Can You Fish Without Hooks?

The hook-and-line fishing method is a method of fishing that has been around over the centuries. It is among the oldest and is pretty easy and cheap. Over the years, alternative methods of fishing have developed. Do you need hooks to fish?

You can always fish without a hook, but having one makes the job easier in most cases. There are different fishing strategies that you can use instead of hooks. Even when practicing hook and line, you don’t always have to have hooks; you can get creative or practice other methods.

This article will take you through eight various methods that you can use to catch fish if you cannot access a hook. Some of the methods we will discuss are common and probably have come across them; others are unique.

If you want to stick to hook and lining, you can use other sharp objects as an alternative to hooks if you run out of hooks and or if you may have forgotten to bring your hooks with you. Some of the objects you can use to replace hooks include reshaped paper clips, cut bottle can tabs, and safety pins.

Wax bait

This is more or less the line and hook method where you replace the hook with a wax bait. It is an easier and less harmful alternative. Take some wax, mold it into a ball around your fishing line, and use it as bait. Let it hang in the water for a while. If the string starts to move, it may be an indication that something swallowed the bait.



All fish traps use the same theory. They all have holding spaces with valve-like entrances built to impede any form of exit.

The purpose here is to make fish enter through the entrance hole, narrowing and narrowing as the fish approaches the holding area. There is no way out once the fish gets to the area.

Use a Bucket Trap

Traps are one of the easiest techniques to execute. They are also cheap, easy to make, and very flexible. The size of the fish you want to catch will determine the space your leave for your holding area and entrance. Bigger fish will need a bigger holding area and entrance.

To make a bucket trap, you will need readily available materials and tools like a bucket with a lid, zip ties, hardware and clothes, and a paracord. Then prepare the bucket and lid.

Drill a hole (large enough to allow water to pass through but small enough that fish cannot escape through) then cut a hole at the top of the lid and attach it back to the bucket.

After that, cut the hardware cloth to match the size of the opening on your lid. You can then attach it to the bucket with the zip ties. Roll the hardware cloth together at the barbed end to make a valve-like entrance. Ensure that the entrance narrows towards the holding area to hinder your catch from escaping.

Pick bait that will attract the kind of fish you want to catch. For example, use chicken livers if you want to catch catfish. We recommend putting your bait at the bottom of your bucket. Find a perfect spot for your bucket trap and set it.

Basket Trap

Many fishers have been using basket traps to catch fish for centuries. The method is similar to the bucket trap but not as straightforward, especially if you build the basket yourself. On the upper side, it is budget and environmentally friendly. You will only need to gather some sticks and vines, weave them together, and you are ready to go.

The size of the basket you make will depend on two things, the vines you collect and the size of fish you want to catch. Ropes or materials with the same flexibility can always substitute vines.

The shape of the basket should resemble that of the bucket we made above. Put the vines close to each other so that the space left won’t allow fish to slip through.

The cone should be at least 4 feet long and a few feet wide if you want to make a significant catch. Weave a funnel-like entrance that narrows into the basket and weave it into the big basket. Bait the holding bay, tie, and submerge your trap in the water.

If you are planning to stay somewhere for a few days, this is the trap to use. They are more temporary and biodegradable, so abandoning them after your fishing session will not significantly harm the environment.


Another trapping method that works like a bucket or a bag is using clothes and sheets. You can spread the sheet across the waterway so that it blocks the fish’s path. It would be best if you had a partner so that once the fish enters the zone, you trap them and quickly scoop them out using buckets or even the sheet itself.


Fishing weirs have also been around for centuries. Initially, their specific use was to trap fish. Today some organizations use them for management, conservancy, and research purposes.

Hunter-gatherer societies used fish weirs to catch fish. They are fence-like structures built with wooden posts, stones, or reeds. Fishers place them within stream channels or at the edges of tidal lagoons to trap and catch fish.

