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Survival fishing: How to make a trotline from paracord

Survival fishing: How to make a trotline from paracord

This technique is shown to provide survival skills information. Check with your local fish and game regs to make sure it’s legal where you live!

A trotline is nothing more than a string of baited hooks. Using a trotline allows you to fish for food while doing something else. Here is how to improvise one from paracord.

by Leon Pantenburg

Statistics show most lost people are found within 24 hours if they stay put. Your priorities, if lost, should be water, shelter and fire, and preparing to signal rescuers.

550 paracord has seven filaments of nylon thread in a plastic sleeve. Each filament is about 30-pound test and can work in a pinch as fishing line.

550 paracord has seven filaments of nylon thread in a plastic sleeve. Each filament is about 30-pound test and can work in a pinch as fishing line.

But time is a precious commodity during a long term situation, and prioritizing activities will be critical. If you can make a fish trap or place a trot line, these methods can gather food while you’re doing something else.

A trotline is a mainline with smaller, baited hooks attached. A weight is attached to one end, the other end is secured to a branch or rock on the shore and the baited setup is tossed into a likely hole or deep spot in the water.

On my end-to-end canoe voyage of the Mississippi River I saw many trotlines, and variations of this basic setup. Like anything associated with fishing, knowledge is more important that equipment.

Here is how to improvise a survival trotline out of a piece of paracord. This setup will work well, provided you have the right bait and know where to fish.

You’ll need:

  • Paracord: the kind with the seven strands inclosed in the plastic sheath. Get the good stuff.
  • Hooks: Size will depend on what kind of fish you are attempting to catch. Again, this is an illegal technique in many areas. But during a survival situation where you really need food, anything goes.
  • Swivels: These are handy for attaching the strands to the mainline loops, but are not absolutely necessary. In a pinch, you could tie the lines with hooks directly to the main line. Or, you could substitute an aluminum can poptop for the swivel.
  • Knowledge: Practice these knots before you need them. Click on the video to learn the knots step-by-step.
  • A rock or weight for the end that goes in the deep end.


  • Tie a series of non-sliding loop knots in the main line.
  • Cut off a piece of paracord, about 24 inches or so long, and remove the strands. This becomes your connector between the mainline and the hook .
  • Tie the fishing line to the loops.
  • Tie a hook to the fishing line and bait it.
  • Tie a rock or weight to the end.
  • Toss the weighed end into a promising-looking pool.
  • Tie the other end to a tree, branch or large object on the shore.

The trotline can be baited and the fish removed as needed. If you don’t catch anything, either the fish aren’t there or don’t like the bait. Experiment with a variety of baits on the line to find the favorite.  If you don’t know where to put the trot line, start by finding a deep hole, preferably with some water moving through it.

Once you find a productive spot, stay with it. Check your line and re-bait as needed in the morning and evening and your fishing will be quick and effective.

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Watch the video to see how to bait your hooks for catfish!

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1 Comment

  1. Sam R

    08/20/2015 at 11:42

    Ok, I’m a novice so you completely lost me. You don’t show what the completed trotline looks like. You don’t show how it would work in the water – wouldn’t it sink to the bottom with that rock tied to it? etc., etc., etc. I’m no idiot, but I’ve only went fishing once and, therefore, have no idea about half the things you mentioned.
    If this is made for experienced people, say that. Otherwise, it was a total waste of my time!

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Leon's View

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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