Humans have been fishing for thousands of years. Long before we learned to make a fire or fill in tax returns, we were out on the water, trapping or tricking our way to a meal. People have come up with some truly weird fishing techniques along the way. Today, we’re looking at the strangest tactics of all, and where and why people use them.
Some of the techniques that made our list are ancient traditions kept alive by a few passionate people. Others sprang up from cutting-edge technology or recent fish invasions. A few of them are even illegal in some places! Regardless, they’re all effective (if unusual) ways to bring home some dinner.
Catfish noodling is so weird that we’ve dedicated an entire article to it in the past. Essentially, it involves deliberately getting eaten by a fish. You stick your arm down a Catfish’s throat and drag it out of the water, using your own hand as the hook. Oh, and you’re often fully underwater at the time. If you’re struggling to picture it, it’s a little like this.
Native Americans were noodling for Catfish long before Europeans arrived on the continent. It was picked up by settlers and became a folk tradition throughout the South and all along the Mississippi. It’s still incredibly popular in some places. In others, though, it’s illegal.
Noodlers target fish while they’re nesting, leaving the eggs unprotected or damaged from the fight. Because of this, many U.S. states have outlawed noodling, saying it’s too destructive to Catfish populations. Our take? We’d rather eat fish than get eaten by them, but people sure do seem to enjoy it.
Trout tickling is simple in theory, but difficult in practice. You calmly walk up to a Trout, stick your hand in the water, and give it a tickle on the belly. The fish goes into a trance and you can pick it up without any fight. Tickling is the sophisticated European version of America’s noodling.
This unusual technique used to be especially popular in Britain. Even Shakespeare mentioned it. You don’t need any equipment, so it’s perfect for a spur-of-the-moment feast – or for stealing some dinner. In fact, it’s still associated with poaching, and is now against the law in the UK.
Now, Trout aren’t the only fish that you can send into a trance. For example, you can hypnotize Sharks by turning them upside down. For obvious reasons, though, most people don’t want to get close enough to try. Tickling Trout seems way less dangerous, and you get a much better meal at the end.
Tramping for Flounder is another weird fishing technique from Britain. It’s most popular in Scotland and even has its own tournament in southwest Scotland – the World Flounder Tramping Championships.
So, what is tramping? Well, you wade through shallow, muddy water until you see a Flounder, then you stand on it. That’s it. That’s the technique. Is it effective? Not especially. Is it easy? Not at all. Is it ridiculous? Absolutely!
Traditionally, people would spear the fish, similar to Flounder gigging in the U.S. However, stabbing at your feet with a trident was declared a bad idea and banned. Some people say that tramping should be illegal in general because it’s cruel to the fish. We’re not sure if it’s worse for the fish than angling, but it doesn’t sound very enjoyable for the tramper!
So far, we’ve focused on bizarre traditions handed down from ancient times. But it’s not just our ancestors who had wild imaginations. Some of the weirdest ways of catching fish have come from breakthroughs in technology. Drone fishing is a perfect example of this.
Drone fishing is more of a category than a specific technique. At its most basic, it means scouting the area with a drone camera. A step up from that is kontiki fishing – using automated “fishing torpedoes” to pull your line offshore. Some people even go the whole way, battling fish with remote-controlled helicopters and spearfishing submarines.
Angling purists say that drone fishing takes the sport out of fishing. Some governments agree. Drone fishing is illegal in much of Australia, as well as some parts of the U.S. In other places, using a drone for recon is OK, but actually catching fish with one isn’t. It’s a brave new world for anglers and legislators, that’s for sure.
Some fishing techniques are popular because they’re effective. Others get dreamed up by people who want more of a challenge. Skishing is definitely in the second camp. It’s a way of fighting fish on their own turf. “How?” you ask. By swimming out with a rod and reel and casting while treading water!
