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.