Friday, February 27, 2015

Survival Fishing: 2: Knots

Knot-tying instructions generally use a few standard terms:

The STANDING PART is the main part of the line, running up toward the reel.

The END is the short part of your line. This is where you do the knot-tying. When you are finished tying, the end is the part that you clip. (Use nail clippers.)

A BIGHT is a loop in the line, whether it crosses the standing part or merely runs parallel to it.

Use knots that are easy to tie, although even the strongest knots will fail if they are not tied properly.

All knots will weaken with use. Get in the habit of tying new knots before every trip, and retie knots frequently.

Every knot you tie is better when you follow these basic steps:

1. Pull the end through the eye of the hook. Use plenty of line to tie your knot. You can always trim off the excess later.

2. Form the knot, moisten it with saliva, and then snug it up with a firm, steady pull. This reduces the friction that can might cause abrasions when you pull the knot tightly. A tighter knot also holds better.

Tighten the knot up with a smooth, strong pull. It would be better for the knot to break now than when you're trying to catch a fish.

3. After tying, wetting, and pulling the knot firm, the end will stick out. Trim this with nail clippers, but leave a little extra line in case the knot slips later.

4. Have a good look at the knot, and test it by pulling on it firmly, before putting it to use. If the knot looks odd or damaged, cut if off and tie a new one.



You need to tie the line to the reel, and for that you should use the Arbor Knot, which provides a fast and easy connection.

1. Using a foot or so of line, pass the end around the center of the reel and tie a simple overhand knot.

2. Take the end and tie another overhand knot in that also.

3. Pull on the standing part until both overhand knots come tightly together against each other and against the spool. Clip off the excess line, leaving about 1/4 inch.


The Palomar Knot is the easiest, fastest, and strongest knot for attaching hooks, swivels, and other tackle to your line.

1. Take about 6 inches of line and form a bight, and then pass the bight through the eye of the hook.

If the eye of the hook is too small to allow the double line to go through easily, run the line through once, pull through about 12 inches, and then run the line back through the eye before you proceed to the next step.

2. Tie an overhand knot in the doubled line.

3. Pull the bight far enough to pass it completely over the hook.

4. Wet the line with some saliva to lubricate the knot.

5. Hold the hook carefully and pull the standing part slowly to tighten the knot. If you aren't sure about holding the hook safely, grip it with pliers.

6. Clip the end.


The Trilene Knot (closely related to the Improved Clinch Knot) ties easily and holds up well, and it's one of the easiest to learn. You can use this knot to connect your line to a hook, swivel, or lure, or almost anything else.

1. Put about 12 inches of line through the eye of the hook.

2. Repeat, drawing the line in the same direction, so that you create a double bight at the end of the hook eye.

3. Wrap the end around the standing part 4 to 6 times, moving away from the hook.

4. Pass the end through the double bight next to the hook eye.

5. Wet the knot with some saliva to lubricate it.

6. Hold the hook and the knot in one hand, and pull the standing part slowly with your other hand.

If you don't feel safe holding the hook, grip it with pliers.

7. Trim the end.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Survival Fishing: 1: Line and Tackle

Fishing with a rod and reel can be not only for sport but also for food. Such devices as trot lines, gill nets, basket traps, and weirs are also highly effective, but these are outside the scope of this text. It's true that traps and so on would generally be more productive. The topic of ''rod and reel'' is meant only as a supplement to these, or perhaps as an alternative. It might be a lot quicker, however, to grab a fishing rod than to hunt down the materials for a fish trap -- so a great deal would depend on the situation.

One assumption is that you already have at least a rough idea of how to use a fishing rod -- how to use bait and lures, how to reel in your line, set a hook, and so on. You might or might not have caught many fish.

Also, only the following will be discussed:

-- fishing in northeastern North America (although the information may also apply elsewhere)

-- freshwater fishing (whereas saltwater fishing is different)

-- common fish (which usually means small species – usually easier to catch than large species)

-- fairly ''low tech'' equipment and methods (no electronics, for example)

-- spinning rods and reels (not other types)

With a spinning rod, the reel mounts under the rod. Because the reel is ''open face,'' the line comes off quickly, allowing longer casts. Such a reel is able to cast lighter baits and lures.

Where to find fish: all fish need ''structure,'' such as rocks, stumps, aquatic plants, or piers. These provide cover from predators, or conversely they allow fish to hide as they wait for prey. If the water is flowing, try fishing downstream below one of these structures.

How to handle fish: carry a small fish by placing your hand over its back, covering the dorsal fin. Carry a large fish by its lower lip, but if it's a bass of three pounds or more, support its body with your other hand also.