They are bigger traps and catch more fish than baskets and bucket traps. But, it is more challenging and takes considerably a lot of time to construct. Unless you plan to stay somewhere for a while and catch fish in large numbers, we would not recommend this technique.

Regional differences are evident in construction methods and materials used, terminology, and species harvested. These traps vary from small temporary bush frameworks to sizeable complex structures of stone walls and channels.

To build a fishing weir, locate a section with a huge fish population, preferably an area with tidal waters. Build a large structure with wooden poles or rock. Design your network in a manner that guides a large group of fish into a small area.

Strategies may vary depending on your region. You can either build a weir that leads fish into a smaller tidal pool or funnels fish straight into a net trap.

Use Fish Nets

Use Fish Nets

The fishing net is the most expensive technique of all. The net and method you use will depend on the size, number, and equipment you use. The government is also strict with the type and mesh size of net one can use in different situations. So it is important to check with your fishing authority before you cast your net.  Here are common nets used in fishing across the world:

Casting Nets

Many fishers used casting nets in large-scale fishing in vast waters. They are large nets that you cast out (requires a few extra hands) by throwing expertly into the water, leaving it in for a few hours, retrieving it, and hoping you’ve caught something.

Bottom Trawling Nets

These are for large-scale commercial fishing. They are heavily weighted nets that you have to drag across the seafloor to catch fish. If you are lucky, you may catch quite a hefty amount of fish. Dragging these nets requires boats.

Hand Nets or Scoop Nets

These are small nets that are useful in small-scale fishing. These are nets or mesh baskets held open by a hoop used for scooping fish from small water bodies. There is a handle attached to the ring for better grip.

Tangle/ tooth nets

As the name suggests, tangle nets catch fish by tangling them up. They are messy nylon fishing nets that tangle fish and allow bycatch that you can release with little or no injuries.

Some nets like trawl nets, beach seine, trammel nets, and gillnets require larger vessels and vary depending on the local fishing situation. You won’t tow them with low-power artisanal fishing boats. While they are also net fishing techniques, you probably won’t need them to substitute for fishing hooks.


This is among the antique fishing methods. This technique is usually applied in clear and still waters. It requires precision. It would be best if you aimed so that you strike at the right time and speed. Striking too fast may spook other fish in the area and make them swim further away. If you are slow, the fish may slip away.

This method is ineffective and time-consuming. You can only catch one fish at a time, and it requires a lot of patience and stealth. With constant practice, your spearfishing skills may significantly improve, and you can make some impressive catches.

You can spearfish by free diving into the water from a boat. You can scuba dive or snorkel with a spear to make your catch. To do this, you must be quite an excellent underwater swimmer so that you can stay long enough under the surface to spot and strike the fish.

You can also wade in the water around the area where the fish are. This requires an expert that moves stealthily. You will face challenges like refraction that will impair your vision, making you miscalculate your moves.

Bow fishing also falls in the category of spearfishing. If you are an archer, this may be a fun way of fishing. The more accurate and further away you are from the fish, the better your chances of striking. Refraction will still be an obstacle, though.

To spearfish, you have to use a pole with a sharp edge. If you cannot access a pole with a sharp edge, you can use knives, scissors, sharpened sticks, sharpened bones, or shells. You can use these up close or attach them to a rod to keep you at a safe distance away from the fish.

Spearfishing is quite dangerous, and if you are not skilled or well-equipped for a spearfishing adventure, do not attempt to use this method.

Hand Fishing

Hand Fishing

This method of fishing is also known as noodling. This is one way of catching catfish in natural cavities that are below the water’s surface. Tree roots, logs, or rocks from the holes. In this method, you have to reach into the underwater cavities and wait for a catfish to bite onto your hand (Always make sure you wear protective sleeves to protect your hands). You can then pull the fish out of its nesting grounds and out of the water.

