sucking fish

Fishing techniques

There is an intricate link between various fishing techniques and knowledge about the fish and their behavior including migration, foraging and habitat (Keegan 1986). All fish traps and methods of catching fish are based on this intimate knowledge.

Hand fishing

It is possible to fish and gather many sea foods with minimal equipment by using the hands. Gathering seafood by hand can be as easily as picking shellfish or kelp up off the beach, or doing some digging for clams or crabs. The earliest evidence for shellfish gathering dates back to a 300,000 year old site in France called Terra Amata. This is a hominid site as modern Homo sapiens did not appear until around 50,000 years ago.

Traditionally Pearl divers hunt for oysters by free-diving to depths of up to thirty metres. Today, free-diving recreational fishers catch lobster and abalone by hand.

In the British Isles, the practice of catching trout by hand is known as trout tickling; it is an art mentioned several times in the plays of Shakespeare. Trout binning is a method of taking trout in a rocky stream by striking rocks with a sledgehammer. The force of the blow stuns the fish. Every August, the small Scottish village of Palnackie hosts the world flounder tramping championships where flounder are captured by stepping on them.

Noodling is practiced in the United States. The noodler places his hand inside a catfish hole. If all goes as planned, the catfish swims forward and latches onto the noodler's hand, and can then be dragged out of the hole.

Spear and bow fishing

Spearfishing is an ancient method of fishing conducted with an ordinary spear or a specialised variant such as an eel spear or the trident. Spearfishing with barbed poles (harpoons) was widespread in palaeolithic times. Cosquer cave in Southern France contains cave art over 16,000 years old, including drawings of seals which appear to have been harpooned.

Bow fishers use a bow and arrow to kill fish in shallow water from above. Some fishing spears use slings (or rubber loops) to propel the spear. Polespears have the sling attached to the spear. Hawaiian slings have the sling separate from the spear, in the manner of an underwater bow and arrow.

Small trident type spears with long handles are used in the American South and Midwest for gigging bullfrogs with a bright light at night, or for gigging carp and other fish in the shallows.

Traditional spearfishing is restricted to shallow waters, but the development of the speargun has made the method much more efficient. With practice, divers are able to hold their breath for up to four minutes and sometimes longer. Of course, a diver with underwater breathing equipment can dive for much longer periods.


Fishing nets are meshes usually formed by knotting a relatively thin thread. About 180 AD the Greek author Oppian wrote the Halieutica, a didactic poem about fishing. He described various means of fishing including the use of nets cast from boats, scoop nets held open by a hoop, and various traps "which work while their masters sleep".

Hand nets are held open by a hoop and can have a long handle. They have been known since antiquity and may be used for sweeping up fish near the water surface. When such a net is used by an angler to help land a fish it called a landing net. In England, hand netting is the only legal way of catching eels and has been practised for thousands of years on the River Parrett and River Severn.

Cast nets are small round nets with weights on the edges which is thrown by the fisher.

Chinese fishing nets are shore operated lift nets. Huge mechanical contrivances hold out horizontal nets with diameters of twenty metres or more. The nets are dipped into the water and raised again, but otherwise cannot be moved.

Gillnets catch fish which try to pass through by snagging on the gill covers. Trapped, the fish can neither advance through the net nor retreat. Drift net are nets which are not anchored. They are usually gillnets, and is commonly used in the coastal waters of many countries.. Their use on the high seas is prohibited, but still occurs. Ghost nets are nets that have been lost at sea. They can be a menace to marine life for many years.

A seine is a large fishing net that can be arranged in different ways. In purse seine fishing the net hangs vertically in the water by attaching weights along the bottom edge and floats along the top. A simple and commonly used fishing technique is beach seining, where the seine net is operated from the shore. Danish seine is a method which has some similarities with trawling.

A trawl is a large net, conical in shape, designed to be towed in the sea or along the sea bottom. The trawl is pulled through the water by one or more boats, called trawlers. The activity of pulling the trawl through the water is called trawling.