The present section largely discusses line and ''terminal tackle'' – all the things that go at the far end of your line. The topic of lures, however, will be discussed later, in Section 4.

Tackle needed:

nail clippers (to clip line)
small first-aid kit
hooks (various sizes)
bobbers (floats)
weights (sinkers)
snap swivels
artificial lures
stringer (for keeping fish alive)

small spool of extra monofilament

Terminal tackle should be carried in a box with plenty of small compartments. That way, you can quickly find the appropriate device for most situations.


Monofilament line -- ''mono'' -- is basically a continuous length of thin, solid nylon extruded from a machine. Mono is inexpensive, easy to cast, and nearly invisible in water. The main drawback is that it tends to stretch. Mono comes in strengths ranging from 1- to 130-pound. (The ''pounds'' roughly indicate the maximum weight of a fish at the end.) Most freshwater fishing is done with lines of 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 17, 20, or 25 pounds.

You can select from many types of mono. Live-bait anglers, for example, use thin, flexible mono to make the presentation of the bait look more natural. Don't buy cheap, no-name-brand mono; it weakens quickly, tends to be kinky, and may be uneven in thickness.

To maintain sufficient tension while winding the line on, hold the rod a foot or so up from the handle, and pinch the line between your thumb and forefinger as you crank the line on with your other hand.

Line loses strength as it ages, and exposure to sunlight will shorten its life. Never buy line from stores that have it sitting anywhere near a window. Fresh line will feel soft and supple in your fingers, whereas old line is dry, crisp, and brittle. Old line will also coil terribly.

When you put line on your spool, make sure you have enough. You need to fill the spool so that the line comes to about 1/16 of an inch from the edge.


Most of the time, fishing should be ''minimalist.'' The simpler things are, the better they work. So you might tie a small hook directly to a fishing line.

Nevertheless, there are times when it may not be best to tie a hook directly to your line. The most obvious case would be when fishing for pike, which have mouths filled with sharp teeth that can sever fishing line on contact. If you want to hold on to one of these fish after it bites your lure or bait, you'll need to use something between the hook and line to absorb the punishment from those teeth. That ''thing'' is a wire leader.

A leader is simply a length of wire from 6 to 36 inches in length, with a swivel on one end and a snap on the other. When fishing for pike, there's no alternative: you either use a leader or lose most of the fish you hook. Use a 12-inch leader for casting, or 18- or 24-inch for trolling.

If bites from pike aren't likely to be a problem but you still want the convenience of using a snap to attach the lure, so you don't have to tie a lot of knots all day, use a simple plain wire snap all by itself. You can also use snaps when fishing with certain types of lures, such as spoons, which can be hard to attach directly to the line because of their thickness. The best snaps look like little wire figure-eights. They should be made from stainless-steel wire and have an even, round bend, giving the lure plenty of freedom of movement. Choose the black ones over the chrome-plated ones, and use the smallest you can get away with. Avoid cheap snaps that have sharp bends in the wire, as well as any that use a flat piece of metal to hold the thing closed; big fish can straighten out such things far too easily.

Swivels are also important with some lures, such as in-line spinners or tube jigs, which tend to twist the line. Use a small barrel swivel with these. Simply cut the line a foot or so up from the lure and tie the swivel in place. This method prevents line twist and keeps the rig looking neat and subtle.


Hook size gets smaller as the number gets larger. But big hooks (with a ''0'') get larger (e.g., from 2/0 to 6/0). The range can stretch from a tiny size 16 to a huge 6/0. Hook sizes 16, 14, 12, and 10 are generally used in fishing for small-mouthed species like panfish, using tiny baits such as caterpillars, garden worms, or grasshoppers. Larger hooks – 8, 6, 4, 2, and 1 -- are more often used with bass, and are good for commonly used live baits, such as crayfish or large minnows. The bigger hooks – sizes 1/0, 2/0, 4/0, 5/0, and 6/0 – are most often used when fishing with substantial live baits, or when using big soft-plastic lures for largemouth bass.

Generally, though, for panfish you need a hook somewhere between 16 and 10, although for crappies you may need something larger, perhaps size 4. For largemouth bass you might want from 8 to 1, but probably in the range from 6 to 4.

On the other hand, if you're using live bait you might need a bigger hook. For worms you might want a hook size between 10 and 6. For minnows you might want size 6 to 4. For grasshoppers you might want 10 to 6.