To practice hand fishing, you have to be very swift and have a firm grip on the fish as the fish are fast and slippery. While wading in the water, keep your hands in the water to make it easier for you to catch any fish that may pass by the water.

Always have other people around you so that if you catch a dangerous fish or the catfish bite is too strong, you may have someone to help. You can also hand fish while using the sheet method.

This method is suitable if you plan on taking the fish with you as you have to catch the fish by the gills, and you may end up hurting it. The fish may also struggle and get exhausted. Its chances of survival are low, and it may end up dead anyway if you decide to return it to the water.

What to Do If You Can’t Get a Hook Out Of a Fish?

Before we discuss what to do if you cannot unhook a fish, we’d like to outline some of the reasons why the hook cannot dislodge from the fish’s mouth.

The line may break if there is an obstruction, the fish bites the line, or you just had a bad knot, thus releasing the fish and leaving it to swim off with the hook still in its mouth.

The fish may swallow the hook so much so that you can’t remove it safely without injuring or maybe killing the fish.

In some other scenarios, you may have to leave the hook in the fish’s mouth to save your life. If you catch fish with nasty teeth like sharks, you may have to cut the line not to bite you.

The best way to solve a problem is to avoid it. Practice how to remove the hook from the fish’s mouth carefully. These are some of the things you should have in mind while fishing to ensure you safely remove the hook if you are practicing catch and release or if you are trying to relocate the fish:

Pull the hook as quickly as you can from the fish’s mouth. If it is a little stuck along the edge of the fish’s mouth, try sliding it out. Even though you need to move with speed so that the fish doesn’t die, take your time and ensure you remove the hook the same way it went in. Make sure you do not hurt the fish while unhooking it.

The situation is more complicated if the fish swallows the hook and gets stuck at the back of its tongue. Try to slide the hook out, but you will have to hurt the fish if you cannot remove it without killing the fish. Cut away a small piece of flesh around the hook and remove it.

You can also use a pair of long-nosed pliers or scissors to reach into the fish’s mouth. Try bending the hook away from the entry point, that is, straightening the hook. Or dull the barb if you are using a barbed hook. If you still can’t unhook it, cut the line as close as possible to the fish’s mouth. We’ve also had excellent reviews about the fish hook extractor.

From research findings, the fish can self-release probably by shaking off the hook. If you are using crankbait treble hooks, the fish may be able to free themselves within a couple of days, depending on the type of hook. It takes less than 24 hours for fish to release barbless hooks. For deeply hooked barbed crankbaits, the fish takes less than 48 hours to get rid of them.

It takes longer for fish to shake off the hook on its lower jaw than at the back of the tongue. Fish tend to shake off the hooks depending on the level of irritation. A hook at the back of the tongue annoys the fish more. It causes much more difficulty in feeding than on the jaws.

Therefore, the fish expends a lot of energy trying to release the hook at the back of the tongue, removing it faster than the one at the less irritating jaws. While underwater, the fish have some exceptional abilities. They are still able to forage even with the hook still in their mouth.

With new non-biodegradable hooks, the fish may have a high chance of survival as the hook does not “dissolve into the fish’s stomach.” The hook will take longer to dissolve but will rust quickly, especially if it was old, made of old wire, and used in saline waters.

If you are using a hook that may “dissolve” and end up killing the fish anyway, or you are just adamant about removing the hook before releasing the fish, try using a disgorger. It is plastic or metallic and, therefore, non-biodegradable. You can use the disgorger to induce the fish to remove the hook from its mouth.

Before releasing the hook, be sure to soothe the fish by holding it in a belly-up position to disorient it for a while, making the hook easier to remove. Be very cautious when removing the hook. The hook may tear the fish’s mouth or gills, causing it to bleed out. This put’s the fish at a high risk of predation and death.

If you find yourself in any of these situations, do not panic. The best thing to do if you can’t get a hook out of a fish without killing it is to cut the line and release the fish back into the water. Do not try to pull the hook out of the fish’s mouth, as you may seriously injure yourself or end up killing it. Most fish will find a way to self-release.

