With the recent outbreak of the COVID-19, there’s been a lot of uncertainty and anxiety, especially at the grocery stores.
Alongside toilet paper, meat, eggs and dairy have been flying off the shelves nearly as fast as they’re getting stocked as people load up for the long haul. Simply put, the uncertainty of how long this will last is making the situation worse than it needs to be.
For those who know how to hunt and fish, the fervor for stockpiling food is less severe, as many already have a freezer full of meat holed away. Thankfully, the state parks and lakes are still open and you can still hunt and fish during this trying time. Not only is it a good idea to get outside for your sanity, but it also is a great way to feed your family.
But just because you don’t have any hunting or fishing equipment or the necessary skills, that doesn’t mean you can’t live off the land, too. There are a few simple survival skills that can help get you through this pandemic, no matter how long it lasts.
Gorge hook fishing
Believe it or not, you can catch fish without needing a single piece of fishing equipment — not even a hook!
All you need is a small twig or piece of bone, about an inch long and sharpened on both ends like a toothpick, some worms and some string — obviously, fishing line works best, but use whatever you have at your disposal. The thinner, the better.
Cut a notch about halfway up the hook that goes all the way around it, then tie your string in the notch so it doesn’t slide off. Take your worm and stick the hook through the worm, line and all. And no, you don’t need to buy worms — do some digging, flip some big rocks over or wait for a rainy day and it should be no trouble to find plenty of worms. That’s how we did it as kids and it still works today, folks.
You’re ideally going to want to go to a creek, pond or other body of water that doesn’t have length limits, as it will be difficult to practice catch and release using this method. State and local regulations are still in place, after all, and you’ll still need a fishing license to attempt this. Throw your worm into the water in as deep of water as you can manage — try fishing from a dock or bridge, or tying something buoyant to the line about a foot and a half above your makeshift hook to give extra casting weight, something like a bobber, wood chip or even an empty plastic pop bottle. You can handline this setup or tie it to a long stick (10 feet or more in length is best) and jig it in the shallows, as well.
During the spring, crappie, bluegills and other species of panfish will come up shallow to make beds and spawn. What you want to do is let the fish take the worm and swim around with it for a while until it swallows it. Then, you’re going to give the line a jerk and the gorge hook should shift in its mouth or throat and get lodged, in essence hooking the fish and allowing you to pull in your supper.
The best time to try this method is on warm, sunny days when fish are under docks or hiding in the shadows near the bank.
Another good survival tactic is foraging for mushrooms and other edible plants, though you want to make darn sure you know which foods are edible, as some things that look like edible foods can actually be poisonous. There are a ton of resources online for identifying these plants, but for the purposes of this column we’ll stick mainly with morel mushrooms as they are easy to identify and will soon begin to sprout.
These mushrooms look like small, white honeycombs on thin stalks and often grow near dying trees and fallen logs after it has rained for some time and then warmed up. They typically begin to sprout when air temperatures hit the high 60s to low 70s — with ground temperatures in the 55- to 62-degree range Fahrenheit. Elm trees are hot spots for morels, but ash trees, aspens and oaks also can produce them.
You also have to be careful about false morels, which have some toxicity to them. False morels are generally filled with cottony fibers with a stem that connects to the top of the cap, while true morels are hollow inside. False morels also are more brain-like in appearance and take a darker, reddish-brown color compared to true morels, which are have taller caps and range from whitish-gray to nearly black.
Always cook these mushrooms before eating. The best way to make them is by frying them in butter, breading optional. If you don’t have butter, animal fat also works.
The Morel Mushroom Hunters of NE Kansas Facebook page is a good resource, as is the Missouri Mushroom Market page.
Now may also be the perfect time to take up gardening, which isn’t just a cost-effective way to get fresh produce, but also an enriching hobby that can get you outside while still keeping a safe distance from others.
If you don’t have a big yard, fear not, as many types of produce can be grown in pots on your porch or even inside using hydroponics or natural sunlight from a window.
Jason Graves, with the Kansas State Research and Extension Office in central Kansas, wrote an informative column in the March 21 issue of the The Salina-Journal that is a great resource for beginning gardeners. You can find it online at https://tinyurl.com/qpb85sn/.
If you’re running low on eggs and can’t find them at the store, crappie eggs are surprisingly not a bad substitute.
During the spring, it’s easy to find big females full of egg sacks that you can take out while filleting. The egg sacks are yellow with some blood vessels in them and are located just below the rib cage. You can cook the egg sacks whole in butter, either breaded or by themselves.
Most other freshwater fish roe is fine to eat, though catfish roe reportedly has a fishier taste. The exception is gar, a prehistoric species of toothed fish which despite having surprisingly tasty meat has eggs that are highly toxic. Paddlefish, another prehistoric species of Kansas fish, are actually highly coveted in the spring for their roe, which is made into caviar. Paddlefish season kicked off on March 15 and continues through May 15.
It may surprise you to find out that the tails of panfish are also edible, and taste a bit like french fries after being fried. And if you’re really in need of some sustenance, the eyes are probably the most nutritious part of the entire fish, as they are high in protein, vitamins and unsaturated fatty acids. There’s a reason why most dead fish you find lying on the shore are missing their eyes — birds love them!
As for me, well, I just say it’s for the birds.