Fishing lines

Fishing line is any cord made for fishing. Important parameters of a fishing line are its length, material, and weight (thicker, sturdier lines are more visible to fish). Factors that may determine what line an angler chooses for a given fishing environment include breaking strength, knot strength, UV resistance, castability, limpness, stretch, abrasion resistance, and visibility.

Kon Tiki

Kite fishing

Kite fishing is presumed to have been first invented in China. It was, and is, also used by the people of New Guinea and other Pacific Islands - either by cultural diffusion from China or independent invention.

Kites can provide the boatless fishermen access to waters that would otherwise be available only to boats. Similarly, for boat owners, kites provide a way to fish in areas where it is not safe to navigate such as shallows or coral reefs where fish may be plentiful. Kites can also be used for trolling a lure through the water.

Suitable kites may be of very simple construction. Those of Tobi Island are a large leaf stiffened by the ribs of the fronds of the coconut palm. The fishing line may be made from coconut fibre and the lure made from spiders webs.

Modern kitefishing is popular in New Zealand, where large delta kites of synthetic materials are used to fish from beaches, taking a line and hooks far out past the breakers. Kite fishing is also emerging in Melbourne where sled kites are becoming popular, both off beaches and off boats and in freshwater areas. The disabled community are increasingly using the kites for fishing as they allow mobility impaired people to cast the bait further out than they would otherwise be able to.

Ice fishing

Ice fishing is the practice of catching fish with lines and hooks through an opening in the ice on a frozen body of water. It is practised by hunter-gatherers such as the Inuit and by anglers in other cold or continental climates.

Remote control

Fishing can also be done using a remote controlled boat. The boat is usually one to three feet long and runs on a small DC battery. A radio transmitter controls the boat. The fisherman connects the fishing line/bait to the boat; drives it; navigating the water by manipulating the remote controller. The technique is growing in popularity. The methods of remote control vary, from tying a piece of fishing line and bait to the boat, and driving,(retrieving) the hooked fish, with the boat. Another method is using an apparatus designed so that once the fish is hooked the line disconnects from the boat, and the fish is retrieved with the fishing rod.


Traps are culturally almost universal and seem to have been independently invented many times. There are essentially two types of trap, a permanent or semi-permanent structure placed in a river or tidal area and pot-traps that are baited to attract prey and periodically lifted.

A technique called dam fishing is used by the Baka pygmies. This involves the construction of a temporary dam resulting in a drop in the water levels downstream -- allowing fish to be easily collected.

In medieval Europe, large fishing weir structures were constructed from wood posts and wattle fences. 'V' shaped structures in rivers could be as long as 60 m and worked by directing fish towards fish traps or nets. Such fish traps were evidently controversial in medieval England. The Magna Carta includes a clause requiring that they be removed:

All fish-weirs shall be removed from the Thames, the Medway, and throughout the whole of England, except on the sea coast.

Basket weir fish traps were widely used in ancient times. They are shown in medieval illustrations and surviving examples have been found. Basket weirs are about 2 m long and comprise two wicker cones, one inside the other -- easy to get into and hard to get out.

Lobster traps, also called lobster pots, are traps used to catch lobsters. They resemble fish traps, yet are usually smaller and consist of several sections.

Lobster traps are also used to catch other crustaceans, such as crabs and crayfish. They can be constructed in various shapes, but the design strategy is to make the entry into the trap much easier than exit. The pots are baited and lowered into the water and checked frequently.

Historically lobster pots were constructed with wood or metal. Today most traps are made from checkered wire and mesh. It is common for the trap to be weighted down with bricks. A bait bag is hung in the middle of the trap. In theory the lobster walks up the mesh and then falls into the wire trap. Bait varies from captain to captain but it is common to use herring. In commercial lobstering five to ten of these traps will be connected with line. A buoy marks each end of the string of pots. Two buoys are important to make retrieval easier and so captains don't set their traps over each other. Each buoy is painted differently so the various captains can identify their traps.


