Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Survival Fishing - Make a Gorge Hook

The gorge hook is one of the simplest and oldest types of fishing hooks. It is nothing more that a straight piece of wood or bone that is sharpened to a point on each end. The principle behind the gorge hook is that when the fish swallows the bait, the hook goes into the fish's mouth straight. When you pull on the line, the hook turns sideways and lodges in the fish's throat.

It is important to match the size of the gorge hook to the size of fish that you are trying to catch. If you are using a gorge hook that is an inch and a half long, and the only fish is the pond are small pan fish; you will probably not catch many fish.

A knife or even a sharp rock can be used to make a gorge hook. If you are making your hook from wood, the wood needs to be pretty hard. Bone is a little harder to work with, but it makes an excellent hook.

To make a gorge hook out of wood it is necessary to select a good piece of hardwood that is about one-quarter of an inch in diameter. Pictured below: Stick of seasoned American holly.

Sharpen both ends of the stick to a point. For the average size pan-fish the hook needs to be about three-quarters of an inch long and about one-eighth of an inch in diameter. Pictured below: top, starting to carve the gorge hook; bottom, gorge hook roughed out.

Use your knife to carve a shallow groove around the middle of the gorge hook. This will keep your line from slipping off of the hook. Pictured below: top, carving groove around the gorge hook; bottom, finished gorge hook.

Here are some gorge hooks made of bone.

Pictured below are several regular style hooks made of bone and twigs from a thorn bush.

Next we will make a stone sinker and a couple of different types of floats.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Survival Fishing - Make a Yucca Fishing Line

My next few posts will be about survival fishing equipment. By survival fishing equipment I mean fishing equipment that you can make in the wild using no tool more complex than a pocket knife.

If you are stuck in the wilds and you want to try and catch some fish, you are going to need at least a hook and line. If you have a knife or even a sharp rock you can make a gorge hook fairly easily. If you don't have a fishing line or string you will need to be able to make one. This is not a hard skill, but it does take some practice. In my area the best plant for making good strong cordage is yucca. Pictured below: top, Yucca plant; bottom Yucca leaves.

The first step in making your fishing line is to split the yucca leaves into thin strips of fiber. Since you are making a small diameter cordage you will have to cut the strips very thin. Surprisingly this is easier to do with a fairly dull knife rather than a sharp knife. If you turn the blade of a sharp knife, even a tiny bit, it will cut across the fibers in the yucca leaf. A dull knife will be less likely to cut across the fibers. The fibers will actually keep it going straight. Pictured below: Splitting yucca fibers.

The same procedure is used for twisting up a fishing line, or a bow string, or a two-strand rope. The only difference is the number of fibers in each strand. Pictured below: Yucca rope, yucca bowstring, and yucca fishing line all made using the same reverse wrap technique.

When you are making really small cordage, like a fishing line, your technique must be very precise. Otherwise, your line will come apart at the splices. Below are directions and photographs of how to make cordage using the reverse wrap technique. As I say, the technique is the same for any size cordage, but I would highly recommend that you practice making bowstring size cordage for a while before you attempt a fishing line. This will give you a chance to perfect your technique and teach you how to make a good, consistent size string with strong splices.

Decide how thick you want your finished cord to be and use half that number of fibers to start with. For example, if you want your finished cord to be as thick as 12 strips of yucca fiber, you will start out with 6 strips of yucca fiber laid out in front of you. All of the big ends of the fibers are on the left, and all of the small ends point to the right. Pictured below: six yucca fibers all facing the same way.

Now take 3 of your 6 strips and turn them so that the big ends are on the right and the points are to the left. Pictured below: Yucca fibers, half pointing left and half pointing right.

Next you will need to take all six strips and place them so that the ends are all off-set from each other. This is very important. Everywhere that one fiber ends, a new fiber must begin, and this obviously creates a weak spot in your cordage. If all of the fibers ended at the same spot and new ones began, you would have a tremendously weak spot that would come apart when the first stress was applied. By off-setting all of the fibers, you make sure that you will have no more than one splice occurring at any point on the cord. Pictured below: Yucca fibers off-set.

Now pick up all of the yucca fibers and fold them into a "U" shape with the points of the "U" facing to your right and the rounded part of the "U" pinched between your left thumb and index finger. (Note: these instructions are for a right handed person) Pictured below: Yucca fibers bent into "U" shape and pinched between thumb and finger.

Keeping a tight grip with your left thumb and index finger, grasp the upper bundle of fibers with your right fingers and twist them up and away from you several times so that they form a tight strand. Pictured below: Twisting fibers away.

Now pull this upper strand of fibers toward you and down so that it crosses over the lower bundle of fibers. Shift your grip with your left thumb and index finger so that you are now pinching the two different strands where they cross. Pictured below: Pulling strand toward you.

Use your right fingers to grasp the bundle of fibers that is on top now (the ones that you haven't twisted yet). Twist them up and away from you several times until they form a tight strand.

Now take this newly twisted strand and pull it toward you and down so that it crosses over the lower strand of fibers.

