve never tried anything like this, so only more trial and error will tell.
The next day, I used some of the extra willow bark to make a much finer and more flexible leader which the fish will hopefully not detect as easily. Then I spliced it into the existing line and attached the hook (which, as you can see, I had modified further by blunting the short end). The splice point is the “left corner” you can see in the second loop. I will try the rig like this and, if fish swallow it, but the hook doesn’t catch, I’ll start over with a larger hook and whittle it down until it’s just right.
To be continued!