Novice anglers often make the mistake of over-rigging -- using terminal tackle that is too heavy for the type of fishing they're doing. As a rule, use the smallest hook feasible. Small hooks penetrate more quickly than big hooks. Small hooks also allow better presentations of live bait.

While most hooks have a little barb located just above the point, it's possible to buy barbless hooks. With these things, it's easier to unhook your catch. Barbless hooks are worth considering if you want to avoid the danger of hooking yourself. You can convert existing hooks to barbless ones simply by flattening the barbs with a pair of pliers.

The straight part of the hook, called the shank, can vary a lot in length. Extra-long shanks are helpful when fishing for species like sunfish, which have small mouths and tend to gobble bait.

Hooks are sold in little bags of ten, or in boxes of 50 or 100. Buy them in bulk: not only is it less expensive in the long run, but also you'll be surprised at how many you go through. Carry hooks together in little multi-compartment boxes.

Cheap hooks are usually made of soft, low-grade steel and are poorly sharpened. Even a new, high-quality hook dulls quickly, or the tip of the point bends or breaks when dragged over rocks or through debris.

Most anglers don't bother to sharpen their fish hooks. When a point breaks or becomes dull, they simply tie on a new hook. But a new hook is not necessarily a sharp hook.

Examine your hooks frequently to see if they need sharpening. One simple method is to draw the point of a hook across a fingernail. A sharp hook leaves a light scratch and digs into the nail. A dull hook ''skates'' across the nail without digging in. When necessary, touch up the point.

Good anglers carry honing stones or flat files in their tackle boxes for touching up hook points. The usual method is to hone the point to a round, conical shape. Don't make the point too thin, because it may even break when setting a hook into a hard-mouthed fish.

The Luhr Jensen file is a good choice for sharpening most hooks. Spark plug files (which you can find in any auto parts store) also make good hook sharpeners.


A good angler carries a variety of types and sizes of bobbers (floats). A 1-inch round plastic bobber will support a small minnow, although a larger fish might pull the bobber under and swim away with it. (Note: the white half of the bobber should be on top, and the line should be attached under the red half only.)

Balance bobbers and weights carefully. Add enough split-shot weight to the line so that the bobber floats just high enough for you to see it. An insufficiently weighted bobber is harder for the fish to pull under and may cause the fish to drop the bait.


Split-shot sinkers, little balls with slots cut in them, are the usual type for freshwater fishing. Unlike hooks, which are sized by ascending numerical designation, split shot sizing is a little more complicated. The smallest size commonly used, approximately 1/16 of an ounce, is size B, followed by BB, 7, 5, 3, and -- at almost the size of a fingernail -- size 1. These removable split shot have the little ''ears'' attached to the side of the sinker opposite the slit; by pinching the ears together, you open the slit so the sinker can be removed. Split shot are therefore also easy to attach: just pinch them onto your line with your fingertips, a foot or two up from the hook. If you need more weight, use a larger size or simply attach a second weight.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The End of Oil

''By the Industrial Revolution humans had turned themselves into 'detritovores,' dependent on ravenous consumption of long-since accumulated organic remains, especially petroleum.'' -- William R. Catton, Jr. (1926-2015), Overshoot.

The planet Earth is gradually running out of oil, without which almost nothing in twenty-first-century civilization can function. The human race now uses about thirty billion barrels of oil per year, quite unaware of the fact that by 2030 annual oil production will be down to half its peak rate.

In the entire world, there are perhaps a trillion barrels of oil left to extract -- which may sound like a great deal, but isn't. When newspapers announce the discovery of a deposit of a billion barrels, readers are no doubt amazed, but they are not told that such a find is only two weeks' supply.

As the years go by, new oil wells have to be drilled more deeply than the old, because newly discovered deposits are deeper. Those new deposits are therefore less accessible. But oil is used as a fuel for the oil drills themselves. When it takes an entire barrel of oil to get one barrel of oil out of the ground, as is increasingly the case, it is a waste of time to continue drilling such wells.

Coal and natural gas are also disappearing, in spite of all the stories about their abundance. Coal, however, is highly polluting and cannot be used as a fuel for most forms of transportation. Natural gas is not easily transported, and it is not suitable for most equipment.

Alternative sources of energy will never be very useful, for several reasons, but mainly because of a problem of "net energy": the amount of energy output is not sufficiently greater than the amount of energy input. All alternative forms of energy are so dependent on the very petroleum that they are intended to replace that the use of them is largely self-defeating and irrational. Alternative sources ultimately don't have enough "bang" to replace 30 billion annual barrels of oil.