Shift the grip with your left thumb and index finger so that you are pinching the two strands where they cross. Pictured below: Cordage begins to take shape.

As you continue twisting away and pulling back, you will see a recognizable piece of cordage developing. You will also see that you are coming to a point where some of the fibers are ending. If you staggered the fibers correctly when you started, they should not be running out all at the same time. As you come to the first fibers that are running out, it is time to start splicing new fibers in. Pictured below: Time to splice in a new fiber.

While continuing to pinch your cordage in your left hand, take a new fiber and hold it up next to the strand where a fiber is running out. Overlap the new fiber a couple of inches back up the strand, and then twist that strand away from you several times then wrap it toward you and shift your pinch. The new fiber should now be embedded into the strand and you can continue twisting up the cordage. Follow the same procedure each time you have a fiber running out. Pictured below: Laying in a new fiber.

I always like to start a new fiber using the narrow end. This seems to keep the cordage from developing thick spots. Keep an eye on new fibers to make sure that they don't all end in the same spot. If you have ends that are too close together, you can always trim one of them back a little.

As you continue to twist up your cordage and add in new fibers, the cordage will start to look like a fuzzy caterpillar with all the new fiber strands sticking out of it. This is not a problem. You can go back when you are finished and trim these fiber ends off. Pictured below: top, splices sticking out from cordage; middle, trimming off splices; bottom, trimmed cordage.

So that's how you make cordage. After you have made two or three successful bowstrings, try reducing the number and size of the fibers that you use. Pretty soon you will be making fishing line. It won't be like modern monofilament, but it will do the job.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Edible Wild Plants - Shepherd's Purse

DISCLAIMER: Don't believe anything I or any body else tells you about edible wild plants. Don't eat edible wild plants based on what you see in a book or on the inter-net. Get a qualified instructor to show you the plants, and don't eat them until the instructor shows you how to prepare them, and then eats them him or herself. Be aware that you may be allergic to a plant that someone else can eat without harm. Be sure that any plants that you gather have not been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.

Shepard's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) is another of our spring greens in East Texas. Shepherd's Purse is actually native to Europe and Asia but it is now widely distributed throughout temperate regions of the world. Shepherd's Purse greens grow in a rosette near the ground that looks very similar to Dandelion greens, although Shepherd's Purse rosettes are usually somewhat smaller than Dandelions, and the leaves are not so deeply toothed. Pictured below: Shepherd’s Purse greens.

Shepherd's Purse is easy to identify by the little purse-like seed pods that hang from its stem. The stem is fairly thin and grows up from the center of the rosette. Small side stems sticking out from the main stem have a small almost heart shaped seed pods growing on them. Pictured below: Shepherd’s Purse stem with heart shaped seed pods.

Shepherd's Purse greens may be eaten raw or cooked. They are mildest when they are young. As they grow older they have a slightly tangy or peppery taste. You can use these greens basically any way that you would use spinach.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Make Paper Cone Blow Darts

For those of you who have been bored by this series of posts, this will be my last post on blowguns and blow darts for a while. I may re-visit this subject later. Here is the promised post about making paper cone blow darts.

One of the easiest kinds of blow darts to make is the paper cone blow dart. Start off by cutting down your dart shafts to about six inches in length.

Next make a pattern for the cone out of cardboard or stiff paper. The pattern shown below is one inch wide at the bottom, three inches wide at the top, and two and three-quarters inches long. Pictured below: Pattern for paper cone blowgun darts.

Trace around the pattern on regular weight paper and cut the shape out. Roll the shape around the dart shaft into a cone and glue the edge down. Now remove the shaft from the cone and drop a little glue down into the cone. Stick the shaft back up into the cone with about an inch inside the cone. Let the glue dry for a little bit, then wrap the front end of the cone with some sewing thread, tie it off, and put a drop of glue on the thread to secure it. Pictured below: Finished cone blow darts.

That’s all there is to it. The pattern above is good for a blowgun with about a one-half inch bore (50 caliber). Pictured below: top, Loading cone dart in blowgun made of half inch copper tubing; bottom, blow dart in target.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Make a Cotton Fletched Blow Dart

Fletching a blowgun dart with cotton is the same basic process as fletching a blowgun dart with thistle, but it is considerably easier. Many people don't realize that cotton was a native crop in the New World. In fact, the earliest know domestic production of cotton occurred in Mexico several thousand years ago. The Cherokee were raising cotton by the mid 1700's, and both they and the Choctaw used raw cotton fibers to fletch blowgun darts.

I like to fletch darts with raw cotton because that is the traditional way. If you have access to a cotton field you can pick the cotton boles and clean them yourself, or you can go to a cotton gin and get some cotton that has already been ginned. If you can't get raw cotton you can always use store bought white cotton balls. They will work fine, but that snowy white fletching just doesn't look right to me. Pictured below: top, Unginned raw cotton; bottom, ginned raw cotton.

Once you have obtained your cotton, you want to pull it apart to kind of stretch out the fibers before you start applying it to a dart. Pictured below: Stretching cotton fibers.

