Many collectors have come across these "emergency fishing kits" used by American and Allied sea and airmen during the Second World War. Although several versions of these kits were eventually used, I thought it might be of interest to show what the first--and official--emergency kit looked like.
During 1942, the U.S Government's War Production Board, working in tandem with outdoor writers like Harlan Major, organizations like the Izaac Walton League, and companies including Ed. K. Tryon and Ashaway Line & Twine Manufacturing Co., worked to create a fishing kit that would help downed pilots and sailors survive in a hostile environment.
With Ashaway taking the lead, what they came up with was an amazingly compact and comprehensive eight-piece tackle kit that was certain to take fish. By early 1943, these kits, contained in a sealed metal cylinder, were standard on all life boats, life rafts, life floats, rubber life boats, and rubber rafts used by the U.S. Navy, Army Transport Corp., U.S. Coast Guard, Maritime Commission, Navy-Air, and Army-Air.
What is sometimes forgotten is that the kit came with a canvas apron that was intended to be worn outside the the life preserver, as shown in the photo below.
Let's break down the items in the kit:
As you can see, it was a fairly comprehensive affair, containing everything necessary to catch and prepare fish. Not shown were the following additional items: gloves, whetstone, and extra hooks, line, wire, swivels, and sinkers.
A slightly smaller and lighter kit was used by the Air Service units.
Ashaway was justly proud of their work in helping create this kit, as we can see from an advertisement run in the April 1943 edition of Outdoors magazine:
World War Two was a deadly affair, especially for pilots and sailors. That the tackle industry came together to create emergency kits that certainly helped to save lives is a wonderful legacy for the industry as a whole. Some of these kits made their way into Army/Navy surplus stores after the war ended, and with some due diligence, can be found today, although usually without the sealed tin.
There are other survival kits, including models from Korea and Vietnam, like the one shown below, but the original Emergency Fishing Kit were all variations on the Ashaway theme.
-- Dr. Todd