Furry fishing gear

Fishing has been around for a very long time and of course in centuries past fishermen didn’t have all of today’s fantastic gear to feed their families.

Not such a big deal when they could rely on animals to assist. Here are a few of the fisherman’s best friends.


For thousands of years fishermen in China have used trained cormorants to catch fish. The fisherman ties a snare around the bottom of the bird’s boat, which stops larger fish being swallowed, but the cormorant still gets a feed as smaller fishes slip through the snare. It’s a dying art, but one that has created some stunningly beautiful  images.


First developed in China and adopted by India and parts of Europe, otters were once used as a highly efficient means of catching fish. If otters were trained when they were young pups, they would become highly obedient and could be used to catch fish for well over a decade.

The otter would be kept on a long cord attached to it collar and be able to catch fish at a rapid rate. It was common in Sweden for a whole family to be supported by the fishing skills of one otter. The practice of training otters is now illegal due to poachers using them to steal salmon.


The Human Planet, BBC’s stunning nature series first highlighted the cooperation between fishermen and wild dolphins of Laguna in Brazil. The dolphins perform a role similar to a sheepdog in herding the shoals of mullet towards shallow water where the fishermen can cast their nets.

Remarkably the dolphins jump out of the water as a means of signalling to the fishermen the exact moment to cast nets and catch as many mullet as possible. The dolphins finish off any escapees.


Many of you may have heard of the Mongolian swimming mouse, which is the phrase given to a huge bundle of feathers used by fishermen to resemble a small rodent. This is due to bigger fish like the brown trout and taimen being partial to gulping down any small mammal that has the gall to swim overhead.

Taking this method to a darker extreme, fishermen have been known to attach a live squirrel to a hook and sweep it across the waterline to attract fish.


The retrieving instincts of dogs have performed a useful role for fishermen for centuries. Certain breeds like Labrador retrievers and Portuguese water dogs were once commonly used to retrieve fish from the water and assist in bringing the nets back to shore. If the water is shallow enough, dogs can also actually catch fish too as seen recently with flood waters spilling into suburban areas.


Although not a replacement for your fishing gear (as anything they catch goes down their hatch), orangutans do deserve a mention for their tool-assisted methods of catching fish.

Studies have shown that our closest living relatives watch catfish before using sticks to poke at the fish causing them to jump out of the water where they are caught by the orangutan. Unfortunately we weren’t able to interview the catfish.