Aboriginal living skills have been an interest of mine for as long as I can remember. Decades before cable networks created reality TV shows based on primitive living and survival I was testing my grit in my own real world wilderness. I specifically remember one morning when I was left to my own devices at the home of a rural neighbor. Their property had a small stock pond filled with sunfish and I must have whiled away a couple of hours hooking them using a safety pin (from my blouse), a shoelace (from my sneaker) and an earthworm (freshly dug using a sharp rock). It was most likely here that my interest in primitive fishing was born and why, decades later, I decided to take the Primitive Fishing Workshop by Earth Village Education.
Primitive Fishing Workshop by Earth Village Education
A few weeks ago I attended a Primitive Fishing workshop presented by Earth Village Education in Marshall, VA. The mission of Earth Village Education is to “transform culture and renew the earth by empowering individuals through hands-on education in nature awareness, environmental stewardship, and community development.” I found their approach to be refreshingly laid back and personal, with everyone listening, sharing, learning and doing on an equal plane. The cost of the seminars is based on a sliding scale, with participants paying only what they can afford.
Hand Fishing for Crayfish in the Creek
After a fair amount of information exchange in the outdoor classroom at the village, we set off down the hill to the creek. The lesson here was 100 percent hands-on and indeed – two of my classmates were successful at scoring a nice little crawdad using nothing more than their bare hands. You can’t get much more primitive than that, and it made for a nice segue into our next skill – spearfishing.
Carving a Fishing Spear
The hill between the creek and classroom was covered in a stand of young poplar trees from which we all chose the raw material for our spear. We each chose our own sapling, cut it down, removed all the branches and then drug it behind us back up the hill to the classroom. With the carving knives we either brought from home or were provided by our instructor – Tom Brown III, or “T3” for short – we commenced to carving our own fishing spear.
Although poplar is actually a hardwood, it carves easily and it wasn’t long at all before our spears began to take shape and actually look like something other than a long, skinny stick. Depending on the circumference of the tree we chose, our spears either had two or four tips. Mine had two.
Weaving a Turtle Trap
At a certain point in the carving exercise we began to break off, two at a time, to learn our final skill of the day – weaving a turtle trap using sticks and cordage. After everyone demonstrated they had a basic understanding of the concept, we opted to try out our spears in the pond rather than finishing an entire, working turtle trap. (We had been informed that there was already a completed, working trap positioned in the pond that we could observe and examine.)
Practicing with Our Fishing Spears
We trekked overland to the pond where we had the option of getting in and practicing or just watching a demonstration by T3. Almost all of us chose to get in. I waded in up to my chest and practiced standing completely still and then thrusting my spear at a would-be fish.
We weren’t actually trying to spear fish. The exercise was simply designed to give us a feel for the effects of the water pressure against our movement and the phenomenon of refraction and how it affected our aim. It was fun, cooled us off, and gave us an opportunity to try out various renditions of marine disguises using water lilies and other aquatic vegetation.
Other Earth Village Education (EVE) Classes
Although Primitive Fishing is the only Earth Village Education class I’ve been able to attend so far, they offer many more throughout the year. Classes like Blacksmithing, Wild Edible & Medicinal Plants, Cordage Making with Natural Fibers and Making Bone Tools are just a few of the primitive living skills you can learn through EVE. Be sure to bookmark their class schedule and check it often throughout the year.