Petroleum is required to extract, process, and transport almost any other form of energy; a coal mine is not operated by coal-powered equipment. It takes "oil energy" to make "alternative energy."

The use of unconventional oil (shale deposits, tar sands, heavy oil) poses several problems besides that of net energy. Large quantities of conventional oil are needed to process the oil from these unconventional sources, so net energy recovery is low. The pollution problems are considerable, and it is not certain how much environmental damage the human race is willing to endure. With unconventional oil we are, quite literally, scraping the bottom of the barrel.

More-exotic forms of alternative energy are plagued with even greater problems. Fuel cells cannot be made practical, because such devices require hydrogen derived from fossil fuels, if we exclude designs that will never escape the realm of science fiction; if fuel cells ever became popular, the fossil fuels they require would then be consumed even faster than they are now. Biomass energy (e.g., from corn) would require impossibly large amounts of land and would still result in insufficient quantities of net energy, perhaps even negative quantities. Hydroelectric dams are reaching their practical limits. Wind and geothermal power are only effective in certain areas and for certain purposes. Nuclear power will soon be suffering from a lack of fuel and is already creating serious environmental dangers.

The current favorite for alternative energy is solar power, but proponents must close their eyes to all questions of scale. To meet the world's present energy needs by using solar power, we would need an array (or an equivalent number of smaller ones) with a size of 360,000 km2 (140,400 square miles) -- a machine the size of Germany. The production and maintenance of this array would require vast quantities of hydrocarbons, metals, and other materials -- a self-defeating process.

Modern agriculture is highly dependent on fossil fuels for fertilizers, pesticides, and the operation of machines for harvesting, processing, and transporting. The Green Revolution was little more than the invention of a way to turn petroleum and natural gas into food. Without fossil fuels, modern methods of food production will disappear, and crop yields will drop to less than a third of their present levels.

The problem of the world's diminishing supply of oil is a problem of energy, not a problem of money. The old bromide that "higher prices will eventually make [e.g.] shale oil economically feasible" is meaningless. This planet has only a finite amount of fossil fuel. When that fuel starts to vanish, "higher prices" will be quite unable to stop the event from taking place. At most, the later twenty-first century will be an age of coal, and a portrait of that future era can be found in any story by Charles Dickens.

The technology of one century built the technology of the next. The technology of the past -- the hammer, anvil, forge, and bellows of the ancient blacksmith -- made it possible for later generations to extract the low-grade ores of the present. Very low-grade iron ores can now be worked, but only because there were once better, more accessible ores. This "mechanical evolution" is, of course, liable to collapse: when Rome fell, so did literacy, education, technology. But after many centuries, the Classical world returned. The western world experienced its Renaissance, its rebirth, after the Dark Ages because the natural world was fundamentally unchanged.

In the future, however, after the collapse of the present civilization, the necessary fuels and ores will not be available for that gradual rebuilding of technology. The loss of both petroleum and accessible ores means that history will no longer be a cycle of empires.

Much of modern warfare is about oil, in spite of all the pious and hypocritical rhetoric about "the forces of good" and "the forces of evil." The real "forces" are those trying to control the oil wells and the fragile pipelines that carry that oil. A map of recent American military ventures is a map of petroleum deposits.

"Ah, these doomsayers -- somehow humanity always manages to squeak through." Yes, it does: the Roman empire kept going for centuries after the deaths of Caligula and Nero. The empire kept tottering through long centuries of war, famine, and plague. An empire can drag on for thousands of years. But that does not make its demise any less real.

The problem of the loss of petroleum will, of course, be received in the same manner as most other large-scale disasters: widespread denial, followed by a rather catatonic apathy. The centuries will pass, and a day will come when, like the early Anglo-Saxons, people will look around at the remains of huge buildings and conclude that they must have been "the work of giants."

There is no ''big plan'' for dealing with these problems, and there never will be, although most people assume the leaders of society are both wise and benevolent. There will be only the ''small plan,'' person by person, family by family, or (preferably) ''tribe'' by ''tribe," at least for those who are not simply immobilized by shock. The ''small plan'' is variable, but it might include moving to a more-rural environment, where there would be fewer ties to the global economy.

"Peak oil" basically means "peak food." Without mechanization, irrigation, and synthetic fertilizer, yields for crops of any sort drop considerably, and famine is inevitable. It will simply not be possible to maintain a global population of more than a small fraction of the present size. Those who expect to survive and prosper will be those who have mastered the art of subsistence farming.


Peter Goodchild

Author of Tumbling Tide: Population, Petroleum, and Systemic Collapse (London, Ontario: Insomniac Press, 2014)