Natural and Improvised Fishing Hooks

The old adage suggesting that giving a man a fish feeds him for a day but teaching a man to fish feeds him for a lifetime probably needs an update too ‘teach someone to fish and they’ll sit by a lake drinking beer for a whole weekend’. But despite this, there is no getting away from the fact that fishing can provide a sustainable and bountiful source of food. It’s something that has fascinated me since I first started thinking about how I would source food from something other than a shop. In the UK the prospect of legally sourcing a large piece of game such as a deer is restricted to those with the necessary firearm certificates, but the process of sourcing fish is much simpler and although I can’t profess to being a decent fisherman, it’s something I practice whenever time and tides align.

Our waterways provide a range of different fish and the opportunity to catch your own is not to be passed up, being a worthy skill for anyone looking to source their own food; there is after all a very good reason that our predecessors settled around the shoreline of the UK. The law for fishing on the coast differs from that for fishing on inland waterways, where you must fish with a rod, have the right to fish the waters and have a fishing licence just as a starter. Full details on the latest laws can be found here: Fishing from the shoreline of the coast is less restrictive but check local bylaws for your area and there are restrictions on the size of fish you can keep that differs by species.

The technicalities of fishing for a specific species of fish aside, I want to take a look at hooks, specifically natural and improvised hooks. During a recent trip to the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford I took the opportunity to research this subject from their collection of hooks.

Hooks from the Pitt Rivers museum

The first type is gut hooks; for most hooks that a fisherperson will use, the aim is to catch the mouth of the fish and thus makes the removal of the hook easier should you want to return the fish to the water. A gut hook however is ideally swallowed completely by the fish, and then gets stuck in the fish’s gut allowing less chance for the fish to escape. This does happen with regular hooks as well, and so I carved a few examples from oak in different sizes and found that a pencil sharpener makes an excellent method for getting sharp ends. The hook is positioned vertically inside the bait, so that when swallowed by the fish it can turn and become wedged across the fish’s gut.

Carved gut hooks

The second type I made were thorn hooks, the first is very simply made by taking a sharp thorn and tying your cordage or line around the stem and thorn. Again, encased within the bait the thorn should catch the insides of the fish becoming struck and the sharp thorn will prevent the fish removing it. The sharp thorns should catch both the fish’s gut and the mouth, thus giving a better chance of capturing the fish.

Thorn hook

The second thorn hook took a bit more carving; I shaped a small piece of apple wood and then used a sharp blackthorn thorn and some cordage to attach it to the carved section. I saw similar examples at the museum with the sharp point being made from bone, animal claws and teeth as well as man-made items such as iron nails.

Blackthorn hook

The final type of hook I tried was improvised hooks, the first I made from drink can ring pulls, this was as simple as using some cutters to remove sections of the ring pull, leaving behind a hook shape and a hole to attach the line.

Ring pull hooks

The second type was fashioned from a safety pin. This was made by cutting off half the unwanted section of pin and bending the remaining part into a hook shape. As safety pins are something I carry in my first aid kit and resulted in a fairly small hook this seem like a reasonable option if caught in a pinch.

Safety pin hook

To complete my experiments, I made some fine natural cordage to attach to my carved hook and although I’ve not yet had a chance to put these hooks to the test, I’m hoping to try them out and report back on my findings.

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