When you have your cotton prepared, take a dart shaft, split the end, and wedge your string in it just like for a thistle dart (see previous post).

Now you are going to hold the long end of the string in your mouth, the dart shaft in your right hand, and the cotton fibers in your left hand.

Slowly roll the shaft away from yourself; and as the string wraps around the shaft, insert cotton fibers, a few at a time, under the string. It takes a little practice to keep it smooth.

Continue spiraling the string down the shaft until you have about two inches of fletching on the dart.

Next wrap the string around the bottom of the fletching several times and tie it off with a couple of half-hitches. Apply a dot of glue to secure the knot.

Twirl the dart to fluff the fletching, and then smooth it down.

You can use a sharp knife or scissors to trim up the fletching, and then you are done.

The only thing remaining is to insert the dart in your blowgun and test it out.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Making Thistle Blowgun Darts - Part 2

Now to the business of attaching the thistle fletching to your blowgun dart. To give you an overview of the process, what you are going to do is spiral a string down the dart shaft, and as you are wrapping this string you are going to be inserting thistle fibers under it. The tightly wrapped string is tied of at the front end of the fletching and holds the thistle fibers in place. So let’s do it. Hopefully the pictures will help you understand this somewhat complicated process.

First we are going to attach the string to the dart shaft. Take a sharp knife and make a small split in the back end of the shaft. The split shouldn’t be too deep; maybe a half inch. Now take a piece of string (this can be linen string, kite string, a piece of yucca fiber, or anything of a similar size) and cut it about two feet long. Gently wedge the string down into the split that you just made in the dart shaft. Leave about an inch hanging out on one side of the split. Now set the shaft and string aside while you prepare the thistle. Pictured below: top, splitting top of dart shaft; bottom, string inserted in top of dart shaft.

Select one of your thistle heads and cut away all of the spiny leaves around the base of it. Now cut loose the string that is holding it shut. Pictured below: top, untrimed thistle head; middle, removing spiny lower leaves from thistle head; bottom, trimmed thistle head.

Contained inside the thistle head are two kinds of fibers. One is the white down that you will be using. Interspersed within this down are some taller fibers that are more like stiff hairs with a tuft of brown fibers on the top. Pictured below: tall fibers and down.

Because they are taller than the white down, you can wrap your finger and thumb around the thistle head, and gently pull these longer fibers out of the head leaving only the white down. When you have the tall fibers pulled out, you can remove the kind of paper like layer of leaves that surround the outside of the thistle head. Pictured below: top, pulling out tall fibers; bottom, thistle head with tall fibers removed and only down remaining.

Now the only thing remaining to do is to remove the base of the thistle head. Be sure that you have your fingers wrapped around the down when you pull the base off. Otherwise the down will break apart and fly everywhere. There may be some small seeds attached to the bottom of the thistle down. If there are, this is no problem. Just brush your finger gently across the seeds, and they will fall off. Pictured below: removing base of thistle flower.

Now comes the part where three hands would be helpful, but you will have to make do with two hands and your teeth. By the way, the directions that I am about to give are for a right handed person. Hold the thistle down wrapped in your left hand, palm down, with the base of the down sticking out between your encircling thumb and index finger. Hold the dart shaft in your right hand with the pointed end sticking out to your right. Take the long portion of the string between your teeth. Now lay the dart shaft up next to the thistle down with the string going over the top of the down. Pictured below: Beginning wrap around thistle down.

Slowly twist the dart shaft away from you. As the string wraps around the shaft, feed a small amount of the thistle down under the string. This takes practice. You have to feed the down in at a pretty consistent rate or you will end up with lumps of thistle in some spots and bare patches in other spots. Pictured below: Wrap in progress.

As you continue wrapping, make sure that the string is spiraling slowly down the shaft, and keep feeding the thistle down under the string. I usually keep wrapping until I have about two inches of fletching on the dart. Pictured below: Wrap almost complete, down looks really sloppy at this point.

When you have all of the fletching that you want, wrap the string around the front end eight or ten times to finish off the front end neatly; then tie a couple of half hitches in the string to hold it in place. A drop of glue or sap over these wrappings will help hold them in place. Pictured below: Finishing off wrap at front of fletching.

Now hold the dart up and spin it, and blow on it. This will remove any loose down and fluff out the fletching a little. Pictured below: Spinning and blowing the fletching to remove loose down.

Now smooth the fletching down, and if you have any wild fibers sticking out you can use a sharp knife or a pair of scissors to trim up the fletching a little. Pictured below: Trimming the fletching.

That’s it! You’ve just made a traditional thistle blow dart. Pictured below: Finished dart.

The only thing left is to stick it in your blowgun and see how it flies. Pictured below: Loading and shooting dart.

If you did a good job it will fly straight, true, and fast. Don’t be disappointed if you have trouble with this skill. It is one of the harder ones to master, but if you stay with it you will get it down. Pictured below: Dart in target.

My next post will be about how you can fletch darts with raw cotton.