Never attempt to pull the line to free the hook. The jerking of the line may tug the hook through the fish’s flesh, creating deep lacerations, and the fish may bleed to death.

If you have to touch the fish, make sure your hands are wet so that the fish’s protective scales and slime do not stick to your hands, leaving it vulnerable while in the water.

If you don’t intend to release the fish and want to cook it, remove the stuck hook when you are gutting it. Make sure to remove the hook because you will be putting your life at risk if you leave it in. You may bite down on the hook while eating, and it will seriously injure you, or the lead coating on the hook may melt into the fish as you cook it, and you will risk lead poisoning.

Does Getting Hooked Hurt Fish?

In the anatomy of fish, they also have nerves, just like any other vertebrate. This means they can feel pain. The extent of their pain is what remains unknown to human minds.

Some researchers claim that fish are as traumatized on land as humans are when trapped underwater. They claim that fish are highly evolved animals that have an almost similar neurological structure as humans.

This is because they show signs of distress when out of the water. They experience not only physical pain but also psychological distress. Other researchers claim that the simple nervous system and the lack of cortex mean that fish do not feel pain.

A hook will surely hurt a fish as it has to pierce through the skin of the fish. Hook wounds may appear minor from human assessment, but they may be fatal to fish. The hook may damage gills, eyes, or even the fish’s internal organs, leading to death.

Some anglers we have interacted with assume that once they release the fish and swim away, it will survive. A fish once hooked, especially if the hook attaches wrongly, has meager chances of survival.

Consequences of Hooking a Fish

The fish may suffer severe trauma, and the hook injury may not heal in time, causing it to bleed to death. Once a fish is out of the water, it experiences a lot of complications. Its gills collapse, making it difficult for it to breathe.

Due to sudden pressure changes, the air bladders of the fish may erupt, causing the fish to have difficulty swimming when put back in the water. Apart from raptured swim bladders, other physical injuries that the fish can sustain include ruptured blood vessels: spilling their guts through their mouth, and dry skin.

If you hook a fish at the gill, the gill raptures causing the fish to hemorrhage to death.

If you hook a fish in the gut or leave a hook in the fish, the fish has an impaired ability to forage, may bleed, and is at risk of infections that may cause death.

The fish may squirm and struggle to breathe as you pull it out of the water, thus producing very high amounts of lactic acid that may end up killing it. The fish’s muscles may erupt due to overheating as it struggles. If the fish survives, its chances of escaping from predators are low.

Below are some of the tips to help ensure the fish you cause minimal damage to fish.

Avoid using treble hooks as they are challenging to unhook and cause more lacerations on the fish’s mouth.

Avoid using your fingers while unhooking a fish, especially one that is belly-hooked. The fish may squirm, causing you to lose your grip or tug too hard on the hook leading to further injuries. Ensure always to have long-nosed pliers or scissors for easier gripping of the hook and a de-hooker/ disgorger to quickly and safely unhook the fish.

Use circle hooks, as their design allows them to hook at the corner of the fish’s mouth. This type of hook sets itself, thus reducing the damage caused to the fish. If a fish swallows it, its curved design allows it to come out and still hook the fish at the corner of the mouth. They significantly reduce the risk of gut hooking.

Use barbless hooks or always de-barb your barbed hooks by pressing down the barbs using pliers before unhooking the fish.

Reel in the fish as quickly as you can to reduce the time of struggle.

Try always to keep the fish in the water while unhooking it. Do not squeeze or handle fish with dry hands.

Fish feel pain, even if it is not as much as we humans do. Try to be as careful as you can while practicing catch-and-release fishing to ensure the fish you put back into the water survive.

Hook and lining is a fun way of fishing but always ensure that you are cautious. Avoid malpractices that intentionally hurt fish and try to treat the fish humanely.