How To…Catch a Fish with Your Bare Hands

Little things to make your summer hikes kick even more butt.

By Sam Holder June 3, 2009 Published in the June 2009 issue of Portland Monthly

SNAGGING SUPPER WITH YOUR OWN TWO HANDS isn’t as hard as it sounds—if you’re patient and have lightning-fast reflexes. Shaun Deller, a survivalist coach for Southeast Portland Trackers NW, lines out how to do it.*

Step 1 Don’t wade into the river. Fish like water, you like dry clothes, and you’ll risk hypothermia standing motionless in a chilly stream for hours. Instead, find a shady bank hanging over a deep, slower-moving flow. Lie down, dip your arm bicep-deep into the water, and prepare to wait.

Step 2 Be still and acclimate. Fish won’t come near foreign objects that are warmer than their underwater surroundings, so you’ll have to wait until your arm stops radiating heat, usually about ten to fifteen minutes. Once your flesh cools, a fish will have trouble differentiating between rocks and vegetation and your waiting hand. (Obviously, the longer you leave your arm in a frigid river, the greater your chances of hypothermia or even frostbite, so consider saving this trick for when you’re actually in survival mode.)

Step 3 Make like a worm. While the ancient practice of trout tickling—gently rubbing a fish’s underside and lulling it to its doom—has proven effective at times, it works best in enclosed areas where the fish are more or less trapped. Instead, give the fish the come-hither index finger. The motion mimics struggling insects and can lure the fish to you.

Step 4 Be quick. Once the scaly snack is within reach, rookie fish-wranglers will go for its tail or torso. Don’t. Instead, aim to get your fingers under the gills, where hard cartilage and bone make for easier gripping. Or cup your hand under the fish and, in one quick motion, toss the unlucky guy onto the bank.

*Warning: Angling without a license ($12 per day; $24.75 for the season) is illegal, even if you’re not using any equipment.

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