There are types of dredges used for collecting scallops or oysters from the seabed. They tend to have the form of a scoop made of chain mesh called dredges and they are towed by a fishing boat. Scallop dredging is very destructive to the seabed, because the marine life is unable to survive the weight of the dredge. This is extremely detrimental to coral bed since they take centuries to rebuild themselves. Dredging could be compared to unmonitored forest clearing, where it can wipe out an ecosystem. Nowadays, this method of fishing is often replaced by mariculture or by scuba diving to collect the scallops.

Other techniques

Trained animals

In China and Japan, the practice of cormorant fishing is thought to date back some 1300 years. Fishermen use the natural fish-hunting instincts of the cormorants to catch fish, but a metal ring placed round the bird's neck prevents large, valuable fish from being swallowed. The fish are instead collected by the fisherman.

The people of Nauru used trained frigatebirds to fish on reefs.

The practice of tethering a remora, a sucking fish, to a fishing line and using the remora to capture sea turtles probably originated in the Indian Ocean. The earliest surviving records of the practice are Peter Martyr d'Anghera's 1511 accounts of the second voyage of Columbus to the New World (1494). However, these accounts are probably apocryphal, and based on earlier, no longer extant accounts from the Indian Ocean region.

Dating from the 1500s in Portugal, Portuguese Water Dogs were used by fishermen to send messages between boats, to retrieve fish and articles from the water, and to guard the fishing boats. Labrador Retrievers have been used by fishermen to assist in bringing nets to shore; the dog would grab the floating corks on the ends of the nets and pull them to shore.


Cyanide fishing

Cyanides are used to capture live fish near coral reefs for the aquarium and seafood market. This illegal fishing occurs mainly in or near the Philippines, Indonesia, and the Caribbean to supply the 2 million marine aquarium owners in the world. Many fish caught in this fashion die either immediately or in shipping. Those that survive often die from shock or from massive digestive damage. The high concentrations of cyanide on reefs harvested in this fashion damages the coral polyps and has also resulted in cases of cyanide poisoning among local fishermen and their families.


Dynamite or blast fishing, is done easily and cheaply with dynamite or homemade bombs made from locally available materials. Fish are killed by the shock from the blast and are then skimmed from the surface or collected from the bottom. The explosions indiscriminately kill large numbers of fish and other marine organisms in the vicinity and can damage or destroy the physical environment. Explosions are particularly harmful to coral reefs. Blast fishing is also illegal in many waterways around the world.


A relatively new fishing technique is electrofishing (electric fishing). Electrofishing is used primarily in freshwater by zoologists as a sampling technique. Typical uses include collecting fish for stream classification surveys such as Index of Biotic Integrity surveys, to capture brood stock for hatcheries, or to collect representative samples from fish populations for the estimation of population size and structure. Most commonly, pulses of direct current (DC) are used to induce capture-prone behavior in fish. For example, with the apparatus correctly tuned as to pulse speed, voltage gradient and current, fish will exhibit galvanotaxis; they turn into the electric field and swim toward the apparatus.

The effectiveness of electrofishing is influenced by a variety of biological, technical, logistical, and environmental factors. The catch is often selectively biased as to fish size and species composition. When using pulsed DC for fishing, the pulse rate and the intensity of the electric field strongly influence the size and nature of the catch. The conductivity of the water, which is determined by the concentration in the water of charge carriers (ions), influences the shape and extent of the electric field in the water and thus affects the field's ability to induce capture-prone behavior in the fish.

Electrofishing systems can be powered by one or more batteries or by a generator and come in various sizes, from those that are mounted to a backpack to those mounted in large boats. Systems are typically equipped with various safety devices including one or more dead man's switches and a tilt switch designed to disable the device if the unit is tipped beyond a certain limit by, for example, the operator becoming incapacitated or falling into the water. Rubber gloves and rubber boots must be worn to isolate the operator and to prevent electrocution.


Further reading

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