The name “Skishing” comes from a combination of skiing and fishing. This is because you get pulled along by the fish while you fight it. A trophy-sized Striped Bass could haul you several hundred yards by the time you reel it in. After that, you have to release it and swim back to shore – all while getting knocked about by the waves.
Skishing was invented by a group of extreme anglers in Montauk, NY. They started it partly to test their skills and partly to annoy the area’s many shore fishermen. It sure worked. Local fishing clubs look down on the technique and ban it from most tournaments. Skishing may rank low on usefulness, but it gets bonus points for mischief!
Fishing with Animals
Humans aren’t naturally good at catching fish. Climbing trees? Sure! Using tools? Absolutely! But when it comes to hunting slippery creatures underwater, we rank pretty low. That’s why some fishing communities have teamed up with more capable creatures.
The best-known fishing duo has to be cormorant fishermen. They’re a staple of documentaries and postcards in Japan and China. Less famous but just as cool is otter fishing, where otters herd fish into a net like a sheepdog with its flock. Some people even team up with porpoises and dolphins in a similar way.
Then there’s the really weird one – Remora fishing. Fishermen in some parts of Africa traditionally use Remora Suckerfish to catch their dinner. They tie a line onto one and release it. The Remora then finds a larger fish and attaches itself. Once that happens, the line goes tight and the fishermen pull the Sucker and its host aboard. Rinse and repeat!
Fishing with Wheels
Fish wheels are essentially watermills that produce Salmon instead of power. Each paddle of the wheel has a basket attached, which scoops fish out of the river and drops them into a holding tank. It’s as clever as it is simple, needing no electricity or attention. You just set one up, leave it running, and come back to pack up all the fish.
Nobody knows where fish wheels first came from, but they became really big in the Pacific Northwest during the early 20th century. Commercial companies used them to harvest massive numbers of Salmon. Too much, in fact. Commercial fish wheels were far too effective, and were banned within a couple of decades.
So, fish wheels are bad? Not at all! You just need to be careful how you use them. They’re still allowed for subsistence fishing, which is what they were probably designed for to begin with. Many indigenous communities and off-the-grid settlements rely on them to this day.
Wait, didn’t we already cover fishing with animals? Yes, but this is different. While some coastal communities replaced their rods and reels with birds or otters, others took a different approach. They kept their fishing gear but ditched their boats, trawling the shallows on horseback instead.
Using a horse instead of a boat must have had some real advantages in the past. Horses can drag nets through the shallows just as well as any medieval boat. Once you finish, you don’t have to haul out your gear or carry your catch. Instead, you just pack everything up and ride back to town.
But here’s the thing: people are still doing it. In an age of super–trawlers, you’d expect literal horsepower to be a thing of history. Not in Belgium, where a few people still trawl for Shrimp on horseback. Is it the most effective technique? No. But it’s a tradition and a way of life that they love. We can see why.
We’ve covered some pretty weird fishing techniques but nothing comes close to skarping. Getting eaten alive by Catfish or dragged through the water by Bass seem perfectly normal by comparison. Invented by extreme sports fans in Illinois, skarping combines wakeboarding, basketball, hand-netting, and big, flying fish. It’s insane.
According to its founders, skarping was the final step on a long crazy road of battling Asian Carp. These invasive fish, which can weigh 30 pounds or more, have a habit of jumping out of the water whenever a boat passes. They injure anglers, damage equipment, and destroy habitats. So, basically, these guys are eco warriors.
Sound like something you’d like to try? Unfortunately, you can’t. The group can’t get insurance to run skarping trips (we can’t imagine why) so it’s strictly a personal hobby. On their charter trips, they have to stick to “normal” equipment like bows, swords, and tridents instead.
These are some of the weirdest fishing techniques out there, but there are plenty more! From snagging Spoonbills to plucking Lampreys off the side of waterfalls, people catch fish in all kinds of interesting ways. In fact, somebody’s probably discovered a whole new method in the time it took you to read this!
Do you have a weird fishing technique you think we should try? Tried any of the ones